At one point in his latest book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, Al Franken asks deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz how he feels about the job “the Clinton military” did in Iraq. Wolfowitz’s simple response: Fuck you. He’s probably kidding, Franken allows–but “kidding on the square,” which is to say, not really. This noxious bit of jargon, as reappropriated by the humorist-turned-firebrand, neatly sums up the method and message of this attack on today’s yellow media, the myth of its liberal mainstream counterpart, and the radical-right agenda both serve. Adopting the frenzied take-no-prisoners tone of Newt Gingrich or Ann Coulter and parodying their brand of overheated rhetoric, Franken (whose star has only risen in the wake of Fox News’s failed trademark infringement suit) ruthlessly holds the shoddy research, misleading citations, and outright falsehoods that characterize the “fair and balanced” arguments of the right up to the light. Sober dissections of the so-called memorial “rally” following Senator Paul Wellstone’s death and the fuzzy math of Bush tax policy alternate with running jokes that include working a sex scene from Bill O’Reilly’s pulp novel, Those Who Trespass (no kidding), into the prose whenever possible and always printing Sean Hannity’s “liberal” sparring partner’s name in minuscule type. It’s a successful balancing act, at once arrestingly lucid and bluntly hilarious. And given that much of the quandary we find ourselves in stems precisely from the blurring of the lines between journalism, politics, and entertainment, it’s encouraging to see someone smarter than Dennis Miller and steadier than Michael Moore marshal all three in defense of something other than greed and empire. Franken reads twice on Wednesday, October 1: at 12:30 PM at Borders Books & Music, 150 N. State, 312-606-0750, and at 7:30 PM at Barnes & Noble, 55 Old Orchard Center in Skokie, 847-676-2230.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bill Hayward.