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The Obligatory Al Franken Consideration
In Dissent, Number One Hundred and Thirty
by Brian S. Wise
26 August 2003Al Franken

Fox News Channel should have asked itself, "Is this the battle worth fighting?"


[Note: This column was written last Thursday morning, 21 August.  My intention was to distribute it late Thursday for a Friday release, to coincide with the Fox News Channel / Al Franken hearing … I forgot.  Consequently, what we have here is a column far out of date, but as I enjoyed it and thought some fine points were made, it is being distributed for release on Tuesday, 26 August.  In the matter, Fox News Channel was essentially laughed out of court.]
 
Reads a headline: “Fox Sues Al Franken For Use of Phrase ‘Al Franken.’”  The opening text: “On Monday, the Fox News Network filed a lawsuit against comedian and author Al Franken for his use of the phrase ‘Al Franken.’  In court papers, the network alleges that it owns the copyright to the name and wants to stop publication of Franken’s new book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.”  (But seriously, ladies and gentlemen.)  The source of the joke article is a website called NewsHax.com (from NewsMax.com; get it?), its slogan being, “Unbalanced.  Unfair. We Report, We Decide.”  Inane but instructive; why in the world would Fox News allow something like that to stand but drag Al Franken into court?  For the exact same reason it will not win its case against Franken: Parody and satire are protected speech, period.  (There may be something to be said about using Bill O’Reilly’s likeness without permission, but that is another thing.)

There has been a lack of strong Republican voices on this one; for the Right, Fox News is a lot like an ugly but supportive girlfriend.  It is easy to see her flaws and you know she will be a target because of her looks, but rue to he who has the nerve to make fun of her in front of you – she is the only one who understands you.  Fox News does, of course, produce some fine product (Brit Hume’s program Special Report holds a particular place in my heart), but is also 1) friendlier to Republicanism than any other cable news network in America, and 2) at the top of its business, and is therefore going to be a very large target.
           
And so, for as long as Fox is the preeminent force in the trade (and even after it is not), things like Franken’s book are going to happen; what do you do about it?  One certainly understands Fox’s eagerness to defend itself, its personalities and its intellectual property (e.g., trademarked phrases), and no one could logically suggest the network has no right to defend itself when legitimately defamed or slandered, but the Franken thing is … well … silly, and little more, and do we need to take silly things to court?
 
What is bothering Fox – and on this I am in total agreement – is that Al Franken is not the sort of Leftist who is capable of lending any sort of fair and balanced consideration to the Right, and so the use of the phrase is problematic.  Had it been, for example, Christopher Hitchens who had undertaken the task under the axiom “fair and balanced,” it is highly unlikely anyone at Fox would have batted an eye.  (Leftists of all stripes would do themselves a great service by observing Hitchens and his behavior at every turn, to see what it looks like when done with class.) 
 
But we are talking about Al Franken … the man is not particularly bright or perceptive or well informed, something Fox picked up on in its legal brief: “[Franken is] neither a journalist nor a television news personality.  He is not a well-respected voice in American politics; rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable.  His views lack any serious depth or insight.”  (Of course.  That’s why his first book was called Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot and not I Disagree With Rush Limbaugh.)
           
Still, at the end of the day, is this the battle worth fighting?  Penguin, being a publisher that likes to make money for itself, increased the initial print run by 40,000 copies (to 290,000) and moved up the release date by one month, to last Thursday, just ahead of the lawsuit’s first hearing.  As of the moment you are first reading this column, the book is more than likely a number one bestseller; once Fox loses the lawsuit (and it will), is not a certain (if undeserved) credibility lent to Franken’s beliefs?
           
Comes the question: So what would you have Fox News Channel do if they feel robbed and cheated?  Issue a press release to point out the obvious: “The man who was compelled to lie to John Ashcroft [in the matter of soliciting an abstinence testimonial from attorney general for a fictitious book on the subject called Savin’ It!] is not best qualified to claim he is saying anything fair and balanced, but we wish him well in all future publishing endeavors.  We guess.”

Brian Wise is the lead columnist for IntellectualConservative.com.

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