Sierra's March/April 2004 Let's Talk book selection: Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right
by Al Franken
Much of the material Franken covers has been addressed ably by less satirical writers, such as Joe Conason, Eric Alterman, Paul Krugman, and Molly Ivins. (In fact, in his acknowledgements, Franken quips, "Eric Alterman, thanks for writing a book on bias that I could just add jokes to.") Does Frankens wit help or hinder your understanding of the Bush administration and the political right? Do his punch lines get in the way of his punch?
If you've read other books critical of the Bush administration, how does this book compare? What would be the first title youd recommend to a person interested in learning more? Why?
Franken is bluntly partisan, staking out what one reviewer calls "angry man territory on the left." Do you find the approach refreshingly honest and effective, or alienating?
Franken takes on what he calls the myth of a liberal media, citing his researchers study of the 2000 presidential elections. It found that of 1,149 stories from 17 leading news sources, the percentage of positive news stories on George W. Bush was double the number of positive stories on Al Gore. Do environmental stories suffer from a similar bias? If so, is the problem attributable to ideological bias or to other reasons? Though he launches a scathing criticism of ideologically driven media outlets such as Fox News, Franken says "the mainstream media at least try to be fair." Do you agree, particularly when it comes to environmental issues?
When describing the political efforts of the Bush administration, Franken cites a well-publicized letter by University of Pennsylvania professor John DiIulio, former Bush-appointed head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In it, DiIulio states: "What you got is everythingand I mean everythingrun by the political arm. Its the reign of the 'Mayberry Machiavellis.'" If you agree with DiIulio, what examples can you cite of politicization of environmental issues by the Bush administration?
In his chapter focusing on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), Franken says, "Im not going to put you through a long list of horrible environmental actions taken by this administration. Instead I refer you to the Internet. For instance, a Google search of Bush, horrible, environment yields 42,500 websites." If youve followed the litany of Bush administration attacks on the environment over the past three years, how do you introduce the topic to someone who hasnt? What would you say to someone if they accuse you of exaggerating the facts, that it all seems unbelievable?
Franken quotes Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, who frames the problem of corporate-pork-farm pollution in a broad political context: "They cannot produce hogs, or pork chops, or bacon more efficiently than a family farm without breaking the law. Theyre not in favor of responsibility, of democracy, or private property. Its just about privatizing the air, water, all the things that the publics supposed to own. . . . Thats the only coherent philosophy they have." Does a statement like this help issues gel for youor do you worry that environmentalists will be accused of left-wing paranoia?
With a simple graphic matrix, Franken summarizes the ties between Bush administration officials and the industries they once lobbied for and now regulate. Do you find this snapshot device helpful? Can you think of other ways to telegraph complicated relationships between the Bush administration and environmental issues?
In his discussion of CAFOs, Franken admits: "To be totally honest, I wish the Clinton administration had done more to address the pig shit problem. But at least he was pushing in the right direction. Toward the end of his administration, the EPA issued stringent new CAFO regulations, requiring hog factories to take responsibility for their waste and initiating suits against some of the violators." Yet those rules were issued in December 2000, after presidential election results were known. Do you think wed be nearing the end of a first-term Gore administration had Clinton and Gore been bolder on environmental issues?
For all his spoofing, Franken delivers a starkly serious message: "We have to be more than vigilant. We have to fight back. And we have to do it in a straightforward, plainspoken way." Does his book serve as an effective call to arms?
As an alternative to right-wing radio, Franken will soon be hosting a liberal radio show. Will you listen to it?