On Friday, a federal judge refused a request by Fox News to order changes to the cover of humorist Al Franken’s book, “Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.” Fox had previously trademarked the phrase “fair and balanced” but the judged called the case “wholly without merit.” The publicity surrounding the case was a windfall for Franken whose book went to number one on Amazon.com a month before it was even due out. Here's an excerpt: *Warning: This book excerpt contains graphic language that may not be appropriate for children.*
God chose me to write this book.
Just the fact that you are reading this is proof not just of God’s existence, but also of His/Her/Its beneficence. That’s right. I am not certain of God’s precise gender. But I am certain that He/She/It chose me to write this book.
This isn’t hubris. I’m not saying this in an egotistical way. God didn’t choose me because I’m the greatest writer who ever lived. That was William Shakespeare, whose work I have a passing familiarity with. No. I just happened to be the right vessel at the right time. If something in this book makes you laugh, it was God’s joke. If something makes you think, it’s because God had a good point to make.
The reason I know God chose me is because God spoke to me personally.
God began our conversation by clearing something up. Some of George W. Bush’s friends say that Bush believes God called him to be president during these times of trial. But God told me that He/She/It had actually chosen Al Gore by making sure that Gore won the popular vote and, God thought, the electoral college. “THAT WORKED FOR EVERYONE ELSE,” God said.
“What about Tilden?” I asked, referring to the 1876 debacle.
“QUIET!” God snapped. God was angry.
God said that after 9/11, George W. Bush squandered a unique moment of national unity. That instead of rallying the country around a program of mutual purpose and sacrifice, Bush cynically used the tragedy to solidify his political power and pursue an agenda that panders to his base and serves the interests of his corporate backers.
God told me that Bush squandered a $4.6 trillion surplus and is plunging us into deficits as far as God can see. And that Bush squandered another surplus. The surplus of goodwill from the rest of the world that he had inherited from Bill Clinton.
And this was pissing God off.
He/She/It was right. But it sounded like a lot of work.
“Look, God, I’m flattered, but I think you got the wrong guy. The kind of book you’re talking about would require months of research.”
And God said, “LET THERE BE GOOGLE. AND LET THERE BE LEXISNEXIS.”
“Very funny, God. I use Google all the time.”
“YES, I KNOW,” God said. “FOR HOT ASIAN TEENS.”
“You must be thinking of my son, Joe.”
“AL? I’M OMNISCIENT.”
“Okay, okay.” I changed the subject. “It’s just that I can’t do this book myself.”
“LEAVE THAT TO ME,” God boomed.
And that’s when Harvard called.
Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government asked me to serve as a fellow at its Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy. After my varied and celebrated career in television, movies, publishing, and the lucrative world of corporate speaking, being a fellow at Harvard seemed, frankly, like a step down.
I couldn’t think of anything less appealing than molding the minds of tomorrow’s leaders, unless it was spending fireside evenings sipping sherry with great minds at the Faculty Club. Yawn.
To my surprise and delight, though, all Harvard wanted me to do was show up every once in a while and write something about something. That gave me an idea.
“Would it be okay if I wrote a scathingly partisan attack on the rightwing media and the Bush administration?”
“No problem,” Harvard said absentmindedly.
“Count me in,” I replied. “From now on call me ‘Professor Franken.’”
“No,” Harvard said, “you’re not a professor. But you can run a study group on the topic of your choosing.”
“Great,” I said. “I’ve got the perfect topic: Write My Son’s Harvard College Application Essay.”
“No,” they said. “Harvard students already know how to write successful Harvard applications, Al. We want you to teach them something new.”
Harvard was right where I wanted it. “How about if the topic is: How to Research My Book?”
“Sure,” Harvard said. “Most of our professors teach that course. Why, in the Biochemistry department, most of the graduate level courses are-”
Harvard was boring me. “I gotta run, Harvard. Thanks.”
I had my Nexis, I had my Google, I had my Harvard fellowship, and I had my fourteen research assistants. I sat down to write. Nothing.
So I got on my knees and prayed for guidance. “How, God, can I best do Your work through this book? Who, dear Lord, is the audience for a book like this? And what’s a good title?”
God answered, “YOU KNOW THOSE SHITTY BOOKS BY ANN COULTER AND BERNIE GOLDBERG?”
“The best-sellers that claim there’s a liberal bias in the media?” I asked.
“TOTAL BULLSHIT,” God said. “START BY ATTACKING THEM. HE’S CLEARLY A DISGRUNTLED FORMER EMPLOYEE, AND SHE JUST LIES. BY THE WAY, THERE’S SOMETHING SERIOUSLY WRONG WITH HER.”
“That’s pretty obvious.”
“SO GO AFTER THEM, THE WHOLE LIBERAL BIAS MYTH, AND THEN GO AFTER THE RIGHT-WING MEDIA. ESPECIALLY FOX.”
“Okay, God, I’m writing this down.”
“THEN USE THEM AS A JUMPING-OFF POINT TO GO AFTER BUSH. YOU KNOW, BIG TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH, SURGING UNEMPLOYMENT, IGNORING EVERYONE BUT HIS CORPORATE BUDDIES, SCREWING THE ENVIRONMENT, PISSING OFF THE REST OF THE WORLD. THAT STUFF. AND THAT’S YOUR BOOK.”
“Got it. One last thing. Title.”
“HOW ABOUT BEARERS OF FALSE WITNESS AND THE FALSE WITNESS THAT THEY BEAR?”
“Hmm. I, uh, I’ll work with that.”
Excerpted from “Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them-A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right” by Al Franken. Copyright © Al Franken, Inc., 2003. Used by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.