Proving that television isn’t a total wasteland, last night we stumbled upon C-Span2 coverage of the Book Expo America convention in Los Angeles. That doesn’t sound like stimulating viewing, but we picked the right time to be watching, as we got to see a hugely entertaining panel of politically-inclined authors: Molly Ivins, Bill O’Reilly, and Al Franken. This was stuff you don’t get to see on regular talk shows—the uncensored insults and anger. Ivins was rather mild, though we didn’t hear all of her remarks.
Then O’Reilly, host of the inaccurately titled “No-Spin Zone” on Fox (I believe) and author of a similarly named book, blabbed on for his fifteen minutes about what an accurate reporter he is, how they never have to make retractions on his TV show because their research is so extensive, how proud he is that he has gone beyond distinctions of liberal and conservative in his No-Spin search for the truth, and similar self-serving, egotistical blather.
It thus was a joy to have Al Franken take to the podium, hold up a draft cover of his upcoming book, "Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them -- a Fair and Balanced Look at the Right," and ask O’Reilly if he could supply him with a better photo of himself for the cover. “Anything with your mouth open” would be great, Franken said. Franken then launched into an amusing dissertation about the lies put out by O’Reilly and other right-wing TV and radio talk show hosts—much of the time looking directly at O’Reilly as he trashed him and his peers. Franken’s point was that we don’t have to take this right-wing crap anymore. It is time to call them on their lies.
Franken then went into a hugely amusing riff about O’Reilly’s claim to have won two Peabody awards for his work on “Inside Edition,” and Franken’s efforts to get O’Reilly to admit that no Peabody awards had ever been given to that show. O’Reilly clearly was fuming as Franken spoke way over his allotted fifteen minutes, having built up too strong a head of liberal steam. The poor moderator, Pat Schroeder, had a difficult time handling O’Reilly and Franken when Al finally sat down. O’Reilly was seriously pissed off after being called a liar on national TV by Franken, and Franken was just as piqued at O’Reilly for having been so No-Spin sanctimonious, when he has no problem putting his own spin on awards that he never has won. O’Reilly claimed that he had forgotten that it wasn’t a Peabody that “Inside Edition” had won, but Laurel and I thought this was a pretty lame excuse. Could anyone really believe that they had won a Nobel prize, if they hadn’t?
Anyway, it was refreshing to watch Franken take on the right-wing jerks who mangle the facts, and then claim that they are the ones standing up for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. It also was refreshing to listen to someone who has both a great sense of humor and the guts to call it as he sees it. Franken mentioned that Ann Coulter had called him a friend in her book (Coulter is another conservative commentator who is even more obnoxious than O’Reilly, except she is attractive, slim, blonde, and wears short skirts on her TV appearances, which are four substantive points in her favor).
But that this was based on a single lunch Franken had with Coulter during which, Al said, he was too courteous, because he didn’t tell Coulter the truth: “I can’t stand you, and you are wrong about everything.” Franken can pull this stuff off with his engaging smile and wry attitude. Most anyone else would sound like a jerk if they uttered such sentiments. With Franken, you just wish that he would run for office, so you could finally vote for someone who truly says what he believes, and believes what he says.
For some more perspectives about O’Reilly’s twisting of the truth, here’s a site that comments on the Peabody claim (at the bottom of the page), and another anti-O’Reilly site that also disputes that claim.