Monday, August 18, 2003

Fox News should trademark bright yellow spine

I've already dealt with what an absurdity Bill O'Reilly's new column is, but, with its publication today in the New York Daily News, it seems important to address a timely issue I overlooked last Thursday. In his column, O'Reilly writes that the lawsuit against Franken was Fox's attempt at self-defense:

Now Fox News is striking back by putting the demonizers on notice that they will be held responsible when they violate trademarks or launch defamatory personal attacks on Fox personnel.

Now, I've already mentioned that Fox doesn't mention "defamatory personal attacks" even once in its entire lawsuit (which deals only with trademark infringement), so I'll let that slide. What's interesting here is whether or not Fox will have the cojones to come after people like yours truly.

Last Friday, hundreds of Americans across the country joined together to protest the frivolous lawsuit against Al Franken. Each of us used the term "fair and balanced" as much as possible. We will have to wait and see if Fox is willing to attack us as they did Franken, but it's doubtful. Not because we're small fish in a big pond, but because the American public isn't likely to take Fox's side against individual housewives, farmers, soldiers, retirees and, yes, even journalists. Franken can be (unfairly) painted as a "political activist" and not a satirist and Fox can continue to act like it's really just acting out of an editorial policy that is "populist-traditional" and "pro-American." But, if it had to face the facts that their suit has outraged the populace, which is not "primarily ultraliberal," then those who don't normally pay attention to this sort of thing would wake up to the fact that the Foxholes* are really trying to shut someone up.

I think that Fox would have a hard time convincing people that they're simply trying to contribute to a "wider range of thought and expression" if those people saw that they were simply trying to stifle someone's first amendment rights. Hell, if we could just get people to compare O'Reilly's statement that Fox doesn't "do drive-by character assassinations, and we don't denigrate opposing points of view by launching gratuitous personal attacks" and disdains attempts to "smear and destroy the reputations of those with whom you politically disagree" with the text of the lawsuit itself, people would see what a joke O'Reilly and Fox are.

77. Franken has recently been described as a "C-level political commentator" who is "increasingly unfunny." Franken has physically accosted Fox News personalities in the past, and was reported to have appeared either intoxicated or deranged as he flew into a rage near a table of Fox News personalities at a press correspondents' dinner in April 2003. 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. Franken is commonly perceived as having to trade off of the name recognition of others in order to make money. One commentator has referred to Franken as a "parasite" for attempting to trade off of Fox News' brand and O'Reilly's fame in the Preliminary Cover of his Book. - Fox News Network, LLC v. Penguin Group (USA), Inc. and Alan S. Franken (Page 15)

First, there are the attacks against Franken's character -- that he's "unstable" and possibly "deranged"; that "His views lack any serious depth or insight." Those are obviously what O'Reilly would call "drive-by character assassinations" that are intended to "denigrate opposing points of view by launching gratuitous personal attacks." More importantly, though, you should pay attention to the comments that they attribute to others.

The fact that Franken was called a "parasite" and a "C-level political commentator" is undisputed. What they fail to mention is that both of those comments were made by C.K. Rairden in a column for the conservative Washington Dispatch. Rairden is a guy who has also referred to Tom Daschle as a "court jester" and Hillary Clinton as a "pimp" in the pages of the same magazine, which also features the fair and balanced rantings of L. Brent Bozell III, Pat Buchanan, Michelle Malkin, Oliver North, Robert Novak and serial liar Bill O'Reilly.

The fact that Franken was called "increasingly unfunny" is also true. Who said that? Why,, of course: A beacon of fair-handed journalism, covering issues from views across their broad political spectrum -- from conservative to far, far right.

What the fair and balanced network leaves out of their complaint is that Franken isn't universally disliked**:

"'Genius' might be too strong a word, but when a book has sucked you in to the point where you don't even know
whether to take the acknowledgements seriously... you know you're in the presence of great satire." — The Dallas Morning News

"A very funny book... [Franken] picks the scabs off every logical inconsistency, factual error or act of malice he can find in contemporary conservatism... this book destroys [Limbaugh]." — USA Today

"[Franken's] points are swiftly and deftly made, and his sense of humor about the current carnival of political grotesques is badly needed." — Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)

And then there are my favorites:

"This book establishes Al Franken as a master of political humor... a delight to read and certain to appeal to readers of any political persuasion whose spirit hasn't been completely broken by the state of current U.S. politics." — The Washington Times

"Now, I was given the assignment of writing a piece on 'why Al Franken isn't funny.' But, I must confess, in all fairness, he can be very funny... The problem with Franken is not that he's unfunny. He has very good timing and many of the skits he wrote for Saturday Night Live were excellent (as was his cameo appearance in Trading Places)." — Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online

So a fair and balanced view is that quite a few people see Franken as a funny guy and a satirist who makes excellent, insightful points. Odd that a fair and balanced television channel wouldn't see that.

Now, there are real arguments of law that I'll let others answer -- like this guy (scroll down) and this guy and even this guy -- but I think it's pretty obvious that, if Drudge can be trusted, O'Reilly has bitched Fox News into an untenable position, where they're going to have to enter a court of law and argue against the first amendment with poorly parsed evidence and a complaint that proves the point that they're not "fair and balanced" at all. I almost wish that they would come after us little people -- not to boost our profiles, but to show Americans who aren't paying attention what a bunch of dishonest cowards they really are.

* Term "Foxholes" coined by Tom Tomorrow.

** Update: Check the link and you'll see that, yes, the usual suspects (The New York Times, The washington Post and The New Yorker) are there, too, but I wanted to make the point that even smaller and less (so-called) liberal publications also liked Franken.


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