Joe Conason's Journal

Why is Fox giving Al Franken valuable publicity for his new book? Maybe someone should ask Bill O'Reilly.

Published August 12, 2003 10:07PM (EDT)

O'Reilly's folly?
Fox News executives are either determined to waste Rupert Murdoch's money on legal fees, or they secretly hate Bill O'Reilly and love Al Franken. They must be absolutely determined to sell Al's forthcoming book, regardless of the cost in money and embarrassment. Otherwise, how can anyone explain the decision to sue Franken's publisher -- which will produce nothing except a bonanza of publicity for the brilliant comic and commentator?

By this afternoon, coverage of the Fox lawsuit against Franken and his publisher, E.P. Dutton, had blasted "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right" to No. 7 on  almost 10 notches higher than "Treason," by what's-her-name.

Reading the text of the complaint against Franken suggests that the Fox suits may be losing their minds, or at least their sense of humor. They're certainly taking themselves a bit too seriously. They protest that Franken's subtitle is "likely to cause confusion among the public about whether Fox News has authorized or endorsed the book and about whether Franken is affiliated with FNC" and blather on huffily about their ideal of "a specific alternative to what its founders perceived as a liberal bias in the American media." From there they descend into self-satire.

In the Fox worldview, Franken is an "unstable," "shrill" "C-level commentator" -- unlike, for instance, O'Reilly (who screamed "shut up" at Franken in Los Angeles not so long ago). And unlike "national celebrity" O'Reilly, Franken's "views lack any serious depth or insight."

There is a third possible explanation for this silly lawsuit, which nobody I know believes can succeed in suppressing or even delaying Al's book: Fox's big star Bill made them do it as an act of petty vengeance. It couldn't have backfired so beautifully on a nicer guy.
[3:01 p.m. PST, August 12, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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