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Kris
July 20th, 2003, 09:31 AM
July 20, 2003

Why Liberals Are No Fun

It wasn't in prime time, and the ratings weren't even on the charts. But in the 24/7 broadcasting arena of political talk, where liberals are on the losing side at least 22/7, they must take whatever scraps they can get. For them, it was a rare red-letter day when Al Franken, appearing on Book TV on C-Span 2, landed a rhetorical uppercut to the jaw of Liberal Nemesis No. 1, Bill O'Reilly, and left him even more senseless than usual.

The setting was a panel at the annual booksellers' convention in Los Angeles last month. Mr. Franken was on hand to hawk his fall book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." Mr. O'Reilly, plugging his forthcoming "Who's Looking Out for You?," was not overjoyed to find his face among the lying liars (George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Ann Coulter) on Mr. Franken's book jacket. It was downhill from there. After Mr. Franken took the mike to delineate the lies at issue, Mr. O'Reilly started calling his adversary an "idiot" and shouting "Shut up!" Such grace under fire was not so much Reaganesque as Baxteresque, after Ted Baxter, the preening local anchor of the late, great "Mary Tyler Moore Show."

But of course this liberal victory over a conservative blowhard was short-lived. Despite their domination of the entertainment industry, liberals barely have a foothold in the part of show business they are most exercised about. Barbra Streisand may have a contentious Web site, but Rupert Murdoch has an empire. As David Brooks put it recently in Mr. Murdoch's Weekly Standard, Democrats are in "despair that a consortium of conservative think tanks, talk radio hosts and Fox News — Hillary's vast right-wing conspiracy — has cohered to form a dazzlingly efficient ideology delivery system that swamps liberal efforts to get their ideas out." This week brought the news that Rush Limbaugh had even infiltrated ESPN's "Sunday N.F.L. Countdown" as a new cast member. And so liberals plot and dream, with the undying hope that their own Rush or O'Reilly or Hannity might turn up as miraculously as Lana Turner supposedly did at the Schwab's Pharmacy soda fountain.

Even as Mr. Franken was goading Mr. O'Reilly, he was talking with AnShell Media, a $10 million start-up financed by Chicago venture capitalists determined to create liberal talk radio programs for syndication. In late June, Time broke the story that Al Gore was recruiting other money men to help float a cable network that might offer some kind of an alternative to Fox News. Given Mr. Gore's own TV track record during the 2000 debates — wearing more pancake makeup than Milton Berle in drag and talking incessantly about a "lock box" — this mission seems as quixotic as Al Sharpton's presidential campaign, though considerably less entertaining. Sure, Mr. Gore is unlikely to be an on-camera personality in this enterprise, but even so, his show business résumé consists mainly of having not been an inspiration for "Love Story" while at Harvard.

How can Democrats be so ineffectual in the media in which they would seem to have a home-court cultural advantage? The talk-show playing field is littered with liberal casualties: Mario Cuomo, Alan Dershowitz, Phil Donahue. Why waste money on more broadcasting flops? The conventional wisdom has it that liberals will never make it in this arena because they are humorless, their positions are too complicated to explain, and some powerful media companies (whether Mr. Murdoch's News Corporation or the radio giant Clear Channel) want to put up roadblocks.

Others argue that liberals are so down and out that they don't even know what they believe any more. "The reason conservative media outlets work is that they have a mass audience united by a discrete ideology," says Tucker Carlson, who affably represents the right on CNN's "Crossfire" and is one of those I've queried about this topic in recent months. "They believe in nine things. They all know the catechism." In Mr. Carlson's view, Democrats are all over the ideological map in the post-Clinton era, and there can be no effective media without a coherent message.

But the case against liberal talk success isn't a slam-dunk. After all, conservatives have their talk-show fiascos too, as evidenced by MSNBC, the lame would-be Fox clone that, as the comedian Jon Stewart has said, doesn't "deserve all those letters" in its name. MSNBC's just-canceled right-wing star, Michael Savage, drew smaller audiences on the channel than Mr. Donahue did. What's more, there actually are liberals who retain a sense of humor (witness Mr. Franken, Mr. Stewart and Michael Moore), while conservative stars are not infrequently humor-free (witness Mr. O'Reilly).

Norman Lear goes so far as to argue that liberals are intrinsically funnier than conservatives. "Most comedy comes from those who see humor in the human condition," he says. "Most who traffic in the stuff could be called humanists. The far-right talk hosts spew a kind of venom and ridicule that passes for funnybone material with the program executives that hire them."

If humor doesn't bring liberals talk-show success, is the problem that they lack rage? Cal Thomas, the conservative columnist and Fox host, speaks for many when he argues that "liberals don't have the anger" that conservatives have stored up from their years in the political and media wilderness. But this, too, is changing: Pinch most Democrats these days, and they'll vomit vituperation about President Bush as crazed as that of some Clinton haters of a decade ago. The catechism that liberals believe in is arguably more or less as rigid as the conservative catechism, too: a multilateral foreign policy, affordable health care, a progressive tax code, pro-environmental regulation, pro-choice, etc.

Nor is the political complexion of media moguls necessarily an index of what political ideas they promote or stifle. It's Regan Books, an imprint of Mr. Murdoch's HarperCollins, that published Mr. Moore's best seller, "Stupid White Men." Meanwhile, it is a more progressive media gatekeeper, Bill Gates's Microsoft, that is a co-owner of MSNBC, on which Mr. Savage told a "sodomite" caller to "get AIDS and die."

In the end, the line that separates those who succeed and fail in talk TV and radio may have nothing whatsoever to do with ideology and everything to with show business. "It's hard to put a TV show together, let alone 24 hours of programming," Mr. Franken says. "Roger Ailes was a great hire for Fox. You need a showman. Fox had the idea you could do a cable news network that actually had an agenda, and no one had thought of that before."

It's a good point, because while Mr. Ailes is mainly known among political types as a media handler for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, he has equally telling roots in show-biz. He helped make a bland entertainment talk-show host, Mike Douglas, into a star in the 1960's, and learned producing under the wing of the legendary Broadway impresario Kermit Bloomgarden, whose musical hit "The Music Man" could be read as the ur-text for the shameless showmanship of Fox News Channel. At Fox, Mr. Ailes invented not only agenda-driven news ingeniously branded "fair and balanced" but also "the whoosh": that sound that announces the arrival of a new headline. The whoosh may be idiotic, but TV wasn't long ago christened the idiot box for nothing. Idiocy can be fun.

If showmen as shrewd as Mr. Ailes are rare, so are performers with the particular star quality suited to broadcast talk, says Harry Shearer, the liberal radio satirist ("Le Show" ), "Simpsons" voice and Christopher Guest collaborator (most recently on "A Mighty Wind" ). He argues that "based on sheer radio professionalism," even "a tribe of chimpanzees locked in a room would choose Rush Limbaugh over Jim Hightower," the Texas populist whose radio show has been an also-ran on the national charts.

"Hightower has a fine record as a left politician in Texas, which is not easy to do," Mr. Shearer says. "But he has a voice like a cat being wrung through a dryer at slow speed, and he has no show business chops. Rush Limbaugh didn't start in politics. He was Rusty Limbaugh, playing the top-40 hits. He learned the craft of broadcasting first."

Al Franken, like Ann Richards, Molly Ivins and other entertaining liberals, is a polished performer without a deep history on radio. He says that were he to take on the job of talk host, it would take over his life, and even then, he could fill only a few hours of the broadcasting day. It's not clear if any other performing talents are on tap to shoulder the rest. Tipper Gore's past campaign against rock lyrics doesn't augur well for Gore TV luring pre-A.A.R.P. talents or viewers. The best hope may be for Janet Reno to reconvene her "Dance Party" from "Saturday Night Live."

Then again, maybe the only real hope for liberals is just a cyclical change in the political environment. As the press keeps asking what President Bush knew about his own State of the Union speech and when he knew it, his approval rating has started sinking to its pre-9/11 level. The unemployment record on the administration's watch keeps heading into Herbert Hoover territory. This may explain why Mr. Franken's forthcoming book was at 550 in the sales rankings at Amazon.com when I checked it early this week, while Mr. O'Reilly's was languishing at 24,574. Timing is everything in politics, just as it is in show business. Should this realignment continue, Bill O'Reilly might yet have to face down competition from a liberal talk-show host with an equally self-infatuated TV presence. "The Andrew Cuomo Factor," anyone? *


Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

JACKinNYC
July 27th, 2003, 08:12 PM
Jon Stewart bashes Bush every night. He does a great job of it and makes me laugh every time. He's much better than Craig Kilborn ever was.

Freedom Tower
July 27th, 2003, 10:35 PM
Haha, too bad you cant bash him yourself Jack. I enjoy Clinton-bashing, however I don't have a favorite Clinton basher for one special reason - ANYONE CAN BASH CLINTON. Although ALL the democrats bash bush,some of it is obviously untrue and therefore unworthy of listening to. That's why u need a favorite bush basher. You need someone to make bush sound bad, even though IMO he is the best president we've had in a long time.

CountryBoy
July 28th, 2003, 01:08 PM
IMO he is the best president we've had in a long time.

You are right,I agree with you 100%.

Jasonik
July 28th, 2003, 02:53 PM
(Edited by Jasonik at 6:54 pm on Aug. 23, 2003)

Kris
July 28th, 2003, 03:44 PM
How manly. Are you trying to be clever again? What a waste.

No one more ponderously invokes moral authority than conservatives, especially of the social kind. The only convincing reason stated so far is that a defensive position isn't favorable to levity.

Jasonik
July 28th, 2003, 06:41 PM
(Edited by Jasonik at 6:55 pm on Aug. 23, 2003)

Kris
July 28th, 2003, 07:10 PM
Another vain attempt. A possible reason, not cause or even excuse. "[...]always claiming victim status." That is your biased interpretation.

Jasonik
July 28th, 2003, 08:05 PM
(Edited by Jasonik at 6:56 pm on Aug. 23, 2003)

Kris
July 28th, 2003, 08:36 PM
Whatever. Your ideology and feelings are irrelevant here. I consider your interpretation biased simply because liberals are not always claiming victim status. Fact, not "personal feeling" that needn't be justified and cannot be questioned.

Freedom Tower
July 29th, 2003, 11:43 AM
I dont think they're fun because not only do they claim victim status, which i agreee with Jasonik on, but they also are too politically correct. They don't actually do their job anymore they just bash conservatives all the time. A good example of this is how they ran away from Texas twice to stop something from being passed. Another example is Clinton, who not only lied to the nation and then admitted it, but let the 93 WTC bombings go with little added security. However, Clinton remains very popular among many people even to this day. He had it easy. He got in while the nation was doing well. He never actually did any good for us. I wonder if any of you know about that terrorist who hijacked the Achille Lauro? Well Clinton signed something promising not to punish him. Why? Because liberals are looking for fans and people to support them, they dont know right from wrong. For example, the war in iraq wasn't very popular, even in the USA there was some controversy. So what do liberals do? Instead of being glad we got a psychopath crazed dictator out of power who killed and tortured millions, liberals complain that no WMD have been found. However do they forget about the bioweapons labs? What about all the mass graves? Well it would take hours to explain, but I dont think liberals are fun becuase they lie, don't get anything done, and usually side with whoever our enemy is at any moment. That is why liberals are no fun.

Jasonik
July 29th, 2003, 07:10 PM
(Edited by Jasonik at 6:56 pm on Aug. 23, 2003)

Kris
July 29th, 2003, 07:46 PM
Your sarcasm may be missed indeed as it itself misses its target. You can keep deriding liberals, but your portraits or caricatures aren't credible.

Kris
July 29th, 2003, 08:12 PM
And this topic is about humor, not whether you find liberal politics "not funny" because you disagree with them. Additional posts like Freedom Tower's boring brick will be deleted, and so will more unrelated anti-liberal articles.

Kris
August 23rd, 2003, 07:43 AM
August 23, 2003

In Courtroom, Laughter at Fox and a Victory for Al Franken

By SUSAN SAULNY

A federal judge in Manhattan told Fox News yesterday that it had to learn how to take a joke. Then he rejected the network's request for an injunction to block the satirist Al Franken from using the words "fair and balanced" on the cover of his book, "Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right."

Calling the motion "wholly without merit, both factually and legally," the judge, Denny Chin of United States District Court, said that a person would have to be "completely dense" not to realize the cover was a joke, and that trademark protection for the phrase "Fair and Balanced" was unrealistic because the words are so commonly used.

Lawyers for Mr. Franken and his publisher, Penguin Group (USA), called the ruling a victory for the First Amendment. Mr. Franken was not in court.

"I never really had any doubt," he said in a telephone interview, calling the ruling "a victory for satirists everywhere, even the bad ones. In addition to thanking my own lawyers, I'd like to thank Fox's lawyers for filing one of the stupidest briefs I've ever seen in my life."

The Fox court papers had referred to Mr. Franken, a former "Saturday Night Live" writer and performer and an unabashed liberal, as a "parasite" who appeared shrill, unstable and "increasingly unfunny."

The network could appeal the decision. "We are considering our options," said Paul Schur, a Fox spokesman. "We don't care if it's Al Franken, Al Lewis or Weird Al Yankovic. We're here to protect our trademark and our talent."

If anything, the lawsuit only benefited Mr. Franken. His book had been scheduled for release in September, but the publicity caused the publisher to print an extra 50,000 copies, for a total of 435,000, and to roll the book out on Thursday.

After the ruling yesterday, it moved to the No. 1 spot on the best-seller list at amazon. com.

The network filed for the injunction on Aug. 11. Fox News Network trademarked the phrase "Fair and Balanced" in 1998 to describe its news coverage, and network lawyers claimed that Mr. Franken's use of the phrase in his book would "blur and tarnish" it.

Fox also objected to the use of a picture of Bill O'Reilly, one of its prominent news personalities, on the cover, claiming that it could be mistaken as an endorsement of the book.

But these arguments were met by laughter in the crowded courtroom, as Fox tried to defend its signature slogan. Part of the network's burden was to prove that Mr. Franken's use of the phrase "fair and balanced" would lead to consumer confusion.

One round of laughter was prompted when Judge Chin asked, "Do you think that the reasonable consumer, seeing the word `lies' over Mr. O'Reilly's face would believe Mr. O'Reilly is endorsing this book?"

The giggling continued as Dori Ann Hanswirth, a lawyer for Fox, replied, "To me, it's quite ambiguous as to what the message is here."

She continued, "It does not say `parody' or `satire.' "

Ms. Hanswirth said Fox's "signature slogan" was also blurred, because people who were not associated with the network, which owns the Fox News Channel, also appear on the cover with Mr. O'Reilly.

Judge Chin said, "The president and the vice president are also on the cover. Is someone going to consider that they are affiliated with Fox?"

The courtroom broke into laughter again.

Ms. Hanswirth replied, "It's more blurring, your honor."

After more discussion about what was and what was not satire, and about the definition of "parody," Judge Chin decided that Mr. Franken's work was of "artistic value."

"Parody is a form of artistic expression protected by the First Amendment," he said. "The keystone to parody is imitation. In using the mark, Mr. Franken is clearly mocking Fox."

He said Mr. Franken's work was "fair criticism."

Judge Chin said the case was an easy one, and chided Fox for bringing its complaint to court. The judge said, "Of course, it is ironic that a media company that should be fighting for the First Amendment is trying to undermine it."


Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

dbhstockton
August 24th, 2003, 07:33 PM
All this talk of liberals not being funny is nonsense. *Most people in show business are liberals. *Everybody knows that. *Ideologues and pundits are generally not funny, no matter what their politics are. *There are only a few exceptions, and they are not confined to any particular range of the political spectrum.