Throwing away restraint, radio host and best-selling author Al Franken, in a talk at the Law School Friday afternoon, derided the president as “not the most curious man in the world” and ripped him for being “an intellectual sloth.”
Speaking to an overflow crowd of students and professors as the guest of a dean’s lecture sponsored by the Yale chapter of the American Constitution Society, the famously liberal Franken spoke to an overflow crowd of students and professors. Franken, the winner of two Grammys and five Emmy Awards and the author of five books, spent much of his hour-long speech talking about biases in American mainstream media, his legal wrangling with Fox News and his frustration with the Bush presidency.
“He lied to us, and he lied to the world,” Franken said of President Bush’s case for the war in Iraq. “It ruined any moral authority we ever had, which puts us in a very dangerous situation.”
While Franken, who graduated from Harvard College in 1973 and went on to become one of the founding writers for “Saturday Night Live,” devoted parts of his talk to joking with the audience and poking fun at the media, he wore a serious expression on his face when he talked about Bush and Republicans in Congress, for whom he reserved his harshest words.
He said he thought Bush’s dishonesty and the unwillingness of congressional Republicans to oversee the president were costing the lives of American soldiers.
“Our guys are dying because our Congress sees itself as a rubber stamp, and it is a sin,” said Franken, who had to choke back tears.
Franken, who is said to be considering a run for the United States Senate from Minnesota, criticized Republicans for favoring the interests of corporations such as Halliburton over the interests of the American people.
“This administration and this Congress are riddled with corruption, and we should be shouting about it,” Franken said. “What’s being done about health care? What’s being done about education?”
Along with this civic-minded message, Franken’s speech touched upon some of the controversy he has faced during his career, including the copyright lawsuit brought against him by Fox News over the title of his most recent book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.”
Franken said Fox brought the suit against him in 2003 for his use of the phrase “fair and balanced,” which is the network’s slogan. But he said he felt confident from the start that Fox’s case was without merit.
“My publisher was very upset,” Franken said. “I had to tell her to calm down. I told her, ‘I believe in the U.S., satire is protected speech, even if the object of the satire doesn’t get it. Our letter to Fox should be “please, please, please sue us.”‘”
Franken drew laughs from his audience when he recounted the trial and the judge’s quick verdict in Franken’s favor. He said that Fox’s courtroom presentation was so weak that spectators at the trial were reduced to laughter.
“People laughed for the whole 20-minute trial,” Franken said. “They had to put plastic sheeting down because people were pissing themselves.”
Franken’s comments on media bias drew a similarly appreciative response from those in attendance. Franken said that he thought the criticism of mainstream media as being too liberal was irrelevant.
“Asking whether mainstream media has a liberal or a conservative bias is like asking whether al Qaeda uses too much oil in their hummus,” Franken said. “It’s beside the point.”
Instead, Franken said, the problem with mainstream media is their fixation on glitzy coverage and debating talking-heads at the expense of stories of substance. He lamented the failure of major news outlets to do real investigative journalism because they deem it not profitable.
“The mainstream media has some biases, but they’re pack-mentality biases,” Franken said. “But mainly what they have is a bias toward making money.”
Students at the talk responded to Franken enthusiastically.
“I thought the speech was at the same time really funny and really profound,” Jeri Xu ’07 said. “I’m not really a political person, but he brought my attention to the issues.”
Justin Kosslyn ’09 said he found Franken’s talk impressive for its thoughtfulness and sense of urgency.
“I thought Franken was the perfect mixture of Huey Long and a true scholar,” Kosslyn said. “He was both fiery and passionate and clearly emotionally affected by what he was saying. It was evident that he had thought through his positions carefully.”
Franken’s talk elicited a steady stream of laughter and applause from those watching in the auditorium and on closed-circuit television in classrooms throughout the Law School. Other topics that Franken touched on included the nomination of Judge John Roberts to the Supreme Court and conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh, whom Franken said got his statistics from “the Bureau of Rush’s Ass.”
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