fair and square

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right is a book of political commentary and satire by comedian and political commentator Al Franken, published in 2003 by Dutton, a subsidiary in the Penguin Group. Franken had a study group of fourteen Harvard graduate students known as "Team Franken" to help him with the research. The book's subtitle is an ironic parody of Fox News' tagline "Fair and Balanced." Fox sued Franken over the use of the phrase in a short-lived lawsuit, which has been credited with increasing the sales of the book.

Lies is one of several books published in 2003 written by American liberals challenging the viewpoints of conservatives such as Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Bill O'Reilly. These books by Franken and fellow authors such as Joe Conason, Michael Moore and Jim Hightower were described by columnist Molly Ivins as the "great liberal backlash of 2003.


Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them largely targets prominent Republicans and conservatives, highlighting what Franken asserts are documentable lies in their claims. A significant portion of the book is devoted to comparisons between President George W. Bush and former president Bill Clinton regarding their economic, environmental, and military policies. Franken also criticizes several pundits, especially those he believes to be the most dishonest, including O'Reilly and Hannity.

In Lies, Franken divides American media into two groups: the mainstream media, which attempts to be objective, and the right-wing media, which does not. Franken writes that "The mainstream media does not have a liberal bias, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, Newsweek, and the rest at least try to be fair." Franken notes that the mainstream media do have biases toward sensationalism, the easy story, and soft news. Franken says the right wing media, including Fox News, The Washington Times, and the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, "are not interested in conveying the truth." He argues that they exist to further the cause of American conservatism by advancing stories and themes that work to the benefit of conservatives and to the detriment of liberals.

Franken seeks to debunk the claim that the mainstream American media are liberally biased. Franken believes that the claim of media "liberal bias" is a myth used by conservative politicians. Propagating this myth, Franken asserts, serves three functions. First, it creates reluctance among mainstream media outlets to cover issues that conservatives don't want them to, for fear that they will be accused of having a liberal bias. Second, it allows conservatives to deny or dismiss reports in the mainstream media, regardless of whether they are true, because they have discredited the source already. Third, attacking the liberal media can be effective at increasing conservative voter turnout.

The book criticizes several conservative authors and pundits by pointing out factual inaccuracies and deceptive statements they have made. Franken criticizes Ann Coulter on a number of points related to what Franken alleges as abuses or violations of journalistic ethics in her book Slander. In addition to accusing her of lying, Franken accuses Coulter of deliberately misusing citations in order to further a misleading political agenda. Coulter, when challenged on the accuracy of statements within the book, frequently said that Slander had 780 footnotes. Franken points out that merely having 780 citations makes readers less likely to actually check them. He also notes that Coulter's citations are not footnotes in a literal sense, but rather endnotes, which are located at the end of the book rather than the foot of the page. Readers, Franken contends, are far less likely to refer to endnotes. Franken also cites instances where Coulter misuses her citations to attribute offensive or outlandish statements to people who did not make them.

Franken also criticizes former CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg for what he claims is selective decontextualized quoting and other dishonest material in his book Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News. Franken recounts an incident on Phil Donahue's talk show on MSNBC when he confronted Goldberg about a misleading quote attributed to NBC anchor and commentator John Chancellor.

The book also criticizes Bill O'Reilly, with whom Al Franken has a public feud. Franken accuses O'Reilly of being a serial and pathological liar, recounting multiple controversies relating to O'Reilly, including O'Reilly's inaccurate statements regarding Peabody awards, his heated interview with Jeremy Glick, and his boycott of Pepsi for hiring rap artist Ludacris. Franken pokes fun at O'Reilly for moralizing about the sexually explicit and violent themes of Ludacris's songs despite having himself written a book, Those Who Trespass, which contains violent and sexual imagery and profanity. Franken also recounts his heated confrontation with O'Reilly at BookExpo America 2003, seen on C-SPAN.


Fox News sought damages from Franken, claiming in its lawsuit that the book's subtitle violated its trademark of the slogan "Fair and Balanced". The lawsuit was dismissed, and the attempt backfired on Fox News in that it provided Franken with free publicity just as the book was launched. "The book was originally scheduled to be released Sept. 22 but will be made available Aug. 21," according to its publisher. "We sped up the release because of tremendous demand for the book, generated by recent events."

In the lawsuit, Fox described Franken as "intoxicated or deranged" as well as "shrill and unstable." In response, Franken joked that he had trademarked the word "funny", and that Fox had infringed his intellectual property rights by characterizing him as "unfunny." The publicity resulting from the lawsuit propelled Franken's yet-to-be-released book to the #1 sales position on's best-seller list.

On August 22, 2003, U.S. District Judge Denny Chin denied Fox's request for an injunction to block the publication of Franken's book, characterizing the network's claim as "wholly without merit, both factually and legally." During the judge's questioning, spectators in the court's gallery frequently laughed at Fox's case. Franken later joked, "Usually when you say someone was literally laughed out of court, you mean they were figuratively laughed out of court, but Fox was literally laughed out of court." Three days later, Fox filed papers to drop its lawsuit.

Franken describes the legal battle in a paperback-only chapter of Lies entitled "I Win".

Book critiques

Difficulty posed by use of satire and nonfiction

In a largely favorable review of Franken's book in the Washington newspaper The Hill, reviewer Mary Lynn F. Jones wrote: "Franken's tendency to mix fact with fiction [also] left me wondering sometimes what was true and what wasn't." As an example, she cited a passage in Franken's book in which he wrote that former Bush foreign policy advisor Richard Armitage "bolted" from a Senate hearing and "[knocked] over veteran reporter Helen Thomas, breaking her hip and jaw". The paperback version has a footnote saying, "The Helen Thomas thing is a joke.

Factual inaccuracy

Franken wrote that former U.S. Senator Max Cleland (D-GA), while serving in the U.S. Army, "left three of his limbs in Vietnam. A VC grenade blew them off. In fact, it was not a Viet Cong grenade; instead the grenade had fallen from a fellow American soldier's flak jacket during a non-combat mission and accidentally detonated.

The inaccuracy was corrected in the book's paperback edition.


  • ISBN 0-525-94764-7 (hardcover, 2003)
  • ISBN 0-452-28521-6

See also


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