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  • Volume Eight, Number Eight: December 2003


    Carole Pearson

    Lies (and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them)               
    A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right                   
    By Al Franken
    Dutton Publishers, Penguin Group (USA) Inc. NYC 2003
    $37.50 377 pages.

    LiesWhen Fox News decided to sue Al Franken over his use of “fair and balanced” in his title, it gave the book the kind of publicity publishers dream about. Fox calls their news coverage “fair and balanced” and figured no one else should be able to use the three-word phrase. The judge wisely tossed the case out and book sales soared.

    This is a great book to read on the bus to work or while waiting in a ferry line-up. It’s fast paced,  easy to read and likely to raise a chuckle or two. Franken serves up an entertaining read that attacks the lies of the right wing media. Not only does he say they lie, but he shows how they lie. Franken’s previous book was Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot so obviously subtlety is not his strong suit.

    Franken’s book is a freewheeling romp through right wing territory. Working with TeamFranken, a research group of 14 Harvard undergraduates, Frankel begins by shredding arguments made by the right wing media that there is a liberal bias in the mainstream media. Not so, Franken chortles, trotting out examples of the unfair drubbing Al Gore received by the news media and their fixation on raking Bill Clinton over the coals as just two examples.

    He concludes there is no liberal bias but there is an influential right wing media that puts its own spin on events and who never let truth get in the way of a good show of righteous indignation. Fox, the Washington Times, the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and American talk radio are the domain of the right wing pundits. Not only are they biased, Franken says, but they have an agenda and feel justified in concocting an inflammatory story, repeating and embellishing it to serve their purpose.

    Some parts of the book drift off into self-indulgence. There are a couple of comic book type sections and scripts of plays that seem to be more filler than substance but the book quickly resumes speed when Franken returns to lambasting the “lying liars.”

    Watching Fox News and listening to American talk radio is not a prerequisite for enjoying Lies (and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them). It’s Franken’s way of describing his personal experiences that make this book enlightening and entertaining.

    Fortunate Son                              
    George W Bush and the Making of an American President       
    By JH Hatfield
    Soft Skull Press, Brooklyn New York 2002
    $US16.50  383 pages

    When Jim Hatfield wrote Fortunate Son his subject was the newly re-elected governor of Texas and a presidential hopeful. First published in 1999, this unauthorized biography of George Walker Bush offers up a refreshingly impartial story of the life of the eldest scion of ex-President George Bush. Unlike other present-day George Dubya  biographers, Hatfield shuns fawning admiration but neither does he reach for the hatchet.
    Fortunate SonIn the preface, journalist Greg Palast states, “What you get here is the drumbeat of fact after fact on the rise of a President born with a silver oil well in his mouth.”

    Readers are presented with quite astonishing stories of the future president as a party-hearty animal who attended Yale and Harvard despite mediocre grades. Hatfield also writes about George Dubya the businessman and the dealings of a man never loathe to use his political connections to further his business interests and vice versa.

    With 46 pages of source notes, this is no slash and burn biography but one painstakingly researched and verified. Out of all the revelations, however,  it was stories of Dubya’s alleged arrest for cocaine possession in 1972 that stirred up an inferno of controversy but in an unintended way.

    Coincidence or not, upon the book’s release, the Dallas Morning News received confidential information about Hatfield’s criminal past, revealing he had been convicted of attempted murder in 1988 and served five years in prison. When this news became public, the media frenzy made the author’s checkered past overshadow and discredit the contents of his book.

    Just three days after the book’s release, a nervous St Martin’s Press recalled 70,000 copies of Fortunate Son and dispatched them to the furnace. Outraged by this action, Sandor Hicks and his Soft Skull Press picked up the rights to Hatfield’s book and began publishing and distributing new copies.

    Unfortunately, there’s no happy ending here. George W Bush went on to become president of the most powerful nation in the world. And Hatfield, faced with personal problems and financial pressures, died of a drug overdose on July 17, 2001 in a motel room, leaving behind a wife and infant daughter.

    Read Fortunate Son in memory of Jim Hatfield and give thanks to Sandor Hicks for not allowing the story to be silenced.

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