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Comedian and Political Commentator Al Franken

Enter MeFranken's new book is Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Franken recently made headlines when the Fox News Channel tried to sue him over the phrase "fair and balanced," which Fox claimed as its own. Fox lost, and Franken got lots of publicity for the book, which is now a bestseller. Al Franken is an alumnus of Saturday Night Live, where his most memorable character was the simpering self-help sap Stuart Smalley.


Other segments from the episode on September 3, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 3, 2003: Interview with Al Franken; Commentary on Toots and his ban, Maytals.


DATE September 3, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Al Franken discusses his new book, "Lies and the Lying
Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

You've probably already heard about satirist Al Franken's new book, the book
that was number one on the Amazon best-seller list before it was even
published. What got the attention was the lawsuit filed by Fox News, which
sought to prevent Franken from using the expression `fair and balanced' in his
book title on the grounds that Fox had trademarked that expression to describe
their programs. Fox withdrew its suit after a federal judge denied its
request for a preliminary injunction against the book cover, saying the case
was wholly without merit and that Fox was trying to undermine the First

Franken's book is titled "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and
Balanced Look at the Right." It echoes his earlier best-seller "Rush Limbaugh
is a Big Fat Idiot." Franken was a longtime writer and performer on "Saturday
Night Live." He's also written humor for Al Gore. Franken researched his new
book with the help of a group of Harvard students while he was the fellow at
Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. They
fact-checked statements made by pundits on the right and reports from
conservative media. Franken's book includes the findings about the facts that
turned out to be false.

Al Franken, I want you to start by reading the opening sentence in the forward
to your book.

Mr. AL FRANKEN (Author, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them"): OK. It's
a note from the author. (Reading) `Although I wrote this book in a spirit of
dispassionate inquiry, I cannot expect my critics to respond in kind.'

GROSS: Well, Al Franken, they sure didn't. You got sued.

Mr. FRANKEN: Yes, I did.

GROSS: When you found out about the lawsuit, did you think, `This is good
news' or `This is bad news'?

Mr. FRANKEN: Oh, I knew it was good news. There's a kind of funny story
about this. I went to Italy this summer. After I'd finished the book, I
needed a vacation, so I went to Italy with my family. And I knew I was going
to come back to start, you know, selling the book and marketing the book and
going on the book tour. So you know the book "The Tipping Point"?

GROSS: Right.

Mr. FRANKEN: Yeah, which basically tells how, you know, things have become
phenomenon on small, little things. And a lot of people in marketing now
are--you know, it's a little bit of--it's a cult classic, or more than that
probably. And so I took "The Tipping Point" to Italy, but I didn't want to
think about my book for about, you know, five or six days. So on the sixth
night in Italy, I take "The Tipping Point" to bed and I'm reading it and it's
a great book. And I'm about halfway through and I start falling asleep. And
I close my eyes and I start thinking, `Must think of tipping point for book.
Must--(yawns)--think of tipping point for book'--(pretending to snore)--fall

My next conscious moment, I swear, someone in the house walks in and says,
`Al, you're being sued by Fox.' And I kind of opened my eyes and it takes
about a second and a half to register, and I go, `Good,' and then I went back
to sleep. And about an hour and a half later, I got my e-mail and I had--all
Team Franken were excitedly e-mailing me saying, `Isn't this great? This is

GROSS: And it got you to number one on the Amazon best-seller list before the
book was even published.


GROSS: So now what Fox contested was the title of your book, which includes
what they say was a trademarked expression.

Mr. FRANKEN: Right.

GROSS: So your book title is "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair
and Balanced Look at the Right," and it was `fair and balanced' that was
contested by Fox.

Mr. FRANKEN: Right.

GROSS: How did you come up with the title?

Mr. FRANKEN: Well, you know, if you think of the title, like "Rush Limbaugh
is a Big Fat Idiot: And Other Observations," the subtitle is "And Other
Observations." So "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot" is sort of an
over-the-top ad hominem attack at a guy who makes ad hominem attacks. So
"Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" is a, you know--like Ann Coulter
wrote a book called "Slander" and--you know, "the Lies of the Left," or
something. So I figured I would use their kind of language. What I learned
in trademark law was that "Lies and the Lying Liars" is called wordplay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FRANKEN: And it was funny because in the hearing, the judge said to the
Fox attorney, `Do you think that "Lies and the Lying Liars" is wordplay?' And
she kind of went, `No, Your Honor, not in this case. This is a deadly serious
title, and nowhere on the jacket does it say parody,' which is, like, the
dumbest thing I've ever heard anyone--no--yes, yes, it is the dumbest.

So I thought "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" is sort of like that
over-the-top kind of stuff they do. And then "A Fair and Balanced Look at the
Right" is sort of the very understated, like, `This is going to be fair and
balanced,' and it had the added virtue of being--`fair and balanced,' you
know, alluded to Fox News Channel, which was part of the right-wing media,
which shills for the Bush administration, which is a dishonest administration
and that's what the book is about.

So I thought it was a great title. And I knew that when Fox sued me that this
was about Bill O'Reilly making Fox sue me. And I knew my rights as a
satirist, that there was no question that I was going to win this thing, and
that it was just going to give me a lot of publicity, all of which was right.
And so it's just worked out beautifully.

GROSS: What...

Mr. FRANKEN: Thank you. Thank you, Bill O'Reilly and Fox.

GROSS: Before Fox actually sued, was there any concern at your publishing
company that the title was going to be trouble?


(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Were lawyers brought in to examine the title and to make sure they
could be OK with it?

Mr. FRANKEN: They were after Fox--I had this sort of dust-up with Bill
O'Reilly in LA at this book expo thing. And so he sent a letter threatening
to sue--or no, I don't think he sent a letter threatening to sue; I think his
agent or something or somebody called our publisher threatening to sue if you
didn't take his picture off or something. And then a couple of weeks later
Fox said that they were threatening to sue if they didn't take his picture off
and didn't take `fair and balanced' off. And we hired Floyd Abrams to look at
it, and he said, `No, this is America and you can do that.'

And actually, our publisher, Carol Baran, called me and said, `Fox is suing
us'--or `is threatening to sue us, and what'--you know. And I said, `OK,
here's the letter we should send them: "Please, please sue us."'

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You didn't send that letter, did you?

Mr. FRANKEN: No, they sent--you know, Floyd sent a letter which was the
regular letter, which is, `Al's a satirist. He's entit'--you know, `he's able
to satirize public figures and, you know, the Fox News Channel. And this is
incredibly un-American for a news organization to try to suppress free
speech,' all of which was true. And I thought that was the end of it, you
know. And that's why I was in Italy going, `Must think of tipping point.'
And I didn't expect--and then it was an absolute surprise when they sued
because I just knew they had no case, and I know that everybody at Fox knew
they had no case. But they had, you know, a star at their network who was in
an infantile rage and they did this to satisfy him.

And I think they thought, `Well, OK, we're going to take some hits for this,
but also our base will respond,' and I think they miscalculated. I think
they've taken so much ridicule. I mean, they were literally laughed out of
court. And usually when you say `literally laughed out of court' you mean
figuratively laughed out of court. They were literally laughed out of court.
There was wall-to-wall laughter. I didn't go to the hearing, but The New York
Times reporter who called me for my comment just said there was just laughter
all throughout.

GROSS: Now Fox accused you of being shrill and unstable, not a well-respected
voice in American politics, a C-level political commentator who appears to be
unstable, a parasite, and they said that you were intoxicated or deranged at a
press correspondents dinner in April.

Mr. FRANKEN: Right.

GROSS: Of all the things that they said about you, did any of them sting?

Mr. FRANKEN: Well, what was funny about this is they didn't accuse me of that
so much as they said the press has accused me of that. That was in their
complaint. And they said, `The press has called him deranged and, you know,
and unstable and a parasite and stuff.' So they had to put in this complaint
what press they were talking about. Well, the press they were talking about
came from what we call at Team Franken the prestigious Internet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FRANKEN: Including--there were two pieces. One was from just a nut case,
right-wing thing and the other was also from a nut case, right-wing thing, but
which has a home page that brags that even if you're an amateur writer, that
if you submit to us you have a much greater chance of being published then at
almost any other Web site.

So, you know, there were so many ironies in this suit, one of which was that
they presented in their complain--they did exactly the kind of thing I write
about in the book. So they'll say, `The press says he's a parasite,' but it
turns out to be some guy, some, you know, guy on the Internet saying I'm a
parasite. I mean, what does that mean, you know? So that's how they distort
and--you know, it was clearly, you know--The New York Times said it looked
like it was written, you know, by O'Reilly looking over the shoulder of the
lawyer and him trying to, you know, write things that he wished he had said at
the book expo. And it's just--it was part of the--the ridicule that Fox took
was some of the incredibly cheap shots they took in the complaint.

GROSS: My guest is satirist Al Franken. His new book is called "Lies and the
Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." We'll be
back after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Al Franken, and his new book is the best-seller "Lies and
the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right."

One of your previous books was the best-seller "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat
Idiot." How did Rush Limbaugh react to that title? Did he ever threaten to

Mr. FRANKEN: No. Well, here's the real difference between Rush--and I've
gained new--I hate to say it--respect--OK--well, something, for Rush. Because
about a month before the Rush book came out--remember, it's "Rush Limbaugh is
a Big Fat Idiot: And Other Observations"--I had my editor send him a copy of
the book with a little note that said, `Dear Rush, Al thinks it'll help sales
if you mention the book on your show,' and he didn't. He was smart enough not
to do it.

And O'Reilly has just been--has just gone nut--you know, on the radio--like,
after our thing at the book expo, he said that, `If this had happened 200
years ago, I would have,' you know, `this would have had to be settled in a
gunfight like in the Old West. And I can assure you, I can guarantee you,
that I would beat Franken at it and I would shoot him between the head,' which
I didn't quite know what--that's literally what he said. And one of the funny
things about that to me was that how he could be sure that he would beat me at
a quick draw. 'Cause, you know, Terry, I'm actually well known on the quick
draw circuit. I go to state fairs. I just came from the Ohio State Fair,
where I got a blue ribbon in the quick draw.

No, it's just like--and then when the suit came up, he said that, `This is to
punish Al Franken. This is to show that you can't defame me and steal our
trademark, and we're going to cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars by
suing you and make you pay for legal fees.' And, you know, now the book's
number one. It's number one on The New York Times Best-Seller List because of
the suit--partially because of the suit. I like to think also partially
because it's a really great book and because people know what I do. So I've
been punished by Bill O'Reilly and I'm still licking my wounds. I'm licking
my wounds, you know. This is--don't go after this guy; he really knows how to
get back at you.

GROSS: Well, let's get to the premise of the book.

Mr. FRANKEN: Yeah.

GROSS: Let's get to the premise of the book, which is that you were

Mr. FRANKEN: Sure, yeah, I'd like to get past the Fox stuff.

GROSS: Yeah. OK. So you were invited to Harvard...


GROSS: be in residence there.

Mr. FRANKEN: Right.

GROSS: And you decided to turn this to your advantage for your next book.


GROSS: What did you do?

Mr. FRANKEN: Well, I've been asked for about three years to be a fellow at
the Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School at Harvard. And I put it off
until my daughter's senior year there. And really--I really put it off for
that because it would be my son's senior year in high school--his second
semester senior year. So he wouldn't need me at home, particularly, because
second semester senior year at his high school is pretty--they goof off,

So I went there and I said, `What do you want?' You know, `What does a
fellow'--I was a fellow at the Shorenstein Center--I said, `What do you want
me to do?' And they said, `Well, you can just be here and be a resource.'
And I said, `Well, oh, OK, do you want me to teach anything?' And they went,
`Well, no, we want you to write something.' So I said, `Oh, OK, could I write
a book about how the right-wing media shills for Bush?' And they go, `Yeah,
sure, you can do that.' And I said, `And you don't want me to teach
anything?' `Well,' he said, `you can have a study group.' And I said, `Oh,
OK, what do I have to--anything'--`you can teach 'em anything,' you know. I
said, `How about if I,' you know, `the course is on how to research my book?'
And they said, `Sure.' And that's it.

So I got like--I got all these applications for it, and I got--I ended up
picking 14 students--nine from the Kennedy School and five from the
college--and we would meet every Wednesday night. My wife would--I got an
apartment in Cambridge and my wife would fly up on, like, Tuesday and then
make dinner, so we--'cause I couldn't stand being in a classroom really. And
we would have dinner at my--at the apartment. And we just had tremendous fun,
and I'd give them assignments, and they'd research stuff, and, you know, and
some I'm extremely close to now. And they did a great job, and I just wanted
to make sure that the book was really, really well-researched.

GROSS: Now you do have a chapter devoted to Bill O'Reilly, and one of the
things you do in that chapter is check a couple of things that he has said
about himself, including that "Inside Edition"--the show that he used to
host--won a couple of Peabody Awards and that he grew up in...

Mr. FRANKEN: Levittown.

GROSS: ...Levittown, New York.

Mr. FRANKEN: Yeah.

GROSS: So I'm going to ask you to choose one of those two things, which you
and your students investigated. Want to...

Mr. FRANKEN: Well, I...

GROSS: ...go with the Levittown? You want to go with the Levittown?

Mr. FRANKEN: Yeah, I'll go with Levittown. I mean, he--here, let me open the
book to this chapter, because there's some funny things I want to quote in it.
OK. He has created this sort of myth about himself, which is that he's sort
of this every man who grew up in, you know, poverty and--a self-made man who
talks for every guy. And, in fact, he said--at the book expo, that thing he
said, `I started out with nothing.' And he told The New York Observer once,
`You don't come from any lower than I came from on an economic scale.' And
that's pretty hard to do, not--you know, to be in America and not
come--anyway, so--the thing is, though, that there--we found an independent
source who contradicted him. And that independent source is his mother.

And he said, `I grew up in Levittown,' which is, you know, he had this
hardscrabble boyhood in Levittown. And the fact is he didn't grow up in
Levittown, he grew up in Westbury, which is an affluent suburb. And his mom
very proudly told The Washington Post that they had a very nice, affluent
childhood for him, and they went to Florida every year for vacation, and he
went to private school, and he went to a private college, and she's very proud
of that--and as well she should be; her husband worked very hard.

But Bill--so, when I was at the book expo, I said to Bill, I said, `Well,
which is it? Did you grow up in Levittown or did you grow up in Westbury?'
And which is really, seemingly, a hard thing to spin. Remember, this is a guy
with a `no spin zone.' He said, `I grew up in the Westbury section of
Levittown.' And they're two different villages. They're just--they're
not--they don't--it's like saying, `I grew up in the Brooklyn section of
Manhattan.' It's just crazy.

And this is this pattern that he has, which is he has created this myth that I
think he now believes about himself, and so, you know, the thing about winning
the Peabodys, it was just crazy, too. And then, you know, when he was caught
on that, he said, `OK, so I mistook a Polk for a Peabody.' And, well, he's
talking about a Polk that he didn't win, that the show won after he left, for
two Peabodys that they never won. They just did not--and I said to him once,
on this, I said, `Don't you think it's ironic that you would get a journalism
award wrong? Don't you find that ironic?' And he said, `Go ahead. Go after
me.' So, you know, I did. I thought that--Oh, that's a good idea, OK, I'll
go after you.'

GROSS: Al Franken's new book is called "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell
Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." He'll be back in the second
half of the show. By the way, we've invited Bill O'Reilly of Fox News to join
us in a few weeks after his new book is published. I'm Terry Gross and this

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: Coming up, satirist Al Franken reads the letter he sent to prominent
conservatives telling them he was writing a book about sexual abstinence,
which, of course, he wasn't, asking them to share their abstinence stories.

Also, music critic Milo Miles considers the career of Frederick "Toots"
Hibbert and his reggae group Toots & the Maytals.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with satirist Al Franken.
His new book is the best-seller "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A
Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." He researched most of the book with the
help of Harvard students while he was a fellow at Harvard's Shorenstein Center
on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. They fact checked statements from
people on the right. He published the findings about statements that turned
out to be false.

Now one of the things you did was a prank. You pretended that you were
writing a book about abstinence.


GROSS: And you wrote to leaders of the abstinence movement, asking them for
their abstinence stories. I'm going to ask you to read the letter that you
sent, and some of the people who you sent this to were John Ashcroft, William
Bennett, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, Dick and Lynne Cheney, Trent Lott, Phyllis
Schlafly, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Condoleezza Rice and President Bush.

Mr. FRANKEN: Yeah.

GROSS: Read the letter.

Mr. FRANKEN: Well, I'll read the one that was in the book that's to `Dear
Attorney General Ashcroft,' but it doesn't really matter who it's to. So it's
`Dear Attorney General Ashcroft, I am currently a fellow at Harvard's Kennedy
School of Government, where I am working on a book about abstinence programs
in out public schools entitled "Savin' It." In these days of rampant
immorality, unwanted pregnancies and dangerous sexual diseases, "Savin' It"
will document how the Bush administration is championing abstinence programs
and setting the right examples for America's youth. The book's fourth
chapter, "Role Modelin' It," will feature the personal stories of abstinence
heroes for our nation's young people to emulate. Isn't it about time for our
young people to have a chance to look up to leaders who truly walk the walk
instead of just talking the talk by not having sex until they were married? I
would very much appreciate it if you could share your abstinence story.

So far, I have received wonderful testimonies from HHS Secretary Tommy
Thompson, William J. Bennett, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer,
Cardinal Eagon, Senator Rick Santorum and National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice. I'm still hoping to hear back from the president. I have
found that kids respond best to total honesty. Don't be afraid to share a
moment when you were tempted to have sex, but were able to overcome your urges
through willpower and strength of character. Be funny. Did a young woman
ever think you were a homosexual just because you wouldn't have sex with her?
Be serious. Were you ever taunted and made to feel bad or uncool because of
your choice? But most of all, be real. Kids can sense a phoney a mile away.
I can tell by your passionate advocacy of abstinence education that you will
have a lot to offer this book. Thank you for considering my project. I hope
you can find time to inspire the next generation of sex-free leaders.
Sincerely, Al Franken.'

So I sent this out, and I sent it out on Shorenstein letterhead, which was my
regret, and so I...

GROSS: This is a Shorenstein School--the Shorenstein Center for Journalism,
Politics and Public Policy at Harvard.

Mr. FRANKEN: Right. And I did it, I guess, I don't know why. And I
shouldn't have, you know. I should have just sent it on my own letterhead,
because I guess I wanted to give it sort of the imprimatur of, you know, I was
a fellow at the Shorenstein Center, but I was lying, you know. This is what's
called a prank. This is in the tradition of satire. You send out a prank.
And I got four responses, which the Shorenstein Center asked me not to print,
because it was based on something on their--and all the responses were, `I'd
love to--good luck with "Savin' It."' My boss--they were never from the
actual guy. You know, `My boss would love to contribute, but he's kind of
busy, you know. He's too busy right now.'

GROSS: So did...

Mr. FRANKEN: `Due to other commitments, he's not going to be able to tell you
his abstinence hero story.'

GROSS: Now do you think that some of the people didn't get that this was a

Mr. FRANKEN: I guess those four didn't. You know, if someone was willing to
send me--I mean, I'm not fooling my readers. My readers know what I was
doing. And if someone had bothered--and I didn't think anyone would, because
I didn't think anyone actually had an abstinence story. See, that's what the
whole point of this is, is that. And it's on a larger theme, which is that
the Christian right really does have an amazing amount of control over this
administration, or is pandered to anyway by the administration. And one of
the ways they pander is by doing this abstinence-only sex education, which
mounting evidence shows that it doesn't work, and that that's why the, you
know, National Institutes of Health and the AMA and Center for Disease Control
and all these other organizations endorse comprehensive sex ed, which
encourages abstinence, but says that if you're not abstinent, you should use
condoms. And, you know, I think it's the Alan Guttmacher Institute has done a
study. You know, like, teen pregnancy went down tremendously during the
Clinton administration, and it's been shown that 75 percent of that is because
of increased use of contraception. But these people will do this policy.
This is what they do a lot. They do policy that actually doesn't make sense,
but works for them politically.

GROSS: Do you think that right now there are comics who are being much more
outspoken in their criticisms of the Bush administration than Democrats are
being--I mean, than Democratic politicians are being? And I'm thinking of you
and Bill Maher in particular.

Mr. FRANKEN: Well, Bill is, and Bill's always been very outspoken. There
feels like there's sort of this rash of books now. Joe Conason has a book
that's also on the best-seller list. Molly Ivins. There's...

GROSS: David Corn has a book coming out very critical of President Bush.

Mr. FRANKEN: Yeah, I mean, and I'm sure Molly will be on the best-seller
list, and Michael Moore is going to come out with another one. But I feel,
you know, like we're fighting back. And there have been all these right-wing
books, which I actually also critique.

GROSS: But the `we' that you're talking about are comics, pundits. There are
some journalists who are writing critical books. But...

Mr. FRANKEN: Well, there are some journalists. Joe's a journalist. Molly's
a journalist.

GROSS: Right, right, right. Yeah, but what about, like...

Mr. FRANKEN: But there's not the White...

GROSS: ...Democratic politicians?

Mr. FRANKEN: Well, the one people are responding to, you know, is Howard
Dean, because he has been so outspoken. And I think that he's leading the way
in that way. I mean, I'm not sure who I'm supporting. I think there are four
or five of these, you know, top-tier Democrats who would make a great
president. And I'm waiting it out, but I like many of them. And I feel like
Dean has prospered by speaking out the harshest and in the harshest terms
against Bush, because he deserves it. I mean, this guy--I think, you know,
first of all, on the economy, because they have no policy other than cutting
taxes, it's just been a disaster. He's going to be the first president since
Hoover to not have created one new net job in his first administration.
They've lost almost three million jobs. Between he and his father, Bush I and
Bush II, over six and a half years, not one new net job has been created. And
I'm a nut for statistics. Numbers do not lie. If you extrapolate from that,
if the Bushes had run this nation from its very inception to the present day,
not one American would have ever worked.

GROSS: Did you go through a period after September 11th or shortly after the
war in Iraq started where you felt like, although you feel very critical of
the Bush administration, and although you can even be very funny about it,
that you should hold your tongue for a while out of respect?

Mr. FRANKEN: I went out, you know, very soon after 9/11 and said, `We have to
support the president.' And I went on a USO tour to Kosovo and Bosnia just as
the operation in Afghanistan was beginning, and I supported that. And
President Clinton said, `We have to get behind the president.' And I think
that at that time, we thought that we had this unique moment of national unity
which, instead of Bush using it, you know, to go forward into a new century of
mutual cooperation and mutual sacrifice, he just kept, you know, giving bigger
and bigger tax cuts to the rich. I mean, he is the one who squandered this
moment of national unity.

GROSS: My guest is satirist Al Franken. His new book is called "Lies and the
Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." We'll be
back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is satirist Al Franken. His new book is called "Lies and the
Lying Lairs Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right."

I'm sure you've been following to some extent the California recall and the
Arnold Schwarzenegger interview from the '70s in Oui magazine that's been...

Mr. FRANKEN: Yeah, I read that.

GROSS: Yeah. So do you think that that should be used politically? Do you
think that that should really matter?

Mr. FRANKEN: Well, you know, I...

GROSS: And if so, how do you think it should be used?

Mr. FRANKEN: OK. Here's the thing. I read the We interview, and it's on You know, I don't think that the fact the guy had group
sex--I mean, I didn't in the '70s, and I kind of regret it. You know, I was
young then, and maybe I think I had the opportunity once or twice, but, you
know, like an idiot, I turned it down. So anyway, I don't think that the fact
that he had group sex and did drugs and that kind of stuff should be held
against him. I think the fact that he did an interview in which he bragged
about it like a big arrogant jerk should give you some window into the guy's
character, because there's a big difference between the two.

And then, you measure it in terms of his behavior in more recent years. And I
don't think that's been exemplary in terms of those things. But then you
should look at: Is the man qualified to be governor? And I don't see any
reason that he would be. And then my biggest problem with him is none of
that. My biggest problem is his friendship with Kurt Waldheim, and maybe I'm
being overly judgmental, but I don't like Nazis, and especially ones who were
officers in units that massacred Jews. And maybe it's because I'm Jewish that
I feel this way, but after Waldheim was banned from entering the United
States, Schwarzenegger insisted on inviting him to his wedding, and he wasn't
able to come in, Waldheim, because of this history. But at his wedding,
Schwarzenegger toasted Waldheim to the horror of the rest of the Kennedy

So I am not a big fan, as you might--you know, I think like if I were a
Republican, which I'm not, but if I were a Republican, I'd be looking at,
like, someone like Pete Ueberroth who has, like, this history of
accomplishment. And it's just sad that this circus in California is so sad,
because Pete Ueberroth, you know, ran the Olympics in LA and made the first
profitable Olympics. He was commissioner of baseball. He's a serious guy.
He's like a guy you might want to have be governor when your state is in
fiscal trouble.

GROSS: Do you feel like you've undergone...

Mr. FRANKEN: I mean, it's crazy. Sorry.

GROSS: Do you feel like you've gone through this big change in your life,
going from, you know, like, comic and satirist to somebody who's much more in
politics than maybe you ever thought you'd be?

Mr. FRANKEN: Well, I guess now, you know, like, when I did the Rush book, it
was after I had done 15 seasons of "Saturday Night Live." And in "Saturday
Night Live," I wrote a lot of political stuff. And a lot of it I wrote with a
lot of different people, Tom Davis certainly, but a lot of it with Jim Downey,
who's pretty conservative, and Jim and I are great friends. And we kept each
other honest. And we've never felt that the role of the show was to have a
political ideology. We felt we were representing the 75 other creative
people, design and actors and writers, etc., cameramen. And we just didn't
feel like we should have an ax to grind in that stuff, and I'm very proud of
the political stuff we did on "Saturday Night Live" together. When I left the
show, I had always done political humor. I felt that then if I was writing a
book with my name, that I was able to say what I thought. And that was the
point at which Gingrich was becoming ascendant, and Limbaugh was his
mouthpiece. So that was why I wrote "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot."

Since then, I've written books that aren't like this. I got mad again is what
happened. I got mad again. And I think this guy, this president, has just
been dishonest from the moment he started running. And I think he is
dangerously putting our country in the wrong direction, so I did this book
again. Now I did learn something, and I knew it as I was doing these other
books, which didn't do as well as the Rush book. No matter what, people would
show up for my book signings and were begging for me to do this kind of book
again. People want sort of the same thing, it turns out, so they want me to
do this political satire, and they want me to be funny and angry and honest.

GROSS: Do you think you're going to be a guest on Fox?

Mr. FRANKEN: No, I think not.

GROSS: Have you gotten any invitations? Yeah.

Mr. FRANKEN: Well, Greta Van Susteren is--I hate to say this. I hope this
doesn't put her in any jeopardy as a friend of mine. And I e-mailed her
actually yesterday and just said, you know, regarding your organization has
sued me. And, you know, she's going to stay out of it, and so no, Fox isn't
going to have me on.

GROSS: Well, Al Franken, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. FRANKEN: Is that it?

GROSS: Yeah, we're out of time.

Mr. FRANKEN: Are we over? I can't...

GROSS: We're out of time.

Mr. FRANKEN: No, no, no. I don't want it to be over.

GROSS: Al Franken. His new book is called "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell
Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." We've invited Bill O'Reilly of
Fox News to join us in a few weeks after his new book is published.

Singer and songwriter Loudon Wainright, who has written a lot of musical
satire, has a new live CD called "So Damn Happy," and he's on a performance
tour. Here's a track from the CD. It's called "You Never Phone." It's a
duet with his daughter Martha.

Mr. LOUDIN WAINRIGHT: Hey, welcome to the stage Martha Wainright.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause; music

Mr. WAINRIGHT: (Singing) You never phone. You never write. Hey, I've
stopped hoping that you might. You're trying to hurt my feelings, right? You
never phone, and you never write.

Ms. MARTHA WAINRIGHT: (Singing) You never write. You never phone. I'm
sorry, I gotta bitch and moan. I'm sorry, I gotta pick this bone. You never
write. You never phone.

Mr. WAINRIGHT and Ms. WAINRIGHT: (Singing in unison) Sometimes I wonder
what you must think of me. My address and phone number must be misty in your

Mr. WAINRIGHT: (Singing) This year, my birthday came and went. No call was
made. No card was sent. But I got the snub you must have meant. This year,
my birthday came and went.

Ms. WAINRIGHT: (Singing) This year, my birthday went and came. Last year,
what happened was the same. And your excuses sure are lame. This year, my
birthday went and came.

Mr. WAINRIGHT: (Singing) Chick, a, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow,

Ms. WAINRIGHT: (Singing) Chick, a, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow.

Mr. WAINRIGHT: (Singing) Chim, a, chick, chick, chick, a, chick, a, chick,
a, chick, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. It's Peter Frampton time.

Mr. WAINRIGHT and Ms. WAINRIGHT: (Singing in unison): Chick, a, wow, wow,
wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. Sometimes I wonder what you must
think of me. Then I remember it's you that you think of exclusively.

Mr. WAINRIGHT: (Singing) But I'm not going to bow and scrape.

Ms. WAINRIGHT: (Singing) In every bunch, there's one bad grape.

GROSS: Loudin and Martha Wainright. Coming up, music critic Milo Miles on
Frederick "Toots" Hibbert of the reggae group Toots & the Maytals. This is

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Toots & the Maytals

For many music fans, the era of classic reggae has been reduced to a single
figure, Bob Marley, but the singer and songwriter Frederick "Toots" Hibbert
had hits before and during Marley's heyday, both with the vocal trio, the
Maytals, and as a solo act. His tunes appeared on the soundtrack to "The
Harder They Come" where his song "Pressure Drop" became a reggae standard.
Now as critic Milo Miles notes, some recent reissues have brought Toots back
into focus.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FREDERICK "TOOTS" HIBBERT: (Singing) Mmmmmm, mmmmmmm, mmmmmmmm, yeah,
mmmmmmm, mmmmmmm, mmmmmmmm, yeah.

Mr. HIBBERT and Backup Singers: It is you.

Backup Singers: Oh, yeah.

Mr. HIBBERT and Backup Singers: It is you, you.

Backup Singers: Oh, yeah.

Mr. HIBBERT: It is you.

Backup Singers: Oh, yeah.

Mr. HIBBERT: (Singing) I said pressure drop, whoa pressure, oh, yeah,
pressure's gonna drop on you. I said pressure drop, whoa pressure, oh, yeah,
pressure's gonna drop on you. I said when it drops, oh, you're gonna feel it,
how it's been doin' you wrong. I said when it drops, oh, you're gonna feel
it, how it's been doin' you wrong. Mmmmmm, mmmmmmm.

MILO MILES reporting:

Toots & the Maytals "Pressure Drop" is one of those songs that is utterly
irresistible but utterly mysterious like "Louie Louie" or "Tutti' Frutti." It
gets over on pure passion and it seems all you need to know is when it drops,
you're going to feel it. Unfortunately, it's the only number most music fans
know from Toots Hibbert, a singer originally ranked as one of the big three in
reggae, along with Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff. It's clear by now that Jimmy
Cliff is a minor performer, but Toots & The Maytals are unjustly neglected.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HIBBERT: (Singing) Hey, hey, hey. Hey, hey, hey. Yeah. Why not give
to me? Why don't you believe every word I say? Why did you believe
everything I do? I said music is what I've got, baby. ...(Unintelligible)
Music is what I've got, baby. ...(Unintelligible) come on and shake me, shake
me. Shake it, baby, baby. Oh, yeah. Yeah.

MILES: Then again, Toots hasn't recorded any prime material in about 15
years, but like his great vocal soundalike, Otis Redding, his music ages
remarkably well. And with current heightened interest in soul singers, he's
due for a re-evaluation. After growing up in the Baptist church where his
parents were both preachers, Toots became a singing barber for a while. He
hooked up with Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Mathias around 1961 and they began to
have fiery hit singles in the ska era, years before Bob Marley and The Wailers
really figured out who they were.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HIBBERT: (Singing) All right. Yeah, yeah. ...(Unintelligible) woman
cry. Mama says she's going to wipe her eye. ...(Unintelligible) it no wonder
it's a perfect wonder why they were ...(unintelligible). Yeah.
(unintelligible) and they ...(unintelligible). No perfect wonder, he's the
perfect wonder ...(unintelligible).

MILES: Toots has always found his own funkiness. He stayed Christian and
never went Rasta. The Maytals cut the single that named the music "Do The
Reggae" but Toots never dropped his links to gospel and American R&B. And
though he was seen as being apolitical and not very roots, he sang a
masterpiece prison protest after he was thrown in jail on trumped-up marijuana
charges. It's called "54-46 Was My Number."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HIBBERT: (Singing) I said yeah...

Backup Singers: I said yeah...

Mr. HIBBERT: (Singing) what they said. Don't you hear I said yeah...

Backup Singers: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. HIBBERT: (Singing) ...what they said.

Backup Singers: What they said.

Mr. HIBBERT: (Singing) Don't your hear, I said yeah...

Backup Singers: Yeah.

Mr. HIBBERT: (Singing) what hey said. Do you believe I would take such
a thing with me and give it to the police man. I wouldn't do that. I'd never
do that I would say. Why they putting the charge on me. I wouldn't do that.
No. I wouldn't do that. I'm not a fool to hurt myself so I was innocent to
what they done to me. They was wrong. Listen to me one more time. They were
wrong. Oh, yeah. Give it to me one time. Uh, give it to me two times. Uh,
uh. Give it to me three times. Yeah. Uh, uh, uh. Give it to me four times.
Uh, uh, uh, uh. Oh, 54-46 was my number. yeah. Right now someone else has
that number. One more time. Baby, whoa...

MILES: The basic Toots introduction is the double disc set "Time Tough" which
starts with his incredible rugged and eager first singles up to his '80s soul
covers. Perhaps the last inventive twist on the classic Memphis stacks
mannerisms, but a couple recent reissues are very welcome indeed. If you like
straight stomping, a CD called "Monkey Man" wears big old boots. Indeed, both
the title track and "Bam Bam" were driving forces behind the British ska

The two first set that contains both "Funky Kingston" and "In The Dark" best
combines grace and grit with sturdy material. You must hear Toots' treatment
of "Take Me Home, Country Roads" and his sweet benediction "Sailing On."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HIBBERT: (Singing) Hey, hey. Now everybody got to hang. Let me hear
you say it. I'm sailing on, sailing on. ...(Unintelligible) music I playing.
Hanging on while I'm sailing on. Oh, we should do ...(unintelligible) sailing
on. Lingering on. ...(Unintelligible) lingering on. ...(Unintelligible)
I'm singing and...

GROSS: Milo Miles is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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