- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Al Franken has good buzz and bad buzz as he prepares to face the Fox News Channel in court tomorrow.

The good buzz is that Mr. Franken’s publisher is seeking to ride the publicity wave by rushing to release his book today — a month earlier than planned. The bad buzz is that Mr. Franken was caught misrepresenting himself — busted by the very news media that fostered his notoriety.

In a July 11 letter made public yesterday at Court TV’s “Smoking Gun” Web site (www.thesmokinggun.com) yesterday, Mr. Franken apologized to Attorney General John Ashcroft for sending him a letter requesting anecdotes for “Savin’ It,” a humorous book project on abstinence.

The comedian prematurely claimed he had testimonies from Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, former White House press spokesman Ari Fleischer and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, among others.

Mr. Franken also put his request on stationery from Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy, where he had served as an academic fellow last spring. But his tenure had run out by the time the letter was sent.

Mr. Franken offered mea culpas and conceded he was “very” embarrassed.

“I claimed that I had already received testimonies from several conservative leaders, which I had not,” Mr. Franken wrote, adding that the Shorenstein Center knew nothing of his request, and that it placed its officials in an “awkward and difficult position.”

The center declined to comment yesterday. And Mr. Franken had no comment either, according to Lisa Johnson of Dutton, his publisher.

But on to the good buzz: The comedian’s high jinks with Fox News continue to beef up his public profile.

On Aug. 11, the nation’s top-rated news cable channel filed an 8-inch-thick complaint against Mr. Franken in a Manhattan court, accusing him of trademark infringement on its “Fair and Balanced” slogan, calling him a “parasite.”

Mr. Franken titled his latest book “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.” In papers filed Monday, publisher Dutton claimed the book had “merit,” citing First Amendment rights.

It was originally scheduled to be released Sept. 22. But the lawsuit, and vigorous public acrimony between Mr. Franken and Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, inspired Dutton to rush the book to the public by today, adding an additional 40,000 copies to the book’s original 250,000-copy run.

“The book should be available Aug. 21,” spokeswoman Miss Johnson said. “We sped up the release because of tremendous demand for the book, generated by recent events.”

Fox News has officially remained silent on the court case.

But in his own syndicated column published Monday, Mr. O’Reilly called Mr. Franken a “political activist” rather than a “satirist,” as described in the New York Times.

“I wonder how the Times’ editorialists would react if their faces graced a book cover accompanied by the word ‘liar.’ Oh right, they’d consider it satire,” Mr. O’Reilly wrote.

The following day, the Times op-ed page featured a satirical reply from actor Paul Newman, who suggested that Fox News would look anything but “fair and balanced” in pursuing a lawsuit.

Mr. Franken has also received support from National Public Radio satirist Garrison Keillor and the 8,000-member Authors Guild, which plans to submit an amicus brief with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. A letter to the court, dated Monday, advises, “at stake in this litigation is not just the use of a few words in a subtitle, but also the essence of creative expression itself.”

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