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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Al Franken

Aired August 25, 2003 - 20:28   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: It all started last May, when political satirist Al Franken and Bill O'Reilly of Fox News got into a shouting match at a book convention. Fox News then sued to stop the distribution of Franken's new book, called "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right."
Well, Fox News contended its trademark on the words "fair and balanced" meant Franken couldn't use them. Well, last Friday, a judge ruled against Fox, saying -- quote -- "This case is wholly without merit both factually and legally." He went on to say, this was an easy case to decide. And he also said this -- quote -- "Of course, it is ironic that a media company that should be fighting for First Amendment is trying to undermine it." Fox said it would consider its options. Today, it dropped the lawsuit.

Al Franken joins me now.

AL FRANKEN, AUTHOR, "LIES AND THE LYING LIARS WHO TELL THEM": Good evening, Paula.

ZAHN: So what is your reaction to the suit being dropped?

FRANKEN: I'm a little disappointed. I had hoped they would keep it going a few more news cycles.

ZAHN: Because you thought that would sell a couple hundred thousand more copies of your book?

FRANKEN: They've been selling my book hand over fist.

It was such a stupid lawsuit that it was -- and it was ironic in so many great ways. First of all, that Fox has a trademark, "fair and balanced," is pretty ironic; secondly, that everything they did in the lawsuit sort of corroborates everything I write in my book about them and the entire sort of right-wing media.

They did one thing. They had no case, so they used the complaint to disparage me by -- let me see they called me...

ZAHN: A "parasite" was one of the words I think that was used.

FRANKEN: A parasite, thank you. Let's see, deranged. What else was I? Unstable.

And they said that the press had said these things, right? And it turns out that the press that had said these things had -- was the press from the prestigious Internet. And it was two Web site, one of which was called -- it was the washingtondispatch.com, which on its Web -- home page boasts that if you're a writer, an amateur writer, and you want to submit something, that you have a greater chance of getting your piece published on our Web site than almost any other Web site.

And so this is what the right does. This is what the right does. They use things like saying, "In the press, Franken is called a 'parasite'". Well, it is by some guy on this obscure Web site. And...

ZAHN: Well, did you hear what they had to say about you tonight? This is what a Fox spokeswoman had to say. "It is time to return Al Franken to the obscurity that he's normally accustomed to."

FRANKEN: See, they're class acts all the way. I mean, they're just -- it is unbelievable.

ZAHN: Let's remind our audience of how this all started. This was a very personal -- there is a lot of animosity between you and Bill O'Reilly. And for folks who didn't follow, the two of you showed up to the...

FRANKEN: There wasn't a lot of animosity until the dust up at the book expo.

ZAHN: Can we show part of that dust up now?

FRANKEN: Sure you can. Let me see what it looks like.

ZAHN: Let's roll the videotape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX: All he's gotten in six and a half years is that I misspoke, that I labeled a Polka Award a Peabody. He writes it in his book. He tries to make me out to be a liar.

FRANKEN: No, no, no, no. That's not right.

O'REILLY: Hey, shut up. You had your 35 minutes. Shut up. condescending

FRANKEN: This isn't your show, Bill.

O'REILLY: This is what this guy does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: You can laugh about that now.

FRANKEN: Well, I was actually kind of -- I was taken aback at that moment, but I was laughing about it. What I had done -- my book is called "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." And we got to be -- we were on this panel together and his picture is on the book. So he was not happy about that, which I can understand.

So -- but we were all supposed to talk about our books. And when he got to talk about mine -- his, he talked about mine and said "I don't call people liars. I don't call people 'big fat idiots'. I raise..." And of course he does all the time, by the way. And so...

ZAHN: Which we should remind people that was a title of a book you wrote about Rush Limbaugh.

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN: Yes, "Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot." No, it didn't escape (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people at home.

Anyway, so -- because this was at a book conference. So I felt I owed it to him to explain why his face was on a book that had the words "lies," "lying," "liars" on it. So I told a story which essentially showed that he was kind of a pathological liar.

And it was a story about I saw him on C-Span saying that he -- when he was on "Inside Edition," they had won two Peabodys.

ZAHN: Right. And as it turned out, the word ended up being what? It was not a Peabody, it was, in fact...

FRANKEN: Well, first of all, it wasn't two Peabodys. They had one a Polk after he left.

ZAHN: All right.

FRANKEN: But -- OK, so I called him up and said -- and said this. I told him, "Look, I've seen you, I've Nexused you four times saying you've won Peabodys." And he said, "Well, I have, we did. We have won two." And I said, "Well, you should check with the Peabody people, because they say..."

ZAHN: You're going to have to quickly close up this story because I've got to move on. So in the end you found out that...

FRANKEN: Well, anyway, so then "Washington Post" did a story on it and he admitted that he had screwed up the Polk and the Peabody. And then "Newsday" did a story on it and he attacks a guy from "Newsday," saying that this guy had lied and was fabricating and it was disgusting.

So I tell this story at the book conference, and instead of his coming -- going, and saying, "OK, you got me, congratulations on O'Reilly style reporting"...

ZAHN: Well, we saw what followed that.

FRANKEN: Yes.

ZAHN: Well, as you know, there are a lot of people saying that you have told lies lately. We've got to quickly review for our audience what you're accused of doing. You took stationery from Harvard, where you were a fellow.

FRANKEN: Well, I was a fellow.

ZAHN: And you wrote a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, 27 others.

FRANKEN: Right.

ZAHN: You said you were writing a book on abstinence and you wanted to use them as role models. You sent it on Harvard University stationery.

FRANKEN: Well, yes.

ZAHN: Wasn't that all a lie?

FRANKEN: It was a joke. I was talking about -- OK, here is what it was. It was.

ZAHN: Wait, it may have been a joke, too, but would you concede that that was lie?

FRANKEN: Yes, but it was about -- here is what it was. It was saying, "Dear Attorney General Ashcroft, I'm at Harvard writing a book called -- on abstinence-only education called "Saving It. And don't you think it is time that kids had abstinence heroes? And I would like your abstinence story."

ZAHN: So the folks who are saying out there, what credibility does Al Franken have when it comes to the issue of lying? He just got caught with his finger in the cookie jar.

FRANKEN: I think if you look at it in the context of the book, it was -- I'm a satirist. And it was satirical. And I think that if you red the letter, you saw what the purpose of the letter was, which is that these people who push -- abstinence-only sex ed doesn't work. It...

ZAHN: Of course, you have seen people come out from various organizations say that you're absolutely wrong on that one, but we don't have enough time to have a debate on that.

FRANKEN: Well, the American Medical Association, the National Institute of Health, I mean, there is all kinds of (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

ZAHN: But then they would argue a bunch of those programs that are now working aren't stopping teen pregnancies either.

FRANKEN: Teen pregnancy went way down in the '90s and 75 percent of it was because of increased use of contraception. The point was is that these people who are pushing abstinence-only sex education are hypocrites. And none of them had an abstinence story themselves.

ZAHN: Final question to you: is there any conservative you can name tonight that you like?

FRANKEN: David Brooks. I think he's great.

ZAHN: But some people would perceive him as making a little change along the way in his viewpoint.

FRANKEN: David?

ZAHN: Can you name anybody else other than David Brooks?

FRANKEN: I like Buckley...

ZAHN: William F. Buckley?

FRANKEN: No, I hate him. His son.

ZAHN: Christopher Buckley.

FRANKEN: Yes, Christopher. Gary Bauer is a very good -- he's a good friend of mine.

ZAHN: Well, all right. Well, Al Franken, thanks for stopping by. And, once again, your book now is now number one on amazon.com. And who do you owe that to, sir?

FRANKEN: Thank you. Where is my camera? Fox, thank you very much. Wish you could have sued me for longer.

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