10 Questions For Al Franken

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Al Franken was being his satirical self when he titled his new book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. The swipe at the trademarked Fox News slogan failed to amuse the network, which sued to stop publication, accusing him of being "either intoxicated or deranged." Last Friday a judge sided with Franken, who spoke to TIME's Lev Grossman:

Would you like to take this opportunity to formally declare victory over Fox?


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[In a pompous voice] It is a victory not just for me or my publisher, Dutton, but for satirists everywhere. I'd like to thank my attorneys, and also those who represented Fox for filing one of the stupidest briefs I've ever seen. This is the most important First Amendment decision this week.

What did you do when you heard the decision? Go out and get intoxicated?
I already was. It was about 4:30, so by then I usually am.

Did you really send a letter to John Ashcroft asking him about his sex life?
I was not trying to trick him into telling me some personal story, which is the way Fox tried to play it. It was a satirical letter saying, You guys are for abstinence-only sex education, so I want to hear your abstinence stories. I was talking about the effect of the Christian right forcing them into a policy that doesn't work. The point of the letter, satirically, is that these guys don't have abstinence stories.

We did a "10 Questions" with Ann Coulter when her new book came out. Now that we've done one with you, does it mean we're fair and balanced?
No, because I think fair and balanced would be me and someone of substance. Or me and an actual conservative satirist who doesn't lie. I go to town on [Ann Coulter] in my book, and she deserves more. I could have written half a book.

Don't keep us in suspense. Are the media in this country biased?
My book basically says that the mainstream media have many different biases, including sensationalism and negativity and sex, but asking whether the mainstream media have a liberal or a conservative bias is like asking if the problem with al-Qaeda is whether they use too much oil in their hummus. The problem with al-Qaeda is that they want to kill us. The problem with the media is that they have all these other biases.

I'm guessing that not everybody gets off that easy.
There are right-wing media, and they do have a bias, and they do have an agenda, and they are relentless about it.

Do people ever ask you, Why the hell should I care what Stuart Smalley thinks about politics?
Well, Stuart knows nothing about politics. Although he likes Mahatma Gandhi, because he heard he had an eating disorder. But I don't think I have had trouble being taken seriously. Although Fox in its complaint was doing everything it could to discredit my bona fides.

Rumor has it you're working on a Rush Limbaugh-style liberal talk show.
I'm taking that very seriously. [Conservatives] were smart. They got into this, and they've sort of taken over the airwaves. Rush really did pioneer something. We should have been doing this 10 years ago.

You're heading out on a U.S.O. tour soon. Do you have to tone down your stuff for the troops?
Oh, yeah. I don't say the Commander in Chief is a liar. Bush is the President of the United States, and these guys are in harm's way. And you don't undermine the Commander in Chief in Iraq.

Ever tempted to run for office yourself?
Oh, no! First of all, if I took one vote away from a serious candidate, it would be a sin. Second, I'd be a terrible President. I would be crushed by the responsibility. I'm crushed by the responsibility of writing a satirical book.