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By Mike Hudson

Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them): A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, by Al Franken. Dutton, New York. 379 pages. $24.95.

Al Franken, the best-selling author of "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations," is back with an often hilarious look at the Bush administration, the Republican Congress and the rabid right-wing media that support them.

The book shot to the top of the New York Times best-seller list after Bill O'Reilly got his employers at Fox News to sue Franken for using the words "fair and balanced" in his title. The suit was laughed out of court by a federal judge, and showed O'Reilly to be the small-minded rodent he is.

O'Reilly's new book, by the way, briefly displaced Franken's at No. 1 on the Times list when it was released the week of Oct.12, but things were quickly righted in the marketplace of ideas when "Lies" regained the top spot last Sunday.

In his battle of wits with Franken, O'Reilly seems to have shown up largely unarmed.

Franken uses meticulous research to show that O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and other conservative commentators routinely lie in order to advance their radical agenda. Furthermore, they allow themselves to be used in the spreading of lies put out by George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condaleezza Rice, Tom DeLay, Paul Wolfowitz and the rest of the Republican administration and Congress.

The result of this tsunami of lies has provided record tax breaks for the rich while throwing millions of American men and women out of work, embroiled us in an unwinnable war in Iraq and alienated the people of virtually every other country on the face of the earth.

Pretty grim stuff. But Franken approaches it with a bounce in his step and a twinkle in his eye. He used to write comedy for "Saturday Night Live" when it was still actually funny, and he uses his wit and gift for satire to tear the radical right a new one.

"Lies" reveals why Attorney General John Ashcroft spent $8,000 of Homeland Security money to drape the naked breast of the Spirit of Justice statue at the Justice Department.

"He didn't want to be photographed in front of another boob," Franken notes.

In a chapter entitled "Ann Coulter: Nutcase," he uncovers the fact that Coulter possesses driver's licenses in both New York and Florida, listing different years for her birth, a violation of federal law under the Patriot Act.

"Now, lots of women lie about their age," he writes. "But it raises a concern about Coulter (if that really is her name)."

For 20 pages he documents the shoddy research, prevarications and outright lies contained in Coulter's book "Slander."

The chapter entitled "Bill O'Reilly: Lying, Splotchy Bully" is the one that pushed the thin-skinned pundit over the edge and brought about the Fox lawsuit. While O'Reilly came to Fox telling viewers he was "an avowed Independent" who had won "two Peabody Awards" for his work on the "Inside Edition" tabloid TV show, Franken did a little research and discovered he was actually a registered Republican who had likely heard about, but never won, even one of the prestigious broadcasting awards.

O'Reilly also told the viewers about his hardscrabble childhood in Levittown, Long Island.

"You don't come from any lower than I came from on an economic scale," he said.

Franken found an interview with O'Reilly's mom that painted a different picture. She said the family lived in the affluent Long Island suburb of Westbury, not blue-collar Levittown, and took annual vacation trips to Florida. O'Reilly had attended private school and went to a private college, she said proudly.

When you find out how badly these people lie about little things like this, it sort of makes you wonder whether they're telling the truth about the big, important stuff, or whether they even know what the truth is.

Which is exactly Franken's point. A recent poll conducted by the University of Maryland shows that as many as 80 percent of people who regularly watch Fox News believe that Saddam Hussein had something to do with the Sept. 11 attacks, that our troops have discovered deadly weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that most people in other countries approved of our going to war there.

None of those things are true, but you wouldn't know it from listening to Bush, Coulter, Limbaugh and O'Reilly.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com October 21 2003