Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | August 22, 2003

Fox News lawsuit: Sheer hypocrisy

When I read about Fox News’ lawsuit to block distribution of comedian and satirist Al Franken’s new book, I laughed out loud at the sheer hypocrisy.

The stated reason for Fox’s lawsuit is that the title of Franken’s upcoming tome, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right,” includes the words “fair and balanced,” which Fox says it trademarked in 1988.

Setting aside the gall of Fox to describe its news coverage as “fair and balanced,” it’s outrageous that a news organization, one of the greatest beneficiaries of the First Amendment, would try to block the free speech rights of someone else.

But the basis of the lawsuit, and the backstory behind it, make the hypocrisy so deep you need hip boots to wade through it.

According to published reports from such reputable sources as The Associated Press and Reuters, it appears the lawsuit stems from a dispute that Fox News star Bill O’Reilly has with Franken, a Saturday Night Live alum, ever since an April event.

Here’s what Reuters had to say in an Aug. 18 report on the lawsuit:

“In its court papers, Fox described the author and liberal commentator as ‘neither a journalist nor a television news personality. He is not a well-respected voice in American politics; rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight.’

“Fox alleged that Franken was ‘either intoxicated or deranged’ when he attacked the network and conservative host Bill O’Reilly at an April press correspondents dinner. The lawsuit also says that Franken has been described as ‘increasingly unfunny.’”

The Associated Press provided additional insight in its Aug. 18 report:

“Sources close to Franken believe that O’Reilly pushed Fox to pursue the lawsuit because of his intense dislike of the comedian and that O’Reilly was irate that his picture appeared above the word ‘Lies’ on the book’s cover. Fox pushed the trademark issue because it represented its best chance of winning the case, the Franken sources said.”

O’Reilly, whose column appears in The Dispatch, disputed a New York Times description of Franken as a satirist in his column this week, and seemed to confirm the AP’s version of events when he wrote, “I wonder how the Times’ editorialists would react if their faces graced a book cover accompanied by the word ‘liar.’ Oh, that’s right, they’d consider it ‘satire.’”

The hypocrisy continued in O’Reilly’s column when he extolled Fox News as a place where, “We don’t do drive-by character assassinations, and we don’t denigrate opposing points of view by launching gratuitous personal attacks.”

Excuse me, but what do you call using terms such as “shrill,” “unstable,” and “intoxicated or deranged” to describe Franken – a valentine? It sounds an awful lot like “launching gratuitous personal attacks” to me.

Regular readers of my columns will know I’m no O’Reilly fan. I’ve discussed my dislike of his habit of blurring the line between journalist and pundit, and my outright disbelief that he operates in a “No Spin Zone.”

But this lawsuit is a new low. If Franken can’t use the term “fair and balanced” because Fox has trademarked it, then I advise everyone to beware of the following common phrases:

• Like nothing else (Hummer owns that phrase)
• Have a ball (Pop’ables)
• Drink to your health (Ensure)
• Savor the good life (Cuisinart)
• Because each day counts (Zoloft)
• Feel the joy (DirecTV)
• Now everybody’s happy (Kudos)

And I found those in just a few minutes of channel flipping and magazine skimming.

Penguin Books, which has decided to print an additional 40,000 copies of Franken’s book and moved up its publication date, thanks to the free Fox News and O’Reilly publicity, is fighting the lawsuit as an affront to free speech.

Penguin’s lawyers have described the litigation as “lacking in merit” and “antithetical to free expression concerns protected by the First Amendment,” according to the AP.

The book, which tops amazon.com’s non-fiction best-sellers list, will soon be on my bookshelf, next to another Franken classic, “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.” I don’t know if Limbaugh ever sued Franken over that title, but I’m guessing he was smart enough not to try to help sell that particular book.

I guess we can’t say the same thing about O’Reilly.

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