Wholly Without Merit

Al Franken makes me mad!

I stayed up until 5 o'clock Sunday morning. I couldn't sleep. Al Franken had made me mad. Now, he's just a comedian. But the chapter on Paul Wellstone's memorial service, the one that had television commentators shrieking that it wasn't a memorial! That it siphoned away the personal and was just a grotesque party rally! Well, they hadn't been there. They hadn't even watched the whole thing. Franken wasthere. "This chapter is a case study of how the right lies and viciously distorts. It is the story of how the right-wing media repeats its fabrications until they echo into the mainstream press. It is a story of pure cynicism in the pursuit of power. It is the story of how the lying liars took the death of my friends and invented a myth that changed the 2002 elections.

"And the best part is, it's hilarious! No, it's not. But read it anyway. You paid for the book."

And it's all there: a two-page transcript of the rending eulogy for Paul Wellstone's driver, delivered by his grieving brother. Not personal? The story of Al Franken's friendship with Wellstone. And the story that kept me up till 5 a.m., seething. It begins before Wellstone's death in a plane crash; it begins in the Senate campaign that pitted Wellstone against former St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman.

"[M]ainly it was Coleman's proxies who played it dirty," Al Franken writes. "The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) ran an ad called 'Pork' that hit the hypocrisy jackpot. It savaged Wellstone for voting 'to spend thousands of dollars to control seaweed in Maui,' claiming that he prioritized seaweed control over national defense. In fact, Wellstone did vote for S.1216, as did Strom Thurmond, Trent Lott and 84 other senators. That bill did appropriate the seaweed control spending—but it also provided $21 billion for veterans' health care, $27 billion for veterans' compensation and pensions, and block grants to assist New York City's recovery from 9/11. The NRSC was chaired that year by Bill Frist, who later replaced Lott as Senate majority leader. Before the memorial, Frist spoke with the Wellstones' older son, David, who later recounted the conversation to me.

"'I'm sorry about your parents and your sister,' Frist told David.

"'Did you authorize the seaweed ad against my dad?' David asked.

"'Yes,' said Frist.

"'And did you vote for the seaweed bill?'

"There was a pause. They both knew that the answer was yes. Finally, Frist said, 'It wasn't personal.'

"'My dad took it personal,' David said. 'Thanks for coming to my family's memorial.'"

If you need a pick-me-up after that, you can always go back and reread the chapter "You Know Who I Don't Like? Ann Coulter."

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Published by Dutton. 379 pages. $24.95.

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