Al Franken Plays Funeral Expert and Historical Revisionist

Al Franken wrote a blog piece for the Huffington Post on Saturday entitled “Reflections on the Wellstone Memorial and the King Funeral,” wherein he tried to explain how people of his political persuasion behave at what most Americans believe to be solemn events. In the way that only a man who best understands how lying liars lie, Franken began his piece by employing an uncanny amount of revisionist history to refute contentions that the behavior of the crowd at Paul Wellstone’s memorial service in October 2002 was unfitting the occasion: “The chapter was mainly about how cynically Republicans used the memorial politically as they complained that the Democrats had used it politically. And how the mainstream media, many of whom had neither attended the memorial nor seen it on TV, bought into the Republican spin.”

Now THAT’S an interesting concept – mainstream media buying into Republican spin. That happens as often as hell freezes over. Franken continued:

“Mainly, there was a lot of lying. Rush Limbaugh claimed that the audience was ‘planted,’ when, in fact, Twin Cities' radio and TV had to tell people to stay away because Williams Arena was jammed to capacity three hours before the Memorial was scheduled to begin. Thousands were crowded into an overflow gym to watch on a screen and thousands watched outside on a cold, late October night.”

Franken seems to be suggesting that all because there was a huge crowd there, it was impossible for some of them to have been planted. Isn’t it possible, Al, that the plants got there first, or is this too much of a stretch for your imagination? Franken then tried to refute claims that Trent Lott was booed:

“I didn't boo. Neither did 22,800 of the some 23,000 people there. This has been a much discussed, much lied about aspect of the memorial. A number of Republicans, like Peggy Noonan and Weekly Standard writer Chris Caldwell claimed that 20,000 people had booed Trent Lott. (Caldwell claimed that 20,000 people booed a whole litany of people who weren't booed at all.) We'll never get an actual count - but I'd say about two hundred people booed Trent Lott when his face came on the Jumbotron. This was about a minute after 23,000 people cheered for Bill Clinton when his face appeared on the Jumbotron.”

Well, Al, let’s see what other media representatives said about this at the time. For instance:  

  • Here’s an October 30, 2002 report from CNN.com: “Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, was booed Tuesday night when he entered Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota for the service.”
  • David Corn of The Nation said of the event: “Well, I wouldn't have booed those people for coming and for coming all that way, either. I think that was probably not the best of -- best of moves.”
  • The liberal Alan Colmes said at the time: “Look, this did turn out -- into a rally, but that may not have been the original intent, and I think it was wrong that they booed Trent Lott. I thought that was absolutely -- it was shameful to boo a senator.”
  • Democratic strategist Doug Hattaway said at the time: “I think they're right that booing was over the line.”
  • CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said: “Last night's memorial service for Senator Paul Wellstone ruffled some feathers as it took on the tone of the Democratic campaign rally complete with booing of Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott who was among those attending.”
  • CNN’s Bob Franken reported: “More than 20,000 people, many of the Democratic luminaries from around the country appearing, and when a Republican was introduced, meaning Minority Leader Trent Lott of the Senate, he was booed and so was the governor, independent, Jesse Ventura.”
  • MSNBC’s Brian Williams reported: “GOP Senate Leader Trent Lott was booed when he walked in.”
  • CBS News’ Cynthia Bowers reported: “That that appeal was made to Republican senators caused Trent Lott to walk out. All night whenever Republican faces popped up on the JumbroTron, thousands jeered.”
  • The New York Times reported: “The roar for Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, was undercut by boos for Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Republican leader. Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota, an independent, also was greeted with disdain.”

Were ALL these people lying, Al, or is it possible that three and a half years have impacted your memory of the event? Maybe this piece written by TIME’s Matthew Cooper after the 2002 elections will help Al’s memory:

“Did the memorial service for Paul Wellstone cost Democrats the election? A backlash against the politically charged service almost certainly helped Norm Coleman beat Walter Mondale for Wellstone's Minnesota Senate seat. And a private poll by Bill Clinton's former pollster, Mark Penn, suggests the service backfired on Democrats nationally as well. Penn found that 68% of voters knew about the service--a high awareness of an event broadcast live nationally only on C-SPAN. What's more, 49% of voters said the service made them less likely to vote for a Democrat--and 67% of independents said they felt that way. One Democrat who quickly sensed that the service was a political disaster was Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, a possible 2004 presidential contender. The next morning Kerry called Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, who had been booed at the memorial, to tell him how bad he felt."

Fortunately, Al’s memory of Coretta Scott King’s funeral hasn’t been so impacted…yet:

“Four presidents spoke. One of them, Jimmy Carter, made a passing reference to the fact that Martin and Coretta King had been the victims of domestic wiretapping by the government. Was it a shot at President George W. Bush, who was sitting right behind Carter? Probably. Was that inappropriate? Maybe.”

Very balanced assessment, but it seems doubtful this will be Al’s recollection of this event three and a half years from now.
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.