Al Franken Wrongly Painted As Using 'Meticulous Sourcing' In His Lying Books

The Washington Post published a fawning piece over Sen. Al Franken (up for re-election) that dominated the front of Thursday’s Style section. Post reporter Richard Leiby’s theme was “Doggone it, Al Franken hopes to keep working hard for Minnesota.”

All readers are asked to hail Franken for being “More workhorse, less showhorse,” as the inside headline says. The pull quote is “The best thing I think I can do is my job.” But Leiby’s worst journalistic pratfall in this puff piece is claiming Franken’s nasty anti-conservative best-sellers were “meticulous” in their sourcing and truthfulness:

Franken’s string of provocatively titled political books was sauced with profanity and ad hominem attacks on, for example, “the psychotic Ann Coulter, the sex-addicted Bill O’Reilly, the drug-addicted Rush Limbaugh,” as he wrote in his 2006 “The Truth — With Jokes.” He left no patch of conservative Washington unscorched.

But friends say Franken drilled deeply into public policy and used meticulous sourcing in his books; it’s unwise to get your facts wrong when you’re calling everyone else a liar.

The “friends say” qualifier is deadly. Friends don’t always tell the truth about their friends. What does the veteran reporter say? He could have quickly found what conservatives said about the nasty hokum in Franken’s books. See Brent Bozell in 2003 about “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them”:

For example, Franken treats it as obviously true that George W. Bush snorted cocaine in his youth. That may seem like an odd, unproven salvo in a book about nasty conservatives who make odd, unproven statements.

To recount the 2000 election fiasco with panache, Franken creates a fictional tale around real-life GOP lobbyist Mac Stipanovich and Katherine Harris, the Florida Secretary of State. In this mini-novel of a sordid sexual affair mingled with Republicans stealing the election, Franken writes Stipanovich "knew where the bodies were buried. Hell, he had buried more than a few of them himself."

The most visible example of tastelessness is the comic strip that runs from pages 313 to 323: "The Gospel of Supply-Side Jesus." Franken's fictional preacher explains to the masses in Israel that "the only way gain entrance to God's kingdom" is to "become a Supply Side Jesus Pioneer and have access to me at our annual Yom Kippur 'Break the Fast' Dinner."

So there's shades of Bush in this ersatz savior, and he's about to be betrayed by an apostle "with a gambling debt," which brings us to a caricature of "William Bennett Iscariot."

If you didn't like that example, there's always Franken's trip to Bob Jones University with a fake son (his real one wouldn't play the gag) to try and trip up the wacky Christians and suggest that maybe they could bend their wacky rules for some major donations. Their college guide wouldn't bend from his "path to Christ." Franken summed up: "A good honest day's work done, lying to God-fearing people. We'd sleep well tonight."

Most of the story pitched Franken as one of the hardest workers in the Senate:

'By the time he arrived in the Senate, Franken already enjoyed enormous celebrity — Stuart Smalley, anyone? — but now he needed credibility. In some quarters, he seems to have gained it.

“He has shown discipline,” says Larry Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. “He looks like one of the better senators at this point in terms of diligence and hard work.”

Franken moved from New York back to Minnesota in 2005 to explore a Senate run, and he now divides his time between residences in D.C. and Minneapolis. He and his wife, Franni, have been married for 38 years, have two adult children, and last year welcomed their first grandchild. They mix with fellow senators but keep private.

“He stays home and studies for the next day,” a staffer says. Franken is known for actually reading committee witness testimony and even digging into the footnotes, looking for holes or contradictions.'

So now Leiby has cited “friends” and “a staffer” to vouch for Franken. As for Larry Jacobs, Leiby skipped over the idea that Franken might suffer in November over his fervent support for Obamacare. Jacobs told the Minneapolis Star Tribune “His fingerprints are all over it...He can’t run away from that one.” Instead, Leiby only sold it as a big plus on his record.


The entire left half of the Style section is a picturesque photo of a smiling Franken looking up into some Minnesota flurries. It’s like the open of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” without a hat. This is how Leiby wrapped up:

Back in St. Paul, the capital, office workers are knocking off early in the afternoon to avoid a blizzard that’s bearing down on the state. It’s starting to snow harder, and we’d like to get a picture of Franken in a typical Minnesota scene. There’s already a substantial snow cover, so he could stand anywhere in the downtown tableau to convey the message that he represents a state where, you know, it snows a lot.

But he likes the idea of standing in the falling snow. He even suggests what kind of lens might be used to best catch the flakes in a more “artistic, timeless look.”

It’s a bit odd to be standing out there, but he doesn’t mind. A little longer? Of course. He’ll stay as long as we want. Whatever you need to get the shot.

“I used to be in show business,” he says.

So, apparently, is The Washington Post at re-election time.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis