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The pundits among us

Joe Licandro | Wednesday, October 15, 2003

It seems like every political pundit and every talk-show host is writing a book these days. In just the past few months alone, the usual suspects Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Al Franken, Michael Moore and Greta Van Susteren have all published books now proudly displayed in the windows of Barnes and Noble.

OK, I will just come out and say it. And for those of you who know me, you already knew this to be true. I am a huge nerd. Exhibit A – I actually enjoy spending my free time reading all of these books. With this being said though, I don’t recommend buying these books for anyone who wants to seriously study American political issues or history. If you want to do that, take a class here at Notre Dame from one of our many fine professors. Or, heaven forbid, read a thoroughly researched, credible book by an academic scholar. However, if you are just looking for a way to kill some time at a bookstore or you are just a plain dork like me with nothing better to do, than these books hit the spot.

Here’s a little tip. Books by political pundits should be judged solely on their entertainment value and not much else. For most of their authors, these books are giant ego-trips, a chance to slam their journalism rivals and make a ton of money doing it. My favorite of these battles is the no-holds barred, drag’em out fight between former Saturday Night Live funny man Franken and those fair and balanced hosts at Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. Wait a minute, is it still OK to write fair and balanced anymore? I would not want Fox News to sue me the same way it recently sued Franken for entitling his book “Lies and the Liars Who Are Telling Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.” Actually, a judge recently threw out this ridiculous lawsuit so I think I am safe. But you never know when Darth Vader and his evil empire (as Franken likes to say) might strike back?

Franken does not pull any punches. Love him or hate him, there is no denying that the master of sarcasm does a thorough job of making Coulter look bad. I do not want to steal any of Stuart Smalley’s thunder, but the egregious errors he exposes in Coulter’s book entitled Slander are quite alarming. In some parts of her book, the queen of conservatism is clearly guilty of slander herself. This being said though, Coulter’s books are not without some merit. Her bashing of the Carter and Clinton foreign policies should make all of us think real hard about every electing another Democrat again. But she goes a bit too far when she accuses every Democrat in this country of treason. Even some Republicans are not conservative enough for this lady, which is a scary thought. If you have 25 dollars to burn, then you can read more about these amusing allegations in Coulter’s most recent book appropriately titled “Treason.”

Back to Franken. While his book has its moments especially the rather hilarious recount of his verbal spat with O’Reilly on C-SPAN last summer, I have a few problems with his style. For starters, his condescending tone gets old real fast. There is nothing wrong with ripping a conservative books to shreds, but attacking the author on a personal level not only crosses the line but is a sign of poor journalism. His incessant name calling reveals Franken for what he really is – a cheap-shot artist.

While name calling is one thing, making fun of someone’s religion and ethnicity are quite another. In his assault on O’Reilly and fellow Fox News host Hannity, Franken repeatedly pokes fun of their Catholic upbringing and Irish heritage. In this way, Franken hurts his own cause by just confirming what his opposition sets out to prove in their books. It is okay for the liberal media like Franken to bash a white Catholics of European extraction and get away with it. But if the roles were reversed and O’Reilly or Hannity ever made fun of Franken for his Jewish heritage, they would be pulled off the air quicker than Rush Limbaugh from ESPN’s NFL Countdown. By the way, Limbaugh (whom Franken calls a big fat idiot) needed to go because he obviously did not know very much about football. While he has had a rough go of it so far this year, Donovan McNabb has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL over the last few seasons despite not having any offensive weapons around him. But that is another story for a different column.

Well, that brings this rant to a close. I could go on, but at this point I am sure anyone whose still reading this column hopes I won’t. Besides, I have some more reading to do. O’Reilly’s latest book “Whose Looking Out for You?” is next on my list. Then again, I think I have read this book before – twice. I think it was called The O’Reilly Factor or maybe it was The No Spin Zone. With all due respect, O’Reilly’s show is great. My roommates and I rarely miss a single episode. I wish I could freely say to annoying people, “Now, let me tell you why you are wrong!” just like O’Reilly. But for the love of God, please stop shamelessly promoting your book before every commercial break on the Factor. After all, your book is so short that I will probably just read it on my next trip to Barnes and Noble. This way, I will not have to waste my money.

Joe Licandro is a senior political science major. His column appears every other Wednsaday. He can be contacted at licandro.1@nd.eduThe views expressed in this column are those of the author and not neccessarily those of The Observer.