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The O'Franken Factor

By Thomas Kraemer

Comedian and writer Al Franken can now be heard on liberal talk radio Air America on The O'Franken Factor Al Franken, who is a Saturday Night Live television star and self-described "political satirist," now has a liberal talk radio show The O'Franken Factor http://ofrankenfactor.com that is competing head-on against Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. Franken is proving that liberal radio can be entertaining despite Al Gore's boring reputation.

I first watched Al Franken perform years ago at an improvisation comedy club in Minnesota where he developed his comedy skills before moving to New York City. I thought he was a cute Jewish boy but friends of mine who knew him assured me he was a practicing heterosexual and they wisely warned me against falling in love with a straight boy.

Although there is nothing overtly gay about Franken's radio show, Franken is a certified, card-carry liberal, who is "gay-friendly" and conscientious about correcting any rightwing spin on gay issues. For example, while attempting to say something good about President Bush, he praised the Bush administration for fighting AIDS. On a later show he profusely apologized for not telling the whole truth about Bush's faith-based AIDS in Africa program. (e.g. How Bush is allowing drug companies to profiteer from anti-HIV drugs and how he is lavishly funding anti-gay Christian evangelism in Africa and unproven sexual abstinence programs in lieu of domestic AIDS prevention programs for gay men that have been proven to work.)

It is clear that Franken is still learning how Republican-Christian theocrats are trying to gain power by exploiting the 4-Gs, "God, Guns, Gays and Gynecology (i.e. anti-abortion misogyny)." Because of Franken's lack of knowledge about gay issues, his views often lack any nuance. For example, on the May 17, 2004 show Franken's reaction to gay marriage becoming legal in Massachusetts was we should grant all couples "civil unions" with the same rights as marriage and reserve marriage for the churches.

In response to Franken's "civil union" opinion, a caller reminded him how May 17th was also the fiftieth anniversary of the Brown decision that outlawed "separate but equal" discrimination against black Americans. Franken seemed baffled by the caller's point that "civil unions" are similar "separate but equal" discrimination against gay people. Franken's counterpoint was that gay couples could easily find a church that would marry them, which would make it equal. (See: "'Separate but Equal?' Scrutinizing the Sodomy Decision," http://gaytoday.com/viewpoint/070703vp.asp - accessed 7 July 2003 and "'Separate but Equal?' Scrutinizing Oregon's Marriage Law" http://gaytoday.com/viewpoint/032204vp.asp - accessed 22 March 2004)

Fake political ads are also part of Franken's repertoire. I enjoyed his fake anti-gay marriage ad accusing liberal politicians of being soft on "terrorist couples" who were trying to destroy the sanctity of marriage. The ad finished with Franken rapidly mumbling it was authorized by the "Coalition to Distract You from the War."

Although there are plenty of fake ads, the lack of real advertisements on The O'Franken Factor suggest that the rumors of Air America Radio losing money are probably accurate. If this show is cancelled it will not be due to a lack of entertainment value. Al Franken has ably proven that a liberal talk radio show can be just as entertaining as the rightwing shows. I hope that the greedy corporate advertising and media bosses will smell the money this show could make and overcome their aversion to liberal political entertainment.

Unlike the Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh radio shows, which are carried by hundreds of the most powerful radio stations across America, only a few stations are carrying The O'Franken Factor. Streaming audio of Franken's radio show is available on the http://www.airamericaradio.com web site, but frequent audio dropouts seem to occur on my substandard dial-up modem connection. (I have a very noisy low-speed connection because I literally live at the end of where phone lines run.)

Franken's show is also available across America on one of the new satellite car radio services. However, his program competes against hundreds of satellite channels. In addition, few people own receivers and pay for the monthly service.

Fortunately, my car radio is able to barely receive Franken on an underpowered radio station, KPOJ 620AM. The station's jingle praises listeners for "turning to the left side of the dial" to hear Portland's only "progressive talk radio station as an alternative to conservative talk radio."
Air America was started by Franken and others as counterprogramming to the right-wing domination of talk radio, such as Rush Limbaugh's nationally syndicated show

I accidentally started listening to talk radio over ten years ago when I was a frequent business traveler. In order to avoid being late to important meetings, I would steer clear of big city traffic jams by listening to radio traffic reports. In nearly every city, I quickly discovered that both traffic reports and Rush Limbaugh always seemed to be carried on the most powerful AM radio station in town.

I found listening to Rush Limbaugh very entertaining for the short time it would take to drive between the airport and a meeting. I was also curious why some of my Republican-Christian employees were so excited about Rush that they would listen to him in their office cubicles with headphones. (I did not discriminate against anti-gay bigots if they did their job and kept their views private. I told them this was only fair since they want everybody's sexual orientation to remain private.)

Rush's show was surprising to hear after years of listening to the so-called "liberal media." The last time I had heard similar conservative agitprop was decades ago when I had watched William F. Buckley, the editor of National Review magazine, debate Gore Vidal on TV during the Vietnam War. Whereas Buckley had elitist and highly intellectual arguments for his conservative opinions, Limbaugh was delivering Republican talking-points in a way that even uneducated and "non-elitist" listeners would find them entertaining.

Al Franken has a theory that the more you listen to Rush Limbaugh, the stupider you will become because of the lies Limbaugh constantly repeats. Not only do I agree with this theory but I more fear developing dementia from listening to Limbaugh than I do from AIDS. Thankfully, Franken plays a few untruthful audio clips from Limbaugh or O'Reilly everyday to prevent me from becoming stupider.

Anybody who frequents a college campus knows it is fashionable for stupid young white males to form "College Republican" student groups to complain about how they are "victims" of "discrimination" because their "Judeo-Christian family values" conflict with the "liberal, secular and politically correct" school environment. Most professors dread having to read term papers from these young neocons because they often cite Rush Limbaugh or Fox News as the source of their illogical thinking.

Some critics have said that liberal talk radio will fail because liberals are unable to lie as the rightwing propagandists regularly do. When Franken published a satirical book last year that documented Limbaugh's and Bill O'Reilly's actual lies, O'Reilly unsuccessfully tried to sue Franken for trademark infringement and libel. O'Reilly's lawsuit reminded me of Oscar Wilde foolishly suing his male lover's father for calling him a sodomite, which only resulted in Wilde being convicted and jailed for sodomy.

O'Reilly's lawsuit caused Franken's book sales to soar. Franken hopes The O'Reilly Factor will also help raise the The O'Franken Factor ratings with another trademark lawsuit. Note that Bill has "a no spin zone," whereas Al has "a zero spin zone."

With out a doubt, Franken has been able to match Rush Limbaugh's ability to make a political talk radio show entertaining instead of boring by mixing in hilarious satirical skits. In addition, Franken features both real and spoof callers such as a "dittohead" (a Limbaugh listener) who Franken always tries to save. (I have never heard Limbaugh brag about having spoof liberal callers although he treats them that way.)

In one very funny skit, Franken mixed professional sound effects of guns being shot off from a duck blind with a perfect impersonation of Vice President Dick Cheney talking to Justice Anthony Scalia about a pending Supreme Court case that involved Cheney. Both insisted that this vacation meeting would not bias Scalia's court decision.
Bill O'Reilly has been engaged in a public feud with Al Franken

Right-wingers have been skillfully cloaking their ideology with the American flag and patriotism. They have almost succeeded in painting liberals as being un-American, unpatriotic and traitors. Franken rightfully bristles at this depiction by pointing out how he has patriotically volunteered to entertain the troops in Iraq and how deeply he loves America. His personal commitment to American democracy is unquestionably sincere but his act is sometimes so schmaltzy that it could be easily confused for ironic humor.

Al Franken and his co-host, public radio veteran Katherine Lanpher, have also been commissioning listeners into their Air Rational Guard. The mission is to defend the liberal truth against the assault of the rightwing spin machine. Personally, I have never been more excited about signing up for a military operation. I just hope more patriotic citizens will sign up by tuning in this show.
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