This week, Fox News took humorist Al Franken to court to prevent the publication of his book "Lies, and the Lying Liars who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." The Fox News lawyers insisted that the phrase "fair and balanced" is now completely owned by Fox News, and suggested that the phrase can now no longer be used by any broadcasters, authors, songwriters, or other artists of the written word who do not work for Fox News. The Fox News lawyers complained that Al Franken was stealing their property by using the phrase "fair and balanced" in the title of his book. As a result, they sought to censor Al Franken, and prevent his book from ever coming to market.
Al Franken responded by saying that he had trademarked the word "funny", and would sue whenever anyone at Fox News tried to use the word. (Note to angry conservatives: He was making a joke.)
On Friday, United States District Court Judge Denny Chin ruled that Fox News had made a case completely without merit. As the Fox News lawyers tried to make their arguments, the courtroom erupted into open laughter in response to the lawyers' increasingly silly suggestions, such as the idea that readers might make the mistake of believing that Al Franken and George W. Bush both work for Fox News (I'd love to see those two go head-to-head), or conclude that the book is a piece of serious political literature instead of a work of parody.
Judge Chin suggested that Fox News had sent its lawyers to court merely in order to censor a book that reveals the gross inaccuracies and extreme conservative bias that are the standard fare of Fox News "journalism". Judge Chin said, "Of course, it is ironic that a media company that should be fighting for the First Amendment is trying to undermine it."
Now, since the Fox News lawsuit, Al Franken's book has shot up to number one on the best sellers lists, released a month early with extra printings in order to keep up with public demand. If Fox News was trying to keep "Lying Liars and the Liars who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right" from the eyes of the American public, it was profoundly inept in its efforts.
Upon hearing of this case, it seemed incredible to us that even the executives of Fox News could be so stupid as to try to censor one of its most famous and outspoken critics. If Fox News was so dim-witted as to unleash what one commentator described as "one of the stupidest briefs I've ever seen in my life", then how could anyone count on the quality of its news on issues that are of true public importance?
As soon as we heard that Fox News might actually be trying to ban books from the eyes of the American public, we knew that we had to get to the bottom of the story, to find out for ourselves. So, we sent out our crack detective, Al B. Shehiniou, to track down a source from within Fox News and get the truth.
An anonymous source within the Justice Department had given Mr. Shehiniou a tip that an assistant to the Fox News executive offices was willing to meet him at the cotton candy booth at the New York State Fair, being held in Syracuse over the weekend. Notebook and tape recorder in hand, he drove up route 81 to get to the fair, and balanced a cup of coffee on his knee as he went.
The cotton candy booth was staffed by a beautiful young woman with skin that was fair and balanced by her raven dark hair. She smiled as Mr. Shehiniou approached the counter, and our detective had to struggle to retain his professional demeanor.
"I'm here about the lies and the lying liars who tell them," he said, just barely overcoming a feeling deep down in his gut that was most definitely not fair and balanced. Still, it had only been two years since he had had an affair and balanced a life at home with his wife and kids and a secret life of motels and hidden mountain jacuzzis with the mysterious Sherrine. No, he had been through that hell before, and wouldn't stray again, cotton candy or no.
The cotton candy attendant seemed to sense his lack of interest, for she did not flirt again. "Go to the Feral Dog Update tent next to the prize cabbages," she said, avoiding his eyes. That was fair and balanced enough, he guessed. It wasn't like he wanted any more of that kind of spun sugar.
The prize cabbages weren't difficult to find. He could just follow his nose to where the smell of old Mrs. Jablonski's kitchen was most fair and balanced with the spicy aroma of well-aged manure. On his way, he passed a basketball hoop arcade. An entertainment news host was trying to shoot a basket, but he had no spin on his shots, and so he kept missing. Apparently, he wasn't in the zone.
The Feral Dog Update tent was covered with posters of scruffy poodles, stunted bulldogs and skinny labrador retrievers. At the information was a man in a dark suit and sunglasses, talking to an obviously irritated man dressed head to foot in plaid.
"No, no!," said the man in the suit. "We don't have any fox news here, you idiot! We can only tell you about domesticated dogs gone loose. You need to go over to the Bureau of Untamed Canids. They've got a booth next to the bumper cars. Get out of here!" Detective Shehiniou could tell he had a tough character on his hands, but tried to be fair and balanced the harsh words with the awful burden of reporting on dogs that had heard the call of the wild.
"I'm here about the lies and the lying liars who tell them."
"Shut up!" responded the man in the suit.
"Aren't you the man from Fox News who said he would talk to me about Al Franken's book?"
"If you say that again, I'll sue you!"
"Hey, buddy. Can't we just talk this over in a fair and balanced manner?"
The man in the suit pulled out a cell phone and started dialing. "How dare you say that? I'm calling my lawyer right now, and if you don't get out of here right now, he'll serve you with a subpoena!"
Well, Mr. Shehiniou normally isn't one to back down from a fight, but he knew he didn't have the financial resources of Al Franken. If he was sued by Fox News, he might not be able to hire a lawyer and pay all the legal fees. So, our detective turned on his heels, walked out of the tent, left the fair and balanced a box of doughnuts on his lap as he drove home.
So, we were never able to find out for sure if the Fox News lawyers intended to use the lawsuit against Al Franken to shut him up and censor his book: "Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right". No, we're not going to come right out and accuse Fox News of trying to cover up its record of shoddy reporting and lying to the public. We might get sued for saying that.
We'll just let you put two and two together, and let the facts speak for themselves, before they get trademarked.
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