Al Franken is a shrewd guy, which is why he can write some good comedy. He is also something of a student of the lie, having written a book, using considerable student slave labor, entitled “Lies and the Lying Liars That Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.” That book followed another, “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot,” in which he debunks the stuff that Rush “pulls out of his butt,” as Franken puts it. So Franken certainly knows that one of the most insidious forms of prevarication is lying by omission. And on the subject of rapid and total withdrawal from Iraq, that is precisely what Franken and most of the rest of Air America Radio do day in and day out omit any mention of the topic. Their attitude to grass roots opposition to the war is the same – bury it. And compared to Franken’s favorite topics, that is the ones sanctioned by the Democratic establishment, for example, the corrupt practices of Tom DeLay, the war in Iraq which is laying waste an entire country and claiming tens of thousands of lives, takes a back seat far, far back.
Coverage of Iraq is largely confined to the corruption of Halliburton and the general idea that whatever has gone wrong there is the fault of George W. Bush and the Republicans. That the war was a “mistake” is laid at the feet of
Bush, with no mention of the Democrats’ role in voting for it, including J. Kerry and H. Clinton. “Incompetence” over the waging of the war is a frequent complaint as though it would be better for an “unjust and unnecessary war,” in the words of Jimmy Carter, to be waged more competently. (Would that Hitler had been a little more competent!) At one point last December at the time of his last visit to “the troops,” Franken exclaimed that he “did not know what to do” about Iraq. Several weeks ago Franken was in fine fettle over the first anniversary of his Air America program to which considerable time was devoted; but it was also about the time of the second anniversary of the war’s beginning. The numerous anti-war demonstrations at that time received not a word of coverage
Franken himself is full of praise for “the troops.” He does not say that these troops are being used as cannon fodder in a criminal war simply that they are doing “a great job.” There is no systematic tracking of either U.S. or Iraqi casualties. Each week the conservative, John McLaughlin, on his PBS program tracks the Iraqis killed and the Americans killed and wounded in Iraq. No such segment exists on Franken’s program – nor on any other Air American Radio program as far as I know. It speaks volumes that the conservative McLaughlin provides a more biting critque of the war than Franken and his cronies can muster.
Adversaries of the war who call for immediate and total withdrawal, like Ralph Nader or Michael Moore, are not to be found on the Franken frequency. Surprisingly, a few days back Franken had as a guest Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia, and a proponent of withdrawal from Iraq. Franken did not seem to know much about him. As Khalidi broached the subject of withdrawal form Iraq, Franken’s co-host, Katherine Lanpher, interrupted with the observation that American troops might need to stay in Iraq “to make that part of the world safe for democracy.” Ever on his toes, Franken changed the subject, a break ensued, and the subject was dropped. There was no further mention of withdrawal. Even after Ted Kennedy proposed immediate and prompt withdrawal, Democratic stalwart Franken did not take up this call. Like the rest of the Democratic establishment, he lent no support to Kennedy who has now fallen silent on the topic.
Franken reached a nadir of sorts with the appearance on his show of Democratic Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher of the House Armed Services Committee who is proposing legislation to expand the military by 36,000 troops. She has argued in a press release: “Iraq is a two-year engagement that could go on for at least five to seven years.” So her solution is to scare up more cannon fodder for Iraq. Franken has a son in college and a daughter just out of school whom he mentions often. Do you suppose he will allow them to be among the 36,000 troops that his guest Tauscher wants to mint? The next logical step for Franken is to turn recruiter for the military. (He carries no mention of the student campaigns to get army recruits out of the high school and off the campus.)
And as with Franken, so with most of the rest of Air America Radio. When I called Randi Rhodes (Air America afternoons) and managed to bring up the question of withdrawal she went ballistic, yelling that, now that “we” were there, “we” could not simply leave. She then shouted that I was a “creep,” and off the air I went. I called Sam Seder and Janeane Garafalo (Air America evenings), and the screener suggested that Sam “probably did not want to discuss withdrawal.” But I got on anyway after telling the screener that he was serving as a censor, and I asked Sam and Janeane why they did not discuss the withdrawal option. They went berserk, accusing me of not listening “enough,” and off the air I went amidst their shouting. There are some exceptions to the pro-war stance on Air America or I should say there were. Liz Winstead, Rachel Maddow and Chuck D. used to have the mid-morning show where there was some discussion of withdrawal. Liz, who is a talented comedian and co-creator of the Daily Show, disappeared mysteriously without explanation. Maddow with co-host Chuck D, lasted a bit longer. One day Maddow ran a segment stating that withdrawal from Iraq should be THE main point of discussion on the left. It was clear that she favored withdrawal in opposition to her guest, the strange and devious Paul Rieckhoff of Operation “Truth,” who also calls for “staying the course.” (She also challenged Ed Rendell, the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, for supporting an anti-choice candidate to run against Rick Santorum for Senate, despite the existence of a pro-choice majority in Pennsylvania. Embarrassed and befuddled, Rendell said on air he was put up to this by Senate leaders, including H. Clinton and Charles Schumer.) Now Chuck D has also disappeared, and Maddow has gone quietly into the night, quite literally, with a one-hour show at 5 am. The final song on her last mid-morning show was: “What would you give in exchange for your soul”?
Most of Air America Radio is only marginally different from Franken who is little more than a shill for the Democratic Party establishment. Franken faithfully parrots its pro-war line. Fundamentally. he is just like Rush who is a Republican partisan, not a principled conservative. Franken is simply a Democratic partisan, a pitiful hack at heart. A progressive he is not. And disappointingly, Air America has turned out to be little more than a mouthpiece for the DNC and one more way to divert the anti-war movement to DNC-approved “issues” like DeLay, Bolton and the other trivia that are like so many straws in the wind compared to the carnage in Iraq.
At its heart the war on Iraq is the most carefully and ingeniously orchestrated propaganda effort on record. In this Franken and his ilk play a key role, going just far enough to maintain credibility among the “liberals” they must reach, while diverting attention from the criminal nature of the war and the option of ending it.
Air America takes its name from an air company in Southeast Asia at the time of the Vietnam war which turned out to be a CIA asset, a company masquerading as a simple commercial airline. The folks at Air America Radio were supposed to be kidding when they chose their name, but perhaps they were, in Franken’s phrase, “kidding on the square.”
JOHN WALSH who has listened to Air America for all too many hours on daily commutes and to its “best” on weekends can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org