Al Franken isn't quite as prolific across all media as Bill O'Reilly is, but the left-leaning satirist and Saturday Night Live alum is equally poised to ride the crest of this election year to a new level of national stardom. Being a brand doesn't come naturally to the 52-year-old Franken, however. "Not a lot of attention paid to [business]. Not proud of that," he quips.
Don't be fooled. Franken's latest book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, published by Penguin/Dutton Books, is a best-seller. Readers have snapped up 848,000 copies, about 200,000 more than O'Reilly has sold with his latest, estimates Nielsen BookScan. The author-actor-activist has also been touring for his book, which appeals to audiences skeptical of claims that the media have a liberal agenda. Franken and O'Reilly initially sparred over who has sold more, and Fox News (FOX ) sued Franken and Penguin for trademark infringement. A judge dismissed the suit.
Franken says the shouting matches "have been great for business. That's why I'm calling my [new radio] show The Franken Factor. Any reason to have him sue us again." O'Reilly, not surprisingly, concludes the opposite: The feud "wasn't worth it even if it was [good for business]."
Franken's big push now is preparing a radio show for Air America Radio, a liberal network soon to be launched by Progress Media. Franken and his co-host, ex-public radio host Katherine Lanpher, will premiere their new show on Mar. 31, going head to head for three hours against Rush Limbaugh on more than 600 stations. Says Franken: "We're going to try to do it drug-free, too" -- taking a swipe at Limbaugh's admission of addiction to prescription pills.
Air America will likely start out in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. "Al is a premiere brand whether he acknowledges it or not," says Progress CEO Mark Walsh, a former top exec of dot-com VerticalNet. Franken says he has been approached about creating a TV show, but for now he's focused on radio. "There will be time to sell the coffee mugs and baseball caps," says Franken. "It's kind of tacky, what [O'Reilly] is doing, but not nearly as tacky as his content." Sounds like the debate over book sales was just a warmup.
By Tom Lowry in New York