Thursday, February 19, 2009

Al Franken: American Pundit really fighting

Working on the premise that punditry is not unlike pro-wrestling, I've been of the mind that the animosity pundits express for each other and their ideological opponents was more theatrical than heartfelt.

wolf sheepdog sam ralph, pundits, cross fireWhilst arguments can seem heated and the barbs pointed, the jousts are usually verbal and often conducted in the comfort and solace of a radio booth or TV stage. The cartoonish theatrics, the formulaic stances, coupled with the fact that pundits rarely cross paths tends to make me think that conflicts are "all in a day's work" rather than rooted in personal hatred. The political equivalent to loyal opponents 'Wolf and Sheepdog' from the Warner Brothers cartoons.

Whilst there have been rivalries in punditry before, only one person boasts this storied a record for confronting ideological opponents physically in real life.

Al Franken has a history of getting into confrontations with people he disagrees with. Highlights include his famed takedown of a Howard Dean heckler and most recently a post debate staredown with fellow Senate hopeful, Republican Norm Coleman.

VIDEO: Al Franken confronts Norm Coleman after debate

Al Franken isn't afraid to get in someone's face, by his own admission. In his 2004 book, 'Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them', Franken gleefully recounts altercations with Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Brian Kilmeade, Rich Lowry, Karl Rove and even Barbara Bush.

In a chapter titled "I challenge Rich Lowry to a fight" Al provides an insight in to why he's ready to fight.
I caught Rich talking... to some College Republicans. He was saying that Democrats had "feminized" politics. In fact, by making it okay for politicians to cry, Lowry said that we Democrats had "sissified" politics.
Al tracked down Rich and proceeded to challenge him to a fight over the phone. Rich did not immediately take Al up on his offer, asking if he could sleep on it.
Al continues
Later that, I happened to tell my son, Joe, about the call. He thought it was a bad idea. "Dad, if he turns you down, he's going to feel like a total wimp."
"That's the point, son. I couldn't allow him to challenge the manhood of Democrats."...
In the book, Al dedicates entire chapters challenging individual pundits. Rebutting assertions they've made on TV or in their books. Franken punctuating each of these chapter by detailing an amusing (often confrontational) encounter had with the challenged subject.

On Al Franken's encounter with Sean Hannity
When I first met Hannity, I had no idea who the hell he was. It was in 1996, in a green room at Fox News. I had just finished my first appearance on The Factor... and was about to pick up my coat when I was confronted by what appeared to be an angry, Irish ape-man...
Al was promoting his book 'Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot', Sean Hannity didn't care for the book title and it's tone. Quarrelling over an insult Rush Limbaugh supposedly directed to then 13yr old Chelsea Clinton, things got heated
For some reason, that set me off, and before long we were screaming at each other. I had never in my life hated a person more than I hated Sean Hannity at that moment. Finally, Colmes broke us up, and I left, shaking my head. Who was that asshole?
Franken recounts numerous stories like this in his book. One particular chapter titled "I attend the White House Correspondents Dinner and Annoy Karl Rove, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and the entire Fox News Team" has Franken aptly describing multiple showdowns.

Describing his confrontation with Fox News' Brian Kilmeade
There we were, face to face, two fierce men: one about thirty and in very good shape; the other fifty-one with chronic back pain. A classic standoff.
Al's taunt to then deputy secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz
"Hi, Dr Wolfowitz. Hey, the Clinton military did a great job in Iraq, didn't it?"
He looked at me a couple of seconds, then said "Fuck you".
Whilst it's undeniable that Franken isn't afraid to fight. His comedic disposition makes him comes off more as a prankster than a pugilist. Someone who doesn't mind heated repartee or an awkward encounter if its in the service of a laugh or getting a new story to tell.

When two people are facing off but both are in on the joke, you could argue it's just like pro-wrestling. However if those same two people face off and only one person is taking it as a joke, you'd simply call it fighting.

Exit note:
In my conversation with the late great Dean Barnett, he did argue that it can be real at times. Describing it thusly, "It wasn’t a shtick. It wasn’t an act. It was sort of like if you went to a wrestling locker room and they were still fighting."

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