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October 22, 2003

Imaginary Interview File: Terry Gross and Al Franken

It's possible to do a political interview with a satirist whose politics you support. Terry Gross, host of NPR's Fresh Air, says to Al Franken...

In the comments section of the post below, Kate says: “The problem wasn’t that Terry was so tough on Bill, but rather that she’d had her head so far up Al Franken’s ass. She simpered thru that interview like she was 14 and he was Justin Timberlake. That bothered me more.”

Now of course it wouldn’t happen this way, and what I have here is too long winded. Not her voice, etc. But it’s one writer’s attempt to suggest that there is a way for journalists to be more open about their politics, and still be journalists. In tangling with the complicated likes of Bill O’Reilly, all openness helps. But you have to be in practice.

TerryGross: Al Franken, thank you for joining me on Fresh Air. I must confess at the start that when I read your books I find myself laughing and nodding my head. So we aren’t coming from different places. We agree on a lot of things going on in the country today, and like anyone else I enjoy seeing certain people skewered. You skewer them, and I’m a satisified Franken customer.

But it makes me curious about what you are at this point in our culture. You began in comedy, now you have many media projects. You have branched out into social criticism, with a political bent, and you have a big audience. You say you do satire, and so do some others. Some object to that label, I suppose because they take you more seriously.

I laugh when I turn the pages because you’re a comedian, I nod my head because of the biting commentary— which comes from the Left, from the portion of the nation that doesn’t support George Bush. I normally don’t ask what a comedian’s agenda is because it’s obvious: you make people laugh. But we do ask what a political person’s agenda might be.

So that’s one question I have: do you want power, Al Franken—media power, political power, pundit power—and if so for what purpose? It’s fair to say you have fans all over, but aren’t some of these fans followers?

The other question is this. Suppose I wanted to steer this interview to your politics, and, yes, to your power. What’s to stop you from turning that attempt into comedy? And isn’t that an unfair advantage for someone who’s crossed over into politics? Or would Al Franken never do that?

See the PressThink essay: Bill O’Reilly and the Paranoid Style in News.

Posted by Jay Rosen at October 22, 2003 12:46 PM