Fox, fair and balanced
To Fox, 'Fair and Balanced' Doesn't Describe Al Franken
By SUSAN SAULNY - New York Times, August 11, 2003 - original
In the dry corner of business law called trademark litigation, Fox v. Franken is an unusually lively document. Along with mundane accusations of unfair competition, the lawsuit includes some especially derisive remarks about the defendant, Al Franken, the political satirist.
The court papers were filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan and became public yesterday. In the lawsuit, a judge is being asked to decide an important question: who has the right to use the word fair and the word balanced together, connected by the word and?
Lawyers for Fox News Network, part of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, News Corporation, contend that Mr. Franken should not be allowed to use those words in the title of his new book due in stores next month, Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (Penguin).
They argue that Fox has trademarked Fair and Balanced to describe its news coverage and that Mr. Franken's use of the phrase would blur and tarnish it.
Franken is neither a journalist nor a television news personality, according to the complaint. He is not a well-respected voice in American politics; rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight.
Efforts yesterday to reach Mr. Franken, whose 1996 book, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot was a best seller, were unsuccessful, as he was said to be traveling.
Lawyers for Fox who filed the complaint also take issue with Mr. Franken's book cover because it mimics the look and style of two books written by Bill O'Reilly, a prominent Fox News personality. Mr. O'Reilly is also pictured on the cover, just beneath the word Lies.
The court papers refer to Mr. Franken, who is a former Saturday Night Live writer and performer, as a parasite who hopes to use Fox's reputation to confuse the public and boost sales of his book.
Mr. Franken is also accused of verbally attacking Mr. O'Reilly and other Fox personalities on at least two occasions, and of being either intoxicated or deranged as he flew into a rage at a press correspondents' dinner in April 2003. Mr. Franken has not filed a response in court to the suit.
The viewership of Fox News has risen sharply over the last year with a mix of fast-paced news coverage and commentary, although it has been criticized for turning traditional notions of objectivity on its head. The network, however, calls its coverage fair and balanced and says it offers a needed alternative to a traditionally liberal media.
Several phone calls were made yesterday to Mr. Franken's publisher and publicist in an effort to reach Mr. Franken.
His publisher released a statement questioning Fox's adherence to the American values it claims to champion.
It is extraordinary that one of the largest media corporations would take such action, said Lisa Johnson, the executive director of publicity for Dutton, a division of Penguin Group. In trying to suppress Al Franken's book, News Corp. is undermining First Amendment principles that protect all media by guaranteeing a free, open and vigorous debate of public issues.
The attempt to keep the public from reading Franken's message is un-American and runs contrary to everything this country stands for.
Fox lawyers say they hope to win an injunction to stop Mr. Franken from selling his book as is, and to recover its legal fees. Lawyers are expected to argue their respective cases before a judge later this week.