“We travel all over the country, and we find … great things are happening all over the country,” Al Franken told the audience yesterday at Ithaca College, where about 700 students, faculty and staff from Cornell and I.C. as well as Ithacans gathered to hear Franken broadcast his nationally syndicated radio show, The Al Franken Show, live on Air America, 1470 WNYY locally.
Franken’s Ithaca show, which aimed to discuss “local issues that have a national resonance,” included local politicians and teachers. A former writer and cast member of Saturday Night Live, Franken’s show began airing in March 2004 as The O’Franken Factor, a reference to Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor. Franken has also written several best-selling books, including Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and The Truth…With Jokes, in addition to winning an Emmy for television writing.
Franken began his show with favorable comments about Ithaca and briefly discussed Ann Coulter ’84, reading out loud from The Sun about her cancelled show on Monday.
“‘Paul Ibrahim [’06] … said “her people” called him yesterday afternoon to let him know that Coulter would not be speaking due to health reasons. “It’s not serious, but it’s one of those things that will prevent her from speaking.”‘ See, I think psychosis is serious,” Franken said.
Coulter’s event has since been rescheduled for May 7, according to Ibrahim, chairman of the College Republicans and Sun columnist.
Franken also said that, although he has debated Coulter several times, including recently in Los Angeles in the midst of the large immigration protests, he does not plan to again. According to Franken, the morning of their recent debate, Coulter told a room full of people that, due to the protests, it was “no wonder I didn’t get my clean towels in my hotel room today.”
From Coulter, Franken discussed recently appointed White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, whom Franken said he knows personally.
“Tony, we’re going to watch you real close,” Franken warned the Fox News anchor.
Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson was Franken’s first guest of the afternoon. He introduced her by complimenting her for signing an agreement of over 200 U.S. mayors to follow the Kyoto Protocol in their cities.
According to Peterson, the agreement, initiated by the mayor of Seattle, encourages sustainability because small decisions make a difference.
“I do believe there’s global warming. … [Ithaca is trying] to create an economy that uses the products that help us get away from [fossil fuels],” Peterson said.
Peterson said that the plan encourages entrepreneurial, high tech, American jobs that cannot be outsourced and saves money while keeping the environment clean.
“It’s almost like it’s win, win, win, win. How crazy,” Franken said.
Franken and Peterson also discussed her support of same-sex marriages and the implementation of LED traffic lights. During a commercial break, Peterson honored Franken with a key to the city.
Prof. Walter Mebane Jr., government, who was on The Al Franken Show in 2004 following the presidential elections, was Franken’s second guest. Mebane’s specialty involves voting processes, and he worked with the Democratic National Committee after the 2004 election to examine voting issues that arose in Ohio.
After speaking to Mebane and another voting specialist from Massachusetts Institute of Technology after the election, Franken said he “was satisfied the election wasn’t stolen using those machines,” as others claimed. He does believe there was fraud involved, however.
Mebane said that, in Ohio, areas with large minority populations had less voting machines and a longer wait, but politicians would not provide the data they used to make those decisions. He continued by saying that registered Democrats received calls telling them to go to the wrong precinct, that the election was a different day and that if they had parking tickets, they would be arrested.
While he feels Ohio will always have problems with the system they currently use, he said no one could predict what the results would have been if the circumstances were different.
Franken asked Mebane at the end of the interview why he felt politicians in power were not more concerned with accurate elections.
“At the top, they don’t really care about the elections because they must be right … [they have] moved away from elections and toward staying in power,” Mebane responded.
Les Roberts, epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Franken’s next guest, was involved in a study to determine the number of Iraqi civilian deaths due to the war or disruption from the war – for example, Roberts said that the number of civilians dying in automobile accidents has greatly risen because many hospitals have not been functioning properly. The study determined that 100,000 Iraqi civilians had died as of the end of 2005 – 60,000 from violence and 40,000 from disruption.
Roberts, a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from the 24th district of New York, said that the government does not want people to know these numbers and that, of the eight studies done on the topic, President George W. Bush always cites the study with the lowest results. The study Roberts was involved in had the fifth highest results of the eight.
“You got the distinct feeling that the U.S. government didn’t care,” Franken commented to Roberts.
“They might care. They just might care that [the information] didn’t come out,” Roberts responded.
During his many trips to Iraq, Roberts said he was “astounded” to learn that most civilian deaths were not from accidents by military on the ground but coalition bombs.
Nevertheless, according to Roberts, a study done by the New England Journal of Health found that 14 percent of military personnel returning from Iraq and 28 percent of returning marines said that they had accidentally killed non-combatants.
Another issue in the war, according to Franken, is that many Americans see Iraqis as less than human.
“My encounter with Iraqis was incredible hospitality and more than 20 Iraqis risked their lives [to help me]. … These people are just like people who died in the World Trade Center,” Roberts said in response.
Chris Sparry, co-director of IC’s media literacy project, was Franken’s fourth guest; he and Franken talked about the ways in which the media can influence people’s perceptions of the news. Sparry teaches people how to “decode” and create conversations about the media.
For example, Franken played a clip of O’Reilly from Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, saying “I think [Iraqis] are a prehistoric group.”
Sparry said that, as a teacher, he would use this quote to enter into a conversation about respect for other cultures and how this may or may not help people understand these cultures.
According to Sparry, while “all media has bias,” there are such a large amount of news sources today that people can examine many issues themselves.
Franken ended the interview by asking Sparry what people should look out for in the media.
“The same story being told with completely different realities being shown,” Sparry responded.
After Sparry left, at the beginning of the third hour of his show, Franken thanked the audience for staying.
“It’s a long time, isn’t it?” he asked rhetorically.
Prof. Theodore Lowi, government, spoke about his soon to be reissued book The End of the Republican Era. Originally published as a prediction about the Republican Party 11 years ago, Lowi argues that the Republican Party has morphed into a Christian conservative party more similar to a 19th century Tory Party than the Republican Party has been since the time of Lincoln.
According to Lowi, the new conservativism, “true conservativism,” incorporates corporations into the government.
“The dominant party is the … friendly fascists, a dominant effort to combine government and corporations. … The name I gave it is hypocrisy … rule by deceit,” he said.
Their conversation then turned to the role of morality in politics, which Lowi feels is harmful to everyone. According to Lowi, once morality enters politics, as it has today, an unreasonable standard trumps politics.
“A kid without health insurance is less likely to go to school. How stupid and immoral is that?” Franken countered.
“God should be taken out of politics. … There are all kinds of ways to do good without deriving that good from higher sources … even when [the argument is] my side,” Lowi responded.
The show commenced, and Lowi, according to Franken, demonstrated “a lot of the strengths and weaknesses of academia.”
One of Lowi’s final comments on the issue of morality in politics was that for one person to be good, another must be bad.
“I’m for evil in terms of [the Bush] Administration,” he said.
Franken’s last guest was Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), who spoke to Franken via telephone from Washington, D.C. Hinchey and Franken spoke about the importance of having more accountability for recent intelligence leaks in Washington.
“You can’t have a president who is lying to Congress,” Hinchey said.
After speaking to Hinchey, Franken wrapped up his show and thanked Ithaca, his guests and IC.
“We learned so much today. … Ithaca, New York is by far the single greatest audience in the U.S.,” Franken finished.
Archived article by Rebecca Shoval
Sun News Editor