With enemies like Fox, Al Franken doesn't need friends. Or, for that matter, a book tour. As the satirist vacationed abroad last week, media coverage of Fox News Channel's trademark infringement lawsuit propelled his upcoming book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, to number one on Amazon.com's bestseller list—and had its publisher weighing how much to add to its initial 250,000-copy printing.
The lawsuit, filed August 11 at the State Supreme Court in Manhattan, contends that because Fox registered the phrase "Fair & Balanced" as its trademark in 1998, Franken and his publisher, Dutton, have no right to use it. The suit also objects to the cover design, which includes a picture of Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly and "mimics the look and style" of two of O'Reilly's books.
Fox is demanding unspecified punitive and compensatory damages. It also is seeking a preliminary injunction barring Dutton from publishing the book in its current form. Lies is set to be released in September.
The legal row was foreshadowed during this year's BookExpo America, when O'Reilly and Franken broke into a shouting match during a panel discussion. At one point, the Fox commentator ordered the humorist to "shut up." The animosity comes through even more clearly in the court papers, which include repeated personal attacks on Franken, who is described as "increasingly unfunny" and as taking a "sophomoric approach to political commentary."
Franken wasn't available to answer reporters' questions last week. But in a written statement, he thanked Fox for the publicity it's giving his book. "As far as the personal attacks go," Franken added, "when I read 'intoxicated or deranged' and 'shrill and unstable' in their complaint, I thought for a moment I was a Fox commentator. And by the way, a few months ago, I trademarked the word 'funny.' So when Fox calls me 'unfunny,' they're violating my trademark. I am seriously considering a countersuit."
Dutton accused Fox of trying to undermine First Amendment principles. And the Author's Guild took its expected position solidly behind Franken, calling the lawsuit "deplorable." "If Fox disagrees with Mr. Franken's position, it has ample access through its affiliated companies to respond in a manner that respects our joint need for vigorous, open debate," said Guild president James Gleick.