Politics & Policy

Being Franken

Dear Right-Wing People,

On Monday, August 21 Catherine Seipp wrote a piece on your website that perpetrates a nasty myth about my record as an employer. Ms. Seipp wrote as follows:

Another friend of mine, for instance, visited Borders not long ago looking for a book she’d heard of that had a funny anecdote about how Al Franken rails against audiences for not employing more minorities, and yet apparently couldn’t find any non-white research assistants for his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them… or writers for Saturday Night Live when he was an executive producer there… or researchers and producers for Air America. But she couldn’t remember the name of the book and asked at the information desk for help.

“Really? Al Franken?” the Borders clerk asked dubiously. “It must be some self-published thing.” My friend added that she remembered there was something about liberal hypocrisy in the book’s title, but the clerk said he’d never heard of it and couldn’t find it.

The book, Do As I Say (Not as I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy, is actually a very clever and well-researched polemic by the Hoover Institution’s Peter Schweizer, who jokes that “Al Franken’s staff is whiter than Bob Jones University.” Schweizer’s publisher is not a vanity press but Doubleday, but it’s easy to understand why those on the Left wish people who point out the hypocrisy of their icons would just shut up and disappear.

Ms. Seipp is correct on one point. The misinformation she disseminates is from Peter Schweizer’s book. But let’s take these one-by-one. I do not rail against audiences for not employing more minorities. What Schweizer was referring to is a joke I tell when I give speeches at a lot of corporate events. The joke is: “First of all I want to congratulate (name of company) for not giving into that whole affirmative action nonsense.”

There was a “non-white” student who helped research Lies and the Lying Liars. I was never executive producer of SNL, but when I served as producer for the 1985-6 season, we hired Danitra Vance, who was both a writer and a cast member and was African American. (Danitra has since passed, although National Review did not give it the attention it gave to Belushi’s death, because, I assume, she was black.)

One of my researcher/producers on my Air America show is black. When we first started, the second researcher I hired was black. He left to finish Yale Law School. Our archivist is black.

In his book Schweizer makes up some statistic that I’ve hired something like a 107 people during my career and only one has been black. First of all, it appears that Schweizer came up with his number by rather creatively manipulating the definition of who I’ve hired. For example, he counts the writers of my projects. Well, I am a writer, often the sole writer, on all my projects. So he counts me several times. And, yes, I admit it. I am always white.

Also, he includes the producers of my projects, almost all of which I produce. Since the projects I produce are those for which I am a writer, he counts me twice for each of those. And again, when I produce, I am always white.

For some reason, Schweizer doesn’t include Sanaa Lathan, a cast member of my sit com Lateline, nor Lenny Garner who directed an episode of that show. Sanaa is now a movie star, but not because of Lateline. Schweizer doesn’t include any of the skilled crew of that show or any of the other projects that I’ve been involved in.

I thank you for the opportunity to correct the record, particularly since Doubleday refuses to do so for the paperback version of Schweizer’s book.

Your pal,

Al Franken

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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