Politics & Policy

Franken Writes Back

Dear Right-Wing People

Peter Schweizer’s letter responding to my letter responding to Catherine Seipp’s piece on your site is an absolutely perfect example of how hacks in your camp are willing to go through contortions to smear those of us on the left who are trying to do God’s work.

Let’s take his letter point by point and I’ll show you just how big a hack Captain Peter Hackenschweizer of the U.S.S. Hackensack is. Schweizer writes:

In his letter to NRO, Al Franken takes aim at my book Do As I Say for what he says is perpetuating a nasty myth that he doesn’t hire many African-American employees. His response? Proof of his commitment to diversity comes in the form of his mentioning four people he has worked with or says that he hired over the course of his more than 20 years in television, film, radio, and publishing. What a record! 

Okay. First you should understand that in Do As I Say, Schweizer claims that I have hired only one African American in my career. He doesn’t say I don’t hire many. He says that out of 112 people I have hired, (more on that number, 112, below) only one is African American. You can now find this claim endlessly repeated in the right-wing echo-chamber as fact. Take, for example, this excerpt from a January 30, 2006, Steve Forbes column “Fact and Comment“(emphasis mine) in the magazine named for his father: 

Affirmative action? Comedian Al Franken routinely roasts Republicans for their racism, yet of the 112 people “whom Franken either hired directly or had a strong influence in determining whether they would work on a project, only 1 was black.”


The quote from “Fact and Comment” comes, of course, from Schweizer’s book. And it is not, in fact, fact. In my letter, I mentioned six (not four, as Schweizer claims) African Americans I have either directly hired myself (five of the six) or had a large role in hiring (Danitra Vance), because I felt that was sufficient to disprove Schweizer’s very precise claim that I had hired only one.

Did Schweizer want me to name every black person I’ve ever hired? Did he want me to name every black person I’ve ever worked with? Anyone who knows anything about my career or who’s made any effort to know about my career knows that I have worked with scores of African Americans.

Now, where did Schweizer get his imaginary numbers? 1 and 112? Well, it seems that white people I worked with but didn’t hire are counted in the 112. And black people I hired are not. In his letter, Schweizer explains:


What I did in my book was simple and straightforward. I started in 1990 (when database records become solid) and looked at projects Franken was in charge of and looked at who received credited positions. Of the four he mentions, one of these I mention in my book. The other is an actress on the show that apparently appeared in one episode. The two others he mentions are radio producers with his program: one which apparently didn’t stay very long, and the other which apparently was hired after I finished my book. At the time that I wrote my book Franken had no minority producers working on the show.


Again, in my letter I mentioned six, not four, African Americans I have either hired myself or had an important role in hiring. Three are not mentioned by name because they are not public people. They are: the archivist and two researchers (one of whom is now a producer) for The Al Franken radio show. Named are Danitra Vance, the late cast member of Saturday Night Live (I included Danitra only because Ms. Seipp’s piece wrongly asserted that I had been an executive producer of SNL — Danitra was hired the one year I was a producer); Lenny Garner, who directed an episode of my NBC sitcom Lateline; and Sanaa Lathan, who, as a cast member, appeared in all 19 episodes of the Lateline, (not “apparently” in one, as Schweizer writes), a fact that could be easily found by doing a casual Google search. (By the way, two of the other cast members, Miguel Ferrer and Ajay Naidu, are of Hispanic and Indian heritage, respectively. My partner on Lateline, John Markus [white, Jew] was equally responsible for hiring the rainbow coalition that was Lateline.)

It is true that our current African-American researcher-producer was hired after Schweizer wrote his book. But the other researcher I referred to was hired well before. As I pointed out in my letter, he left after about six months on the job to finish Yale Law School. But so what? Does that mean I didn’t hire him? How sloppy!  

There are other African Americans that I have hired over the years, though, admittedly, not that many. The fact is, throughout my career I have not been in the position to hire a lot of people. How does Schweizer arrive at his 112 number? Remember he looked at “projects Franken was in charge of and looked at who received credited positions.” Then he writes:


His 2004 documentary Fox vs. Franken includes 11 senior people. (Al is one of them.)


The fact is Fox vs. Franken was not my project. It was directed by Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob and produced by Pennybaker Hegedus Films for the Sundance Channel.  Yes, I was the primary subject of the film, and received a “starring” credit. But I did not have a producing credit and was not in charge of the documentary in any way whatsoever. I certainly had nothing to do with hiring anyone.

The fact is that it’s impossible to tell who hired whom by looking at credits. The way people get hired on TV shows or movies or radio shows is unique to each production. Of course, that’s my experience from my “more than 20 years (31, actually) in television, film, radio, and publishing.”

So Fox vs. Franken is 11 white people Schweizer claims I hired that I didn’t. One of whom evidently was me. In making the point that Schweizer seems to count me many times over in order to arrive at his 112, I wrote the following in my first response:

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.

The point is simple. Of the 111 white people I supposedly hired, it would appear that ten to twenty must be me. Yet, Schweizer morphs this accurate and simple paragraph into some kind of effort on my part to deceive.


Despite Franken’s efforts to bob and weave, and his inflated claim that he writes and produces most of his stuff largely by himself, it’s easy to look at the credits for his film projects, books, radio, and television and realize that this man is far from a one-man show he professes to be. 


Schweizer goes on to get snarky about the book I wrote while a fellow at the Kennedy School, where I had a study group of 14 students I dubbed TeamFranken.

He hired 14 researchers for his book Lies (Al is none of them). Are these clones, Al? Did they do no work? Did they hire themselves?


No, Peter. They were not clones. And, no, Peter, they did not “hire” themselves. They were students, all but one carrying a full course load, participating in my not-for-credit study group. But, yes, they did work. Researching the book. I did hire sophomore Andy Barr as my assistant for eight hours a week and for the final push in New York, and Ben Wikler, a senior who took the term off and who was tremendously helpful in shaping the book — as I wrote in the book’s acknowledgments. Of course, Peter would have known that had he read Lies, which I suspect he did not, judging by the following:

I got the biggest laugh out of Franken’s claim that he doesn’t bring up race or castigate people because they fail to be inclusive enough. I about dropped my laptop laughing over that one. I cite numerous examples in the book of him taking aim at Republicans for lacking diversity. In his book Lies and the Lying Liars, he has an entire chapter on Bob Jones University and how racist it is because….numerically it doesn’t have enough minorities. Sound familiar, Al?

Actually, it doesn’t sound familiar at all, Peter. I do have an entire chapter about a visit I paid to Bob Jones University with Andy. I’m including it here so that you can read it. You’ll see that there is not one reference to the number of minority members at Bob Jones. The only mention of racism is very early in the chapter in reference to the school’s old ban on interracial dating, (which you have to admit is creepy), and then once at the end to say to say “[w]e’d come to Bob Jones expecting to encounter racist, intolerant homophobes. Instead, we found people who were welcoming, friendly and extremely nice.”

I urge my friends on the right to read the chapter on Bob Jones University and then refer back to how Peter Schweizer characterizes it. If you do, you should really feel insulted. And get a glimpse of how the hacks on your side of the ideological divide do a disservice to us all.

Al Franken, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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


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