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June 2, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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Al Franken & Me
Jonathan Pait
September 2, 2003

When I heard Al Franken was going to release a new book, I just knew it was time to brace for some negative exposure. Then when I heard the title of the book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, I became curious just what that exposure might be. Well, now I know, though I find myself somewhat surprised.

I knew that Bob Jones University was going to pop up somewhere in Franken’s repertoire because the satirist had paid us a visit on the campus this spring. Of course, my first thought upon hearing he was on the campus was, “What on earth is he doing here?” Well, now I know, since I went out and wasted $26.20 at Barnes & Noble to buy the book.

Unfortunately (fortunately?) I was unable to meet Franken during his visit. I was working on a Leadership Greenville project the morning he arrived. I did not get back in the office until after lunch and began my search to find the funny (sometimes?) man. By the time I got close enough to smell him, he was gone. However, a friend of mine (known as R.J. in the book) was able to give me the run down on the visit.

Fact is much of the timing mentioned in Lies is right on target. I wouldn’t say that some of the descriptions were on target, but I guess we can chalk that up to poetic license?

Of course, Al jumps right in with the interracial dating policy. Would you expect any less? Sorry that he didn’t get to have the fun he hoped to have with the issue. At least he was accurate in writing, “according to news reports, they were allowing kids to date interracially with their parent’s permission.” The fact is there never was a time when permission was required. It is a case of one bad report getting repeated enough until it becomes “truth.”

I wonder if Al is really as ignorant of Christianity as he claims. He calls the Christianity practiced at Bob Jones University a “weird, freakish kind.” Here Franken makes a mistake many make – he equates the rules at BJU with Christianity. It is true that BJU has rules that appear weird and freakish to many in today’s culture. However, those rules do not define Christianity. Many of them do not even find their origin in specific doctrine. The Christianity practiced on the campus is no different than that practiced in a myriad of Protestant churches around the world.

Ah, BJU’s refusal to seek to be accredited. He says, “They have the same degree-granting power as Scholtsky’s Deli.” BJU does refuse to be accredited. The University has always maintained that the proof of the institution’s academic credibility is found in the product produced. Just because an accrediting agency gives you a stamp of approval doesn’t mean you produce a legitimate product. BJU students earn their way into graduate schools (including Harvard) and once there prove the credibility of the process. Though one must begin to doubt Harvard's credibility after reading Franken’s Lies. Oh, don’t forget that Bob Jones is chartered in South Carolina and granted full degree-granting power.

Much of what turns Al’s motor are things that he deems weird in today’s culture; the dress, focus on the Bible, chapel services, filtering of Internet content, forbidding of alcohol, guidelines on dating, the traditional concept of en loco parentis, and such. I just have to say, “Thanks, Al” for the advertisement. There are still people out there who find those aspects of the institution appealing.

The descriptions of Franken’s visit to campus fall in a similar vein. He makes fun of the students' appearances and their conversations. (By the way, not all girls on campus wear dresses down to their ankles – this is one of those myths that will probably never go away.) It is also obvious that he was feeling guilty even as he moved among the students. He projected those feelings of guilt onto those talking to him. Not only that, after conversing with several people who met Franken, the guy was acting weird (I mean, this IS Al Franken.) So, he should not be surprised that some students “looked [him] over skeptically.”

Franken also keeps referring to his Jewish heritage. Upon arriving on campus he writes, “Drove through the gates. Didn’t set off the Jew alarm. We’re in.” Later, he writes of the Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery, “What do you suppose would be the chances of a white supremacist who came to Europe in the thirties knowing someone who knew someone who had recently come across some ‘misplaced’ art in the late 1940s? In fact, I thought I recognized a couple pieces that used to belong to my grandfather, who was a big collector of sacred Christian art before he was hauled off to Buchenwald.” Ironically, had Al taken time to look at the one painting that hangs in the gallery that is not religious in content, he would have seen a portrait honoring Julius Weitzner, the primary dealer from whom Dr. Jones Jr. purchased the masterworks.

My favorite part of the chapter, I’m a Bad Liar, is when his cover is blown. “Then we met R.J. from the public liaison’s office. ‘I’ll take them from here,’ R.J. told our tour guide. We didn’t like the way he said that. Nor the way he said, ‘Let me tell you a little about the theater. The floor [stage works] is from Rockefeller Center. But it’s no Saturday Night Live.’ The jig was up.”

Actually, compared to the way Franken roasted many of the other objects of his satire, BJU got off pretty well. Perhaps he said it best, “And as we bid farewell to old BJU, we realized that we had learned something, not just about Bob Jones University, but about ourselves. We’d come to Bob Jones expecting to encounter racist, intolerant homophobes. Instead, we found people who were welcoming, friendly, and extremely nice. A little weird, yes. And no doubt homophobic. But well-meaning. Kind of.”

Well, Al, I’m glad to know you are a bad liar and it is not something you do – unless you have to, like when you wrote John Ashcroft.

Oh, and you can keep the stuff from the gift shop.

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