Al Franken in Austin: A Broadcast from Out of the Past
|Cameraphone pic of Al Franken and Paul Sicard!|
When my husband was the only person in town to win tickets* to the live broadcast of the Al Franken Show, I was so excited. I would get to hear, and see, the latest advances in talk radio!
Air America has gotten acres of ink for their “progressive views.” Yet, in his first live Air America broadcast from Austin the Al Franken Show seemed hopelessly mired in the past, much like the unwitting victims on the TV show What Not to Wear.
The broadcast exposed outdated and outmoded concepts lurking in our collective ideological closet. Perhaps it was a show from a time when muckraking journalism attempted to shine light on standard business practices. Maybe it was a broadcast from the days when unions were gaining strength to protect the common worker. The show could have even been from the Roosevelt era, which brought dignity in retirement with Social Security. Everyone knows that those concerns are now passé.
Broadcasting with co-host Katherine Lanpher from the depression-era State Theater, Franken might have as well have been getting his news from teletype machines and carrier pigeons.
From the funeral-home-style paper fans advertising Air America to a faux advertisement from the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau—asserting that Dallas has now been assassination free for 30, no 40 (!) years– and imploring people to “put the top down and drive thru Dealey Plaza,” it seemed like a transmission from long before the Internet.
Most of the guests were also full of outmoded ideas. The first was Charles Silver, a professor at the Law School at the University of Texas at Austin. Silver is co-author of a recent study claiming data from the Texas Department of Insurance reveals that awards given by juries have remained constant over the last 15 years, while insurance premiums have skyrocketed. The study was co-authored by David Hyman, a professor of law and medicine at the University of Illinois, Bernard Black UT law professor, and William Sage, law professor at Columbia. Who could believe a study by kooks with credentials like those? Everyone knows insurance companies exist solely to help their subscribers.
Silver was followed by local good –time gal and known liberal Molly Ivins, co-author (with Lou Dubose) of Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America and Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush.
Ivins, a holdover from a Democratic-controlled Texas, described Austin as a blue dot at the heart of a red state. She also claimed Texas was the national laboratory for bad government. Her justification? Texas was the only state in recent memory that had been redistricted twice in a decade.
Ivins was followed by Chris Bell, onetime member of the U.S. House who filed an ethics complaint against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) —and who was redistricted out of office in 2004. If he’s out of Washington, his moment is clearly over, even with talk that he might run for Governor of Texas.
Even the inclusion of Ana Marie Cox, (aka blogger Wonkette ) didn’t move the show into the new millennium. She’s a blogger, but she’s a liberal blogger. This year’s fashion is for either the right wing blog or the faux news service. Straight White House propaganda is the new news
The villain in the comedy sketch about a lobbyist from the “Quid Pro Quo” Political Action Committee was old-fashioned as well. He was Hitler, not Saddam Hussein.
The location of the broadcast underscored these outmoded concerns about the little people. The show aired from the set of the regional premiere of the play based on Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed on (Not) Getting by in America. Caring about the lives of poor people just isn’t stylish right now. If it was, the U.S. Senate would have embraced a recent proposal increasing the minimum wage.
On top of this outdated ideology, the show looked drab. There was no visual whiz-bang, no snap, no style. The table with a blue Air America drape didn’t keep Franken “on message.” The support staffed worked a few feet away, huddled behind a table that appeared to be covered by a maroon sateen-striped tablecloth held up by hope and duct tape. Their plain metal folding chairs didn’t say power, they said church basement. The boys from Queer Eye would have claimed a redecorating mandate.
The broadcast was so out of style that one suspects the spirit of the late 36th President, Lyndon Johnson was in the house. Johnson was a native Texan and lifelong Democrat, whose domestic policy embraced the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the War on Poverty. Ironically, the Johnson family made a Texas-sized fortune in Austin radio—a town where you can still listen to radio station KLBJ.
In all this outmoded talk, the only thing modern about the show was what looked like Ozarka bottled water on stage. It’s the brand apparently preferred in the current White House.
Both Franken and Cox were appearing as part of the SXSW Interactive festival. The broadcast was also the introduction of the 50th affiliate for Air America, Austin station KOKE 1600 am.
This broadcast took place on Monday, March 14, 2005.
*At least we think that he was the only person in town to win tickets…but who really knows?
This is an unpublished column from 2005. I’d forgotten about it until I started cleaning out my inbox in May 2012! That’s why it’s listed as a “wayback post.”