PAUL HOLMES: Fox's 'fair and balanced' lawsuit against Al Franken will only help him sell more books

I'd love to make the case that Fox News will suffer irreparable damage to its reputation as a result of its frivolous lawsuit against satirist and author Al Franken, but I can't. Because the kind of people who take Fox News seriously won't care, and the kind of people who care are already incapable of taking Fox News seriously.

I'd love to make the case that Fox News will suffer irreparable damage to its reputation as a result of its frivolous lawsuit against satirist and author Al Franken, but I can't. Because the kind of people who take Fox News seriously won't care, and the kind of people who care are already incapable of taking Fox News seriously.

For those who have not been following the case, Fox decided to sue Franken over his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. The book reportedly (it hasn't been published yet, and I haven't read it) takes a few cheap shots at Fox, and at one of its employees: Bill O'Reilly in particular. (In addition, Franken embarrassed O'Reilly at a recent book fair, drawing attention to certain fictional elements of his resume.) Fox decided to get even by claiming that Franken's use of the words "fair and balanced" in the book's title infringe upon its trademark. It filed a suit that contained several paragraphs of personal attacks on the author - "Franken is...not a well-respected voice in American politics; rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight" - before fretting about the confusion he might create in the marketplace, and accusing him of trademark infringement. Attempting to justify the suit in the New York Daily News, O'Reilly explained that "Fox News is striking back by putting the demonizers on notice that they will be held responsible when they violate trademarks or launch defamatory personal attacks on Fox personnel." The suit doesn't mention defamatory personal attacks, but O'Reilly's self-pitying op-ed makes it clear what the real agenda is striking back at someone who wants to fight on a level playing field, rather than simply subjecting himself to the demagogue's on-air bullying. The suit is rich in irony, from the fact that Fox News can trademark a phrase so unrelated to its true agenda (it's as if Larry Flynt had trademarked the phrase "tasteful and modest") to the fact that O'Reilly can accuse anyone of launching "gratuitous personal attacks" to the fact that right-wing Fox, which is opposed to frivolous lawsuits, would itself launch one of the most frivolous in living memory. (Even The Wall Street Journal editorial page found the suit ridiculous.) Around the internet, blog authors organized a "fair and balanced" day, appropriating Fox's trademark and essentially daring it to sue them too. But that won't damage Fox's reputation. In fact, the only impact of the suit will be that Franken's book sells many more copies than it could without the publicity - it's already shot to number five on Amazon's bestseller list.
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 16 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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