The recent bared-teeth snarlfest between Bill O'Reilly and Al Franken has provided the perfect antidote to the final dog days of summer. Never have two more deserving people found each other - just in time to make one look like a silly bully and the other a best-selling author.
The two have been embroiled over Franken's new book: "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." The cover includes an unflattering photo of O'Reilly, who is, do we need reminding, the most popular anchor in cable TV.
In other words, he's world famous - and infamous for being an attack pundit - and Franken is well known mostly among aging fans of "Saturday Night Live," for which he has been a writer and actor. Despite Grammy and Emmy awards, best-selling books and a successful career as a political satirist, Franken doesn't have near the name recognition of O'Reilly.
But he is amusing, as long as you're not the one he's being amusing about.
O'Reilly, as a target and subject of an entire chapter (Chapter 13 is "Bill O'Reilly: Lying, Splotchy Bully"), is among those not amused by Franken and got Fox to seek an injunction against the book claiming that "fair and balanced" is O'Reilly's intellectual property.
A New York judge ruled last Friday that Fox's case was without merit and Franken can plunge ahead with his now-best-selling tirade.
Thanks to Fox and O'Reilly, Franken's book, which zillions of Americans never would have noticed otherwise, rocketed to No. 1 on Amazon's bestseller list from 489. And Fox and O'Reilly look like thin-skinned terriers who can dish it out but run tail tucked between legs when others respond in kind.
Bill, Bill, Bill, haven't you heard? It doesn't matter what they're saying as long as they're talking about you? Besides, let the little dogs whine. As contests go, this is like Spot scratching at the screen door while Rin Tin Tin lounges in a La-Z-Boy watching Lassie reruns and munching Bac-O bits.
The truth is, no one cares what Franken thinks about O'Reilly or what "The O'Reilly Factor" spins or unspins about world events.
If we watch television yak shows - or read mean-spirited, close-to-the-bone books - it's not for policy analysis. How much insight can one glean from 30 minutes or an hour of flush-faced confrontation among pundits mostly concerned with selling their books and increasing their speaking fees?
It's for flavah, honey. Infotainment. A break from commercials and a reaffirmation of the aphorism that familiarity breeds contempt.
None of which means that O'Reilly isn't a smart man with a considered point of view and a marketable, flamboyant style. It just means most viewers know what they're getting with the, ahem, "no-spin zone." It ain't fair and balanced, but we don't care. Most talk television is "slanted and shallow," and we like it that way. Apparently.
Franken, meanwhile, gets credit for cleverness, if not hilarity, for his strategy of using more-famous people to sell his books. His 1996 book was titled "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot: And Other Observations." Franken, relatively unknown by comparison, attached his byline to one of the best-known names in America and, voila, he's got a best seller.
I read the book. It was kinda funny, kinda interesting, but name one line? Can't. What was it about? Don't remember. Something to do with Rush Limbaugh, about whom my opinion changed not one wit. Limbaugh may be a lot of things, but he's no idiot. He's not even fat anymore.
One might correctly assume, however, that a book so titled isn't to be taken too seriously. It's obviously one man's rant, not unlike dozens of others circulating and doing head-scratchingly well. Treason. Slander. Stupid White Men. How about this for a title: "You're Stupid to Buy This Book, But You'll Do It Anyway."
In any case, those who loved Limbaugh already hated Franken, if they'd ever heard of him. Those who hated Limbaugh enjoyed feeling clever by association with Franken. The same will apply to the O'Reilly-Franken encounter.
Otherwise, none of it matters except to Franken and his publisher, who are getting richer whether they deserve to or not.
And hoping, no doubt, that O'Reilly and friends will appeal the judge's ruling. More publicity equals more sales. It doesn't matter what they're saying, after all, as long as they're buying the book.