A very tired and very cranky Al Franken appeared on the March 31 edition of the Today show. The segment, which aired at 7:12AM EST, saw Franken respond to a barb from fellow radio talk show host Michael Smerconish with this witty barb: "Screw you." Also, host Matt Lauer couldn’t find time to ask Franken about Air America’s dismal ratings or the "involuntary loan" that the radio network took from a children’s charity. He did, however, manage to note a happy event for the struggling state of liberal talk:
Lauer: "Al Franken is host of the Al Franken show on Air America radio, celebrating a second anniversary today, so congratulations."
Though the clash between the conservative Smerconish and liberal Franken and Lauer was relatively tame, the NBC host did partake in the standard media practice of loaded questions:
Lauer: "Michael, I was just going to say, Michael, Reverend Luis Cortes who is a prominent Hispanic clergyman, went to the White House last week. He said to the President, I want you to know that this issue has already hurt the Republican Party. How much damage do you think has been done?"
This is the political version of the "When did you stop beating your wife?" question. Smerconish responded by saying that immigration would indeed hurt Republicans, only the pain would come from demoralized conservatives who abandon the party. Lauer also allowed the Air America host to completely avoid answering a question about erosion of Hispanic support amongst Democrats:
Lauer: "What is the exposure to the Democratic Party here, Al? So much talk about division within the Republican Party but the Democrats have seen erosion in their support from the Hispanic community in the last couple of election cycles. So how much risk is there?"
Franken: "Well, actually I think that is the political aspect that a lot of people focus on, which is, uh, the sort of draconian legislation that was passed in the House. You saw what the reaction was from Hispanics around the country and I think that will hurt the Republican Party's efforts in years, in the past several years to move Hispanics towards Republicans."
Notice how he seemed to respond to a totally different question? There’s no follow up by Lauer.
The Today host allowed Franken to take a number of cheap shots at the administration. He even obliged by throwing the radio host some softballs:
Lauer: "Andrew Card, five and a half years as chief of staff, out. Was he shown the door? And if so, is change good?"
Franken: "He was exhausted. I think he's been exhausted since, pretty much, since day one...You know, they point to lousy decisions made recently, but they've been making lousy decisions since, pretty much since- I think they just stayed up too late at the first inaugural."
Franken went on to say that Josh Bolten taking over as chief of staff would do no good because he’s "even more exhausted." He then added:
Franken: "I think they should just fire these guys in order of exhaustion. I think Rumsfeld is looking real tired."
That last line drew a laugh from Lauer and the Today set. However, Mr. Franken, who felt free to dish insults out, became very testy when Michael Smerconish noted how somber the author of "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot" seemed:
Smerconish: "Yeah, Al sounds a little exhausted to me this morning."
Franken: "It's 4:11AM! It's four in the morning here....Screw you! I got up at four in the morning."
Franken, who was appearing via remote from California and thus in a different time zone,couldn’t let the issue go:
Franken: "I got up at 4AM, Michael! Four friggen AM!"
Lauer, perhaps making the best on-air suggestion of his career, closed the interview with a joking request that the control room "turn his mic off."