The acrimonious public war between conservative cable news king Bill O’Reilly and liberal humorist Al Franken landed in federal court Monday, with Fox News Channel accusing Franken and publisher Penguin of stealing its trademark phrase “fair and balanced.”
The lawsuit, filed in a New York State court in Manhattan, demands that Penguin remove the phrase from the title of Franken’s upcoming book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.”
Book is scheduled for publication Sept. 22 by Dutton, an imprint of the Penguin group.
The net, now the country’s top-rated cable news operation, registered “Fair and Balanced” as a trademark in 1995, according to the court complaint.
Lawsuit, which asks for unspecified damages, seeks a court order forcing Penguin to remove the name from the book.
Lawsuit said Franken’s intent is “to exploit Fox News’ trademark, confuse the public as to the origins of the book and, accordingly, boost sales of the book.”
The book jacket features an image of Franken standing in a TV newsroom in front of monitors showing the images of Ann Coulter, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Bill O’Reilly, whose primetime talkshow “The O’Reilly Factor” is the No. 1-rated program on Fox News.
The feud between Franken and O’Reilly exploded earlier this year at BookExpo America in Los Angeles. During a panel discussion, captured on tape by C-SPAN, Franken accused O’Reilly of lying, and the talkshow host yelled at the comedian to “shut up.”
The quarrel has spilled into other events and appearances.
Franken, active in the Democratic party, has publicly called O’Reilly a “liar,” while O’Reilly has called Franken “a vile human being.”
The legal complaint also carries an intensely personal attack on Franken.
Franken is “not a well-respected voice in American politics,” the complaint alleges. “Rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight.”
A Fox News spokesman said the network does not comment on any pending litigation.
But Dutton rep Lisa Johnson issued a harsh rebuke.
“It is extraordinary that one of the largest media corporations would take such action,” Johnson said in a statement.
“In trying to suppress Al Franken’s book, News Corp. is undermining First Amendment principles that protect all media by guaranteeing a free, open and vigorous debate of public issues. The attempt to keep the public from reading Franken’s message is un-American and runs contrary to everything this country stands for.”