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Al Franken ’73 is no big fat idiot.
The comedian and political satirist—author of the famous book Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations—will join three journalists and one scholar as one of five new fellows this spring at the Kennedy School of Government’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
Other fellows include the chief congressional correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, a Spanish scholar of public opinion and communication, a cable news host and a political columnist for New York magazine.
Shorenstein Center director Alex S. Jones said Franken’s presence broke new ground for the fellowship program.
“I think it’s a very disparate class in some respects,” he said. “We have journalists and academics, but for the first time we have a satirist.”
Franken said his discussions with Jones on past visits to campus attracted him to the Shorenstein program.
“Also, they asked me,” he joked.
Shorenstein fellows study the confluence of the media, politics and public policy. Some lead regular study groups, and all undertake independent research projects.
Franken said he will spend time working on a new book, which will scrutinize the media’s coverage of the Bush administration.
He will also lead a regular study group, with students from both the Kennedy School and the College who will help with research for the new book.
Other fellows exhibit backgrounds more consistent with those of the program’s previous honorees— a group that includes such major media personalities as CNN anchor Connie Chung.
Margie Reedy, who has hosted the “NewsNight” interview program on New England Cable News for the past seven years, said she plans to produce a documentary that examines the influence of a new breed of “contentious” talk shows—exemplified by Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” and CNBC’s “Hardball” —on political debate.
“The idea is to see what that does to the communication process,” she said. “It’s my sense that when people watch these programs, they find them more entertaining than enlightening.”
Reedy said the fellowship was a natural extension of her work interviewing movers, shakers and experts on “NewsNight.”
“I found that I always wanted to follow all the Harvard professors out the door and keep asking them questions,” she said.
Other members of the media opted to do research in their areas of coverage.Terence Samuel, who handles Congressional coverage for U.S. News, said he would look at the “divided political pie” that characterizes U.S. politics today and its effect on American democracy.
Samuel said that though conventional wisdom holds American voters want a two-party government to preserve a manner of checks and balances, the result may be less beneficial than many expect.
Study groups will get underway as fellows get settled into their new surroundings.
Franken—who received 90 applications for 10 or 15 spots—said selecting students for his group was a daunting task
“There’s so many incredible kids,” he said. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
—Staff writer William C. Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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