by Joel Smith & r & & r & Air America: The Playbook by Al Franken & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & ir America: The Playbook is about as effective a tool for change as Air America the radio network. That is: It's a dud. A kind of print-version greatest hits from the liberal radio network (which has struggled since it went on-air in March of 2004 and which declared bankruptcy in October), the 256-page, hardback tome might be a good argument-starting coffee table book, but it's not going to change the world.

For two reasons. First of all, it makes the same mistake the radio network did. While it's a reasonable assessment to say that talk radio is dominated by conservative ideology, and that such an important source of news (Al Franken, citing Gallup numbers, writes in his introduction that 21 percent of Americans get their news from the radio waves) should probably be a little more balanced, Air America's decision to counter hyper-opinionated, philosophically rigid conservative wind-baggery with hyper-opinionated, philosophically rigid liberal wind-baggery -- not reasoned discussion and truth-to-power reporting -- is baffling.

And the book is every bit as opinionated and screechy as the radio programming, with all of Air America's favorite on-air personalities (Franken, Randi Rhodes, Rachel Maddow, et al.) weighing on in their favorite Bush misadventures and scandals in a tone that's so politically loaded, so clearly slanted and so full of easy jokes that it becomes impossible to trust them.

But the other reason the book tanks is because of its format. That is, because it's a book. Just as Jon Stewart's America: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction paled in comparison to the animated humor of the TV show, The Playbook doesn't do justice to the original format. Who wants to sit down and read interview transcripts on issues that were outdated by the time this book hit the stands? Even when the guests are interesting (as are Jimmy Carter, Montana governor Brian Schweitzer and a former Gitmo detainee named Martin Mubanga), the transcripts fall flat.

Wisely, they've interpolated the transcripts with a mish-mash of one-off and sequential graphic spreads, which are often the funniest, most accessible and most educational points of the book, especially when they're merely documenting real events, rather than commenting on them. Their chronological account of the Bush administration's bungled response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster and its bungled prosecution of the Iraq war speak volumes. And that's without the talk radio blowhards having to utter a single word.

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