It seems somehow sadly fitting that Air America: The Playbook hit the bookshelves less than four weeks before Air America Radio filed bankruptcy. Just as the radio network's financial problems seem to display some lack of planning and execution, the playbook also suffers a lack of focus and goals. In that respect, it is also illustrative of the often self-inflicted problems liberals and the liberal media have had in going on the offensive in America.
The Playbook is a collection of interview transcripts, original writings and humor from the staff of Air America. The problem is you're never quite sure what niche the book is intended to fill. Does it want to be a humorous like Al Franken's prior works or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book)? Does it want to be a "Best of Air America"? Does it want to be a vehicle by which Air America's hosts and contributors present their expositions and views of liberal ideas and the errors of the Bush Administration? While there's nothing wrong with trying to blend such approaches, The Playbook tends to weave from one to another like a football back in the midst of a broken play.
For example, the book contains transcripts of interviews with guests dealing with Hurricane Katrina and a timeline of the disaster. Plopped amidst that material are excerpts from a June 2006 interview with Robert Redford about global warming. While some might argue there is some connection between global warming and the ferocity of Katrina, that isn't suggested in the interview excerpts. In fact, Katrina is not even mentioned. Similarly, intermingled in an extended series of interviews and pieces on the role of the religious right are one in a series of fake advertisements about ten corporations who are "the very best in global industry" and a "Creep of the Week" award to a Republican fundraiser in Ohio convicted of illegally funneling money to the 2004 Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. Certainly, there is no requirement that all the pieces on a particular topic go together. Yet here there is no subject or chronological order, leaving the reader wandering the fields of thought in the book.
Don't get me wrong. There are some very well-written serious pieces and funny material here. In the latter category is Al Franken's introduction and some of the phony magazine and promotional literature covers. Standing out amongst the former are several of Mike Papantonio's "Pap Attack" pieces, in which he takes a hard look at everything from "Rapture Republicans" to stem cell research to the tobacco industry; Mark Riley's "Media Mind Game," which addresses just how incestuous media-political relationships are inside the Beltway; "Freedom Thieves" by Mike Malloy and Kathy Bay, which looks at the dichotomy between the Bush Administration using freedom as a mantra for foreign policy while at the same time seriously eroding civil liberties in the United States; and, Rachel Maddow's wonderful closing essay, the self-explanatory "What I Want in My Next President."
Similarly, some of the transcripts and excerpts are interesting, particularly Randi Rhodes' interview with Ralph Nader on Air America's first day and Franken and author Joe Conason's self-professed ganging up on Edward Klein, who wrote The Truth about Hillary, an attack book about Hillary Clinton. Yet as with the humor and essays, the good unfortunately gets lost in items that range from average at best to banal at worst. Part of it is inherent. As we all know from reading plays or scripts, sometimes the spoken word isn't as effective when put in writing. This problem is heightened given a relative dearth of explanatory context for the excerpts. And, once again, with no real chronological or subject matter focus, there seems no method to the placement of the interviews (and occasional Air America "Creep of the Week" awards), reinforcing the feeling The Playbook is lurching from here to there looking for an effective theme or strategy.
Air America's bankruptcy is intended to restructure the network. Unfortunately, it is too late for any reorganization that would improve Air America: The Playbook.