Dammit, Al Franken | News

Dammit, Al Franken


So we’ve added another big name to the list of powerful men accused of sexual misconduct: Al Franken, the comedian-turned-Democratic-senator-and-possible-presidential-contender who, while on a USO tour in 2006, allegedly forcibly kissed a woman and then posed, with a shit-eating grin, for this photo while she was sleeping.
  • Franken apologized a few hours the allegations, made by radio newscaster Leeann Tweeden, came to light yesterday morning: “The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women. I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.”
  • The photo, he said, was a joke. Franken said he remembered the forcible kissing incident—apparently during a rehearsal for a skit—differently, but he welcomed an ethics probe into himself.
  • The “response from Republicans and Democrats alike was swift and unsparing. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, the Senate leaders, wasted no time before forwarding the matter to the Senate Ethics Committee—a move supported by Democrats, including Mr. Franken. Lawmakers did stop short of meting out a punishment on a fellow senator, and it appeared that Mr. Franken would be able to weather the disclosure. … Democrats gave Mr. Franken no quarter. ‘This is unacceptable behavior and extremely disappointing. I am glad Al came out and apologized, but that doesn’t reverse what he’s done or end the matter. I support an ethics committee investigation into these accusations and I hope this latest example of the deep problems on this front spurs continued action to address it,’ said Patty Murray of Washington, one of the most senior Democratic women in the Senate.”
  • As the NYT notes, the infamous boys’ club culture on Capitol Hill appears to be changing: “The quick bipartisan call for an ethics inquiry into accusations of groping by Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, made clear that a rapidly shifting national mood on the subject had reached the Capitol, raising the prospect that lawmakers and aides will be increasingly unwilling to overlook sexual misconduct, harassment and crude behavior that they might have let pass before.”
  • As further evidence of this changing culture, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who succeeded Hillary Clinton and is thought to be a Dem frontrunner in 2020, said Bill Clinton should have resigned over the Monica Lewinsky scandal. This comment drew a swift rebuke from Clintonland.
  • Times columnist Michelle Goldberg writes today that Franken should resign: “There’s a strong argument against Franken’s resignation, one not entirely motivated by partisanship, since a Democratic governor would appoint his successor. When that photo was taken, Franken was a comedian, and at the time comedians enjoyed wide cultural license to behave offensively. Tweeden told Fox News that, horrified as she was by the picture, she doesn’t think he needs to resign over it. … My first instinct is to say that Franken deserves a chance to go through an ethics investigation but remain in the Senate, where he should redouble his efforts on behalf of abuse and harassment victims. But if that happens, the current movement toward unprecedented accountability for sexual harassers will probably start to peter out. … It’s not worth it. The question isn’t about what’s fair to Franken, but what’s fair to the rest of us. I would mourn Franken’s departure from the Senate, but I think he should go, and the governor should appoint a woman to fill his seat.”

TRUMP REACTS: On Thursday night, President Trump, who has been copiously silent on Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, decided to weigh in on “Al Frankenstein.”
  • “Donald Trump loves nothing more than a good controversy. But the president isn’t touching the Alabama Senate race, the biggest talker in American politics right now. Resisting the entreaties of GOP leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Trump has steered conspicuously clear of the firestorm surrounding Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate accused of pursuing, and in some cases harassing, teenage girls.”
  • Worth noting: Trump, who was caught on tape bragging about grabbing women’s genitals and forcibly kissing them, has been accused of sexual assault by at least fourteen women. Here’s a quick recap: “Ninni Laaksonen, former Miss Finland, says ‘Trump stood right next to me and suddenly he squeezed my butt’ in July 2006. Jessica Drake says Trump grabbed and kissed her without consent, then offered her $10,000 for sex in 2006. Karena Virginia says she was groped by Trump at the U.S. Open in 1998. Cathy Heller says Trump grabbed her and attempted to kiss her at Mar-a-lago in 1997. Summer Zervos, an Apprentice contestant, says Trump kissed her, grabbed her breasts and began ‘thrusting his genitals’ in 2007. Kristin Anderson says Trump reached under her skirt and grabbed her vagina through her underwear in the early 1990s. Jessica Leeds says Trump lifted up the armrest, grabbed her breasts and reached his hand up her skirt in the early 1980s. Rachel Crooks says she was sexually assaulted by Trump in an elevator in Trump Tower in 2005. Mindy McGillivray says Trump groped her while she was attending a concert at Mar-a-lago in 2003. Natasha Stoynoff says Trump pushed her against a wall and jammed his tongue down her throat at Mar-a-lago in 2005. Jennifer Murphy, another Apprentice contestant, says Trump kissed her on the lips after a job interview in 2005. Cassandra Searles says Trump grabbed her ass and invited her to his hotel room in 2013. Temple Taggart McDowell, Former Miss Utah, says Trump kissed her directly on the lips the first time she met him in 1997. Jill Harth says Trump repeatedly sexually harassed her and groped her underneath a table in 1993.”
  • Trump has also been accused of rape or attempted rape three times, including the alleged rape of a thirteen-year-old: “In 1994, Trump took a 13-year-old girl to a party with Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire who was a notorious registered sex offender, and raped her that night in what was a ‘savage sexual attack,’ according to a lawsuit filed in June 2016 by ‘Jane Doe.’ The account was corroborated by a witness in the suit, who claimed to have watched as the child performed various sexual acts on Trump and Epstein even after the two were advised she was a minor.”
  • All of these women, according to the White House, are liars.

N.C. EVANGELICALS REACT: I suppose it’s inevitable that media outlets will compare the allegations against Franken to those against Moore, even though the charges against the latter are far more serious and numerous. See, for instance, the N&O’s front page this morning.
  • As the N&O reports, Franklin Graham, a Trump supporter who has turned his father’s ministry into a weaponized arm of cultural conservatism, says he believes Moore. “I met Roy Moore when I was in Alabama last year, and I talked to him a few days ago from Norway and asked him if these allegations were true. He said absolutely not. You can read his detailed response for yourself. My prayer is that the truth will ultimately be revealed and lies will be seen for what they are.” Presumably, Graham also believes that all of the women accusing the president are also liars.
  • On the other hand, here’s Daniel Akin, president of the conservative Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest: “Again thankful for the brave & courageous women coming forward & calling out their sexual abusers. Shame on anyone who would defend these predators & minimize their actions!”
  • Liberal Wake Forest minister John Pavlovitz called on Franken to resign: “As I’ve been saying all week and wrote about this morning, intolerance of sexual assault should be a nonpartisan issue. This should transcend party and religious tradition. This is about humanity.” (Heads up: next week’s INDY will feature a profile of Pavlovitz.)

WHAT’S NEXT: In an essay for The Daily Beast, Erin Gloria Ryan argues that “we are dangerously close to botching the #MeToo moment.”
  • “But privately, I’ve been worried that we’re cruising toward the #MeToo moment’s trip wire, the point where a public’s over-credulity means that opportunists could exploit the movement and bring it all crashing down, worse off than before. And then stories of sexual misconduct will again be relegated to cocktail hours and DM’s—feminist ghost stories women share with each other with the knowledge that the demons that torment us still lurk in corner offices.”
  • “Writing with almost creepy prescience at Crooked.com this week, Brian Beutler warned against the coming Breitbart-style weaponization of the ‘Believe Women’ movement. ‘Unfolding against the backdrop of the post-Weinstein revolution, the Moore scandal exposes the conservative propaganda machine in the ugliest and most discrediting possible fashion,’ Beutler writes. ‘But these cultural changes are all but destined to collide with one another in the opposite direction, in a way that exploits both the beneficence of the ‘believe women’ campaign, and the even-handedness of the mainstream media. It is a collision we as a political culture are not equipped to handle, the consequences of which are almost too awful to contemplate.’ That’s why Weinstein fallout could go up in smoke in a second. Because enough people believe that women are all liars, that one liar will fuck it up for all of us.”
  • The problem, as I see it, is that you can’t prevent opportunists and liars from capitalizing on the moment and weaponizing it for their own ends. It’s possible, I guess, that of the multitude of allegations that have emerged in the last two months, some have been false. But lies tend to unravel when held to public scrutiny. And what’s the alternative? To put the burden of proof on women before believing them? How is that any different than the abusive patriarchal system we’ve had in place for so many years? The real answer to men abusing their positions of authority, I think, is to put more women in positions of authority.

Related: Another woman has come forward to say that former president George H.W. Bush groped her, this time during the ’92 presidential campaign.

This post was excerpted from the INDY’s morning newsletter, Primer. To read this morning’s edition in full, click here. To get all the day’s local and national headlines and insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here.

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