by Jeremy Fassler
KABC commentator Leeann Tweeden accused Senator Al Franken of groping her in a photograph during a 2006 USO tour. The photograph depicts her asleep in a cargo plane while Franken, smiling to the camera, is seen with his hands on her chest. Franken, previously a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live, has long been regarded as one of America’s foremost humorists, but even if this joke was performed with Tweeden’s consent, it still reflects poorly on him.
Although Tweeden is (so far) the only person to accuse Franken of sexual harassment, even if you discounted her statement, you'd find that Franken has been dogged by allegations of misogyny throughout his career. This was certainly the case during his years on SNL, both as one of the original writers for the Not Ready for Primetime Players in the legendary first five seasons, and his return as a writer and performer from the mid-80s through the mid-90s. Stories of the endemic sexism of SNL’s work environment are legion; and many were taken down in New York Magazine’s 1995 article, “Comedy Isn’t Funny.” A vicious dissection of the show during probably its worst-ever season (excluding the five years in the early 1980s without Lorne Michaels), the article is notable for cast member Janeane Garofalo’s frankness about the treatment she received from the writers and other actors there. Franken doesn’t come across well in this anecdote, when Garofalo’s insistence on memorizing her lines caused an actor to miss a cue in rehearsals:
“'Al went shithouse,' says a witness. 'Read the fucking cue cards!’ And afterward, he goes to Janeane and says, real condescending, ‘Um, Janeane, I appreciate that you want to memorize your lines. But do everyone a favor—just read the cue cards.’ 'Which is insane! He should be cheering her!'”
After releasing a curt apology this morning, for which he was criticized, Franken released a second, longer statement which, while it doesn’t excuse his actions, should be regarded as a template for any man who finds himself accused of harassment:
"Over the last few months, all of us—including and especially men who respect women—have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women...
"I've told and written a lot of jokes that I once thought were funny but later came to realize were just plain offensive. But the intentions behind my actions aren't the point at all. It's the impact these jokes had on others that matters. And I'm sorry it's taken me so long to come to terms with that…
“I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate.”
I’m not necessarily going to stand up and cheer for Franken just for doing the right thing, but I have to give him credit for this statement. For too long, the worlds of both politics and media have been rife with misogyny, and Franken, as a key player in both, should open up about his actions. This will not excuse his prior actions, but it will prove that, unlike other men who have been accused, he is willing to undergo the proper self-examination to better himself.
This also proves how, despite whatever transgressions they may commit, Democrats always have the moral authority over Republicans. If we're accused, we cooperate with the investigation; if it happens to one of our colleagues, we condemn the behavior; if that person is found guilty, we distance ourselves from them. We previously did this with Anthony Weiner, and although we didn’t do it soon enough for my taste, the fact that it was done at all gives us the edge over our Republican counterparts, who are unable to desert any of their own, no matter how awful their actions or views.
Over the past week we have seen the much-deserved pummeling of Judge Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama who has been accused of molesting nine teenage women. Although Mitch McConnell has denounced his actions, suggesting he drop out of the race, and he is trailing behind Democratic challenger Doug Jones by twelve points in some polls, Moore refuses to drop out of the race, and has called the accusations “a political farce.” He even had the gall to tweet this about Senator Franken today:
If, God forbid, Roy Moore should win election to the Senate, do you think the GOP would be so keen on investigating his behavior? Rather than use his disgraceful behavior as a teachable moment, they’re already cooking up a disgusting plan to replace him with Jeff Sessions on the ballot, giving the Attorney General his old job back, and possibly allowing for the rise of a new, even worse, head of the DOJ who would have the power to quash Robert Mueller’s investigation into Donald Trump’s Russia connections. Whatever condemnations of Moore Republican leaders have made, it is all crocodile tears as long as they have this plan in their back pocket.
And let’s not forget that, if the GOP-controlled Senate wants to investigate Al Franken’s behavior, it would be hypocritical for them not to investigate the behavior of their pussy-grabbing commander-in-chief. When the infamous Access Hollywood tape was released in October 2016, the cronies in his party never asked that he resign, dismissing his behavior with “boys will be boys” shrugs. At least twenty women have accused the President of inappropriate conduct, as opposed to the one woman who has accused Franken. Even the other day, during a press conference, Mitch McConnell dodged a question concerning the President's accusers, replying, “Look, we’re talking about the situation in Alabama, and I’d be happy to address that if there are any further questions.”
Compare this mealy-mouthed reply to those from Democrats concerning Franken today:
Chuck Schumer: “I hope and expect that the Ethics Committee will fully investigate this troubling incident, as they should with any credible allegation of sexual harassment.”
Patty Murray: "I am glad that Al came out and apologized, but that doesn’t reverse what he’s done or end the matter."
Kamala Harris: “Sexual harassment, misconduct, should not be allowed by anyone and it should not occur anywhere against anyone.”
Pat Leahy: "Not only was it inappropriate, it was not something I’d expect from Sen. Franken."
Should more allegations come forward against Franken, it is likely he will be forced to resign, and I think it is fair to withhold such calls until further evidence is found. Further evidence has been found in the cases of Moore and Trump - a lot more evidence, as it turns out - and yet Republicans refuse to submit them to the same grilling that Democrats are willing to do with their own. Any and all Republicans who gleefully condemn Franken today must shut up and sit in the corner. The Left may not be perfect when it comes to these types of responses, but when we're handed a teachable moment, we allow it to occur. Republicans would rather quash such moments with vague dismissals and backdoor plans to discredit the accused. And as long as they refuse to examine their own side, then we'll do it for them where it counts - at the ballot box.