On Thursday morning, Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden wrote a disturbing article alleging that Sen. Al Franken sexually harassed her on a 2006 USO tour. According to Tweeden, Franken coerced her into “rehearsing” a kiss for a skit, then forcefully stuck his tongue in her mouth. She also provided a photograph of Franken appearing to grope her while she slept.
There is no rational reason to doubt the truth of Tweeden’s accusations, no legitimate defense of Franken’s actions, and no ambiguity here at all: Franken should resign from the Senate immediately. Democrats should call for him to step down straightaway. This revelation is a test of the Democratic Party’s consistency, honesty, and decency. If Democrats wish to preserve whatever moral standing they have today, they must exhort Franken to leave the Senate, with no hesitation or reservations.
Franken, it seems, won’t go quietly. His first response to Tweeden’s article is a case study in pseudo-apologetic denial, an effort to gaslight Tweeden while purporting to express regret. “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way,” Franken said, “but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.” He deserves no credit for this hollow contrition. Franken “doesn’t remember” the harassment “in the same way”? His actions were “intended to be funny”? Touching a woman’s breasts without her consent is not a joke. It is a crime. Franken is not really admitting guilt or apologizing to Tweeden. He is laying the groundwork for his own defense.
The hypocrisy of Franken’s reaction is galling. Following the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the senator wrote an impassioned Facebook post declaring that sexual harassment is “appalling” and “far too common.” He added that it “takes a lot of courage to come forward, and we owe them our thanks.” Franken then praised Gretchen Carlson for writing about “the disappointing responses women often face when they go public both embolden harassers and encourage victims to stay silent.”
Now Franken has issued the exact kind of “disappointing response” that Carlson bemoaned, attempting to dismiss the accusation against him as a botched joke that his victim misremembered. Is anyone surprised? Yet another self-proclaimed defender of women’s rights has revealed himself to be a misogynistic fraud. Franken’s ardent promotion of gender equality on the Senate floor is rendered meaningless in the face of his disgusting conduct.
In recent weeks, Republicans have struggled to contend with extremely credible allegations that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore pursued and molested teenage girls as an adult. Many Democrats rightfully criticized GOP senators who initially declined to disavow Moore outright and Alabama Republicans who continue to stand by him. The Democratic Party now has a chance to set the proper example and prove that absolute intolerance for sexual harassment crosses party lines. Democrats should not hedge or wring their hands or await more accusations. The path forward is simple: If the party wishes to retain an ounce of credibility, it must demand Franken’s swift resignation.
Update, Nov. 16, 2017, at 2:25 p.m.: Franken has issued a second statement responding to Tweeden’s allegations. His follow-up is significantly more remorseful, though it still seems to dispute Tweeden’s memory of the unwanted kiss. Franken also now recognizes that there’s “no excuse” for the groping photo and admits that his hypocrisy makes him “feel ashamed.” He has called for a Senate ethics investigation into his own behavior—which indicates that he has no intention of resigning quickly. Instead, he appears to be attempting to rehabilitate his reputation by expressing penance and desire to grow. The full statement is reproduced below.
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. There's more I want to say, but the first and most important thing—and if it's the only thing you care to hear, that's fine—is: I'm sorry.
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.
But I want to say something else, too. 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.
For instance, that picture. I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn't matter. There's no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn't funny. It's completely inappropriate. It's obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what's more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it—women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.
Coming from the world of comedy, 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.
While I don't remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.
I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate.
And the truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories. They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them.