The Al Franken problem is developing in ways too important and interesting to not explore further. So here is a handful of semi-connected but mainly distinct thoughts on the matter.
Let me say at the outset, I’m biased. I like Franken, I think he is one of the best US Senators we’ve ever had in this country, in its entire history. I am very reluctant to let sophomoric or stupid behavior of many years ago cause us to lose this resource. I also know that his resignation is at least 50% likely, in part for reasons I will explore below, but I choose to remain in denial of this for a while longer, and that’s good enough for me.
It is hard to hear Leeann Tweeden’s story (in her own voice) and not want Al to resign, even though Leeann Tweeden herself has suggested he not. In fact, it is tempting to invent a truth machine we attach to all members of Congress, and ask about prior sexual harassment or abuse (especially while in Congress), get rid of them all, and replace them with women. We would almost certainly end up with a female-majority congress, and that could change the way this country works in several very positive ways.
(On the third hand, it should be on record so we do not forget, that Leeann Tweeden, while credible and clearly a smart and thoughtful person, is a FOX employee — off and on — and it is not hard to draw a line connecting the Roy Moore election and the present dust up. I am increasingly convinced that this is not relevant here but I feel the need to keep it on the table at least for now.)
Here is the Leeann Tweeden Interview and Al Franken’s Facebook apology. I think it is important for people to see both. Watch the entire interview, there is quite a bit of interesting insight here, across several subtopics, all the way to the end. It is long but it is your responsibility to see all of it before you form an opinion. Tweeden is very credible, Franken was a real jerk.
For his part, Al’s apology is very sincere, and as noted by Leeann Tweeden, comes from a place of honesty. One gets the sense after hearing Tweeden’s interview that the two of them could come to a reconciliation and Franken can go back to work in the Senate, were it up to her. I have a feeling that is now how it is going to work out, though.
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.
The Picture vs. The Mash
People on the internet are being stupid again. And I’m sorry if this offends you, but there is about at 70% chance that this applies to you. But don’t worry, it can be fixed.
There are two separate and distinct issues at hand, and many people are accidentally (so far, eventually this will become deceitful) conflating and confusing them.
THING 1: There is a photograph of Franken mugging a shot with his hands in grab position just over the thoracic area of Tweeden’s flack jacket, while Tweeden appears to be sleeping. You can see by the shadows, that Frankens’ hands are not touching her, and you can see by Franken’s facial expression that this is all some sort of stupid middle school level joke or prank. I’ve heard (subject to correction) that the person who took the picture claims that Tweeden is awake, and that this whole shot is a funny setup of a joke. If on the other hand she is asleep, it is a cruel prank.
THING 2: The other thing is the rehearsal mash. A mash is a forceful unwanted kiss. Or, it could be a kiss that is not unwanted but ends up being forceful in an unwanted way. According to Tweeden, Franken insisted on rehearsing a kiss they were planning as part of a skit he wrote, and she did not want to do that. He kept insisting and eventually she acquiesced, and when it happenned, according to Tweeden, Franken kissed her very forcefully (see the video) and in an unwanted manner. For his part, Franken says he remembers it differently but has not elaborated on what that means.
Here’s the THING. Even though the photograph is stupid and embarrassing, and possibly abusive, it does not illustrate the mash. They are two different things. Now you know.
Support Our Troops: Forgive Franken
Watch this USO show. Take note of the remarks about shooting into a village that it was illegal to shoot at, the fecal humor, and the sexual humor. This is what the troops want, this is what USO gives them. Have a look.
Bad behavior is not excused by bad context, but it is potentially explained that way. Should we have USO shows that make light of war crimes, and that use bawdy humor to entertain the troops? Some will say yes, this is what keeps up morale, this is how we support our troops. I expect everyone who would make such an argument to come to Franken’s defense regardless of their political motivation!
Hollywood and the world of entertainment are reeling (no pun intended) with the accusations and revelations, firings and resignations. People are identifying, correctly, not only the US Congress but also various state legislatures, as places where male harassment of females is widespread and largely unchecked. Corporate America outside of Entertainment is so far not too affected, but that is not for long, probably.
Those cultures have to change. So do places like the USO as well, places where bad behavior is rewarded and held up as morale building.
And sports. Don’t get me started on sports.
I do wonder why this is all happening right now. I know why it is happening now instead of, say, during the middle ages. But I don’t know exactly why it is happening now as opposed to, say, 2011 or some other recent year. I also wonder why the dam burst when someone took their finger out of the hole known as Harvey Weinstein, and not back with Cosby. Is that a race thing? Supreme White society expects such things of an African American entertainer? Or was it just unclear to women what the consequences of coming out would be then. Maybe it DID start with Cosby, that was an important dry run.
And of course Trump being president has caused a reset, a re-calibration, a regrouping, across the board with respect to all the issues, especially those surrounding gender and race. That may be part of it.
In the end, I hope we can save Al Franken but I know we probably can’t, and maybe shouldn’t even want to.
If Al Franken resigns, Governor Mark Dayton will appoint a senator. It will be a female. Who will it be?
And, in my next post, I predict the future: How The Franken Thing Is Going To Play Out