Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) has come under fire since a photo surfaced last week of Franken appearing to grope and fondle an unconscious woman aboard a military aircraft. The woman in question, media personality and journalist Leann Tweeden, broke the story Thursday on her Los Angeles talk radio show. Tweeden credited the #MeToo movement as giving her the confidence to speak out regarding the incident.
Tweeden’s account of sexual misconduct on Franken’s part included not only the groping depicted in the photograph, but also his forcing himself on her beforehand. The events described allegedly transpired during a 2006 USO performance tour benefitting American troops in the Middle East.
According to Tweeden’s account, Franken’s misconduct included his intentionally drafting a skit which required they kiss, a thinly veiled excuse to initiate physical contact. Next, Tweeden reports that Franken badgered her to rehearse the skit, despite her repeated protests. What follows is a repulsing account of Franken’s forcing himself on her:
“We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth. I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time,” said Tweeden.
She continued saying, “I walked away. All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth. I felt disgusted and violated.”
Following this, and for the rest of the tour, Franken was said to have become vindictive toward Tweeden, reportedly hurling insults at her and defacing photographs of her. Franken’s ultimate act of vindictiveness occurred in transit back to the United States from Afghanistan.
While an exhausted Tweeden slept during the flight home, still clad in Kevlar helmet and flak jacket, Franken positioned his hands over her breasts and smiled sordidly at the camera. Tweeden did not learn of the incident until reviewing photographs following her return home. She reported the discovery of the photograph made her feel “violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated.”
Senator Franken, who has been married since 1975, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008 in one of the closest races in Congressional history. Conservative news-magazine The National Review shredded Franken in a write-up of the incident, calling for the Senator’s expulsion and noting that “If not for the [statute of limitations], Senator Franken could be prosecuted in the federal system for felony sexual assault.”
Following the story’s release, Franken issued a pathetic apology.
“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” said Franken. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it,” Franken said on Thursday.
This abysmally poor response was a knee-jerk reflex for Franken, formerly a stand-up comic who worked on Saturday Night Live as a writer and performer from the show’s 1975 debut until the mid-nineties.
This statement roughly translates to: “I don’t remember doing anything wrong, but if I did, it was just a joke.”
Franken rightly drew criticism from all sides following this dismissive apology. Alyssa Milano, originator of the #MeToo trend, tweeted a message to Franken, telling him: “You should not be in a position to represent the female constituents in your state.” The former head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee denounced Franken’s lackluster reaction as both “not an apology” and “an insufficient response to serious allegations.”
Realizing that his first attempt was a swing and a miss, Franken gave his apology another shot a few hours later, this time declaring: “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.”
Franken has agreed to cooperate fully with an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee. For now, Franken bides his time in hopes that the scandal will blow over in the interim.
However, progressive apologists have since emerged from the woodwork, perhaps the staunchest among them being Washington Post opinion contributor Kate Harding. In a column published the day after the story broke, Harding—a self-credentialed feminist and student of “rape culture”—protested the idea of Franken’s resignation on the sole grounds that he has a (D) next to his name.
Harding’s sentiment is echoed by thousands of progressive activists who justify Franken’s continued presence in Congress by way of the shallow assessment that Democrats are the lesser of two evils. According to this line of thinking, Franken’s removal would set a dangerous precedent for which a state governor may appoint an acting senator for the duration of a vacated seat’s term. No problem in a state with a Democrat governor, but treacherous should the appointment fall into the hands of a Republican state executive. In other words, better the woman-abuser you know than the unnamed appointee you don’t.
Interestingly, the Congressional Republican leadership most vocal about getting Roy Moore to step down from Alabama’s ongoing Senate race—Mitch McConnell, Jeff Flake, Paul Ryan and others—have failed to express proportionate disgust with the revelation of their Democratic colleague’s inexcusable behavior.
While Moore’s innocence or guilt remains to be seen, if the mere allegations against him were sufficient to compel Senate Republicans to demand Moore’s resignation, one might question their silence on Franken’s behavior, especially given the tangible evidence against him.
Michael Plummer is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at MP882401@wcupa.edu.