Having grown up in South Dakota, not far from Minnesota, I thought Minnesotans hardy, rational people–and then they held a fraudulent election and sent Al Franked to the Senate. Not funny. Since then, Franken has shown himself to be one of the least funny people in America, and easily one of the most hypocritical and corruptly, insanely partisan. The mere idea of Franken as a U.S. Senator is like the end of Animal House, where a montage of character’s futures revealed Bluto as Senator John Blutarsky.
All conscious Americans could not have failed to be aware of the virtue-signaling storm over the accusations, some forty years old, of potentially less than gentlemanly conduct by Moore. Some five or six women, teenagers then, have made these accusations. Perhaps two, if entirely believed, might have constituted a crime. Obviously, the statute of limitations has long ago expired on any potential crime. Democrats have engaged in righteous indignation because they see political advantage in it; it is one of the primary tactics in their political playbook. Establishment Republicans have done no less because Moore is not one of them, even though destroying him might well help Democrats take control of the Senate. Even some non-establishment Republicans—as far as we know—have gone along because they, politicians all, think they know which way the political wind is blowing.
I wrote of this issue most recently in Moore Morality, not because I am an ardent defender of Judge Roy Moore, but because what is happening is part of a destructive, political and social trend we embrace at our peril. Sewing this wind, to belabor the metaphor, will cause us to reap the whirlwind, sweeping up more and more men in accusations that cannot be proved, or more importantly, disproved.
And so we return to Senator Al Franken (D, MN), a man richly deserving of being hoist by his own petard. Leeann Tweeden explains:
In December of 2006, I embarked on my ninth USO Tour to entertain our troops, my eighth to the Middle East since the 9/11 attacks. My father served in Vietnam and my then-boyfriend (and now husband, Chris) is a pilot in the Air Force, so bringing a ‘little piece of home’ to servicemembers stationed far away from their families was both my passion and my privilege.
Also on the trip were country music artists Darryl Worley, Mark Wills, Keni Thomas, and some cheerleaders from the Dallas Cowboys. The headliner was comedian and now-senator, Al Franken.
Franken had written some skits for the show and brought props and costumes to go along with them. Like many USO shows before and since, the skits were full of sexual innuendo geared toward a young, male audience.
As a TV host and sports broadcaster, as well as a model familiar to the audience from the covers of FHM, Maxim and Playboy, I was only expecting to emcee and introduce the acts, but Franken said he had written a part for me that he thought would be funny, and I agreed to play along.
When I saw the script, Franken had written a moment when his character comes at me for a ‘kiss’. I suspected what he was after, but I figured I could turn my head at the last minute, or put my hand over his mouth, to get more laughs from the crowd.
On the day of the show Franken and I were alone backstage going over our lines one last time. He said to me, ‘We need to rehearse the kiss.’ I laughed and ignored him. Then he said it again. I said something like, ‘Relax Al, this isn’t SNL…we don’t need to rehearse the kiss.’
He continued to insist, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable.
He repeated that actors really need to rehearse everything and that we must practice the kiss. I said ‘OK’ so he would stop badgering me. 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.
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.
Not long after, I performed the skit as written, carefully turning my head so he couldn’t kiss me on the lips.
Tweeden writes she didn’t make a fuss because she wanted the focus to remain on the tour. She avoided Franken as much as possible thereafter, and was never again alone with him.
Franken repaid me with petty insults, including drawing devil horns on at least one of the headshots I was autographing for the troops.
But he didn’t stop there.
The tour wrapped and on Christmas Eve we began the 36-hour trip home to L.A. After 2 weeks of grueling travel and performing I was exhausted. When our C-17 cargo plane took off from Afghanistan I immediately fell asleep, even though I was still wearing my flak vest and Kevlar helmet.
It wasn’t until I was back in the US and looking through the CD of photos we were given by the photographer that I saw this one:
I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep.
I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated.
How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?
Today, I am the news anchor on McIntyre in the Morning on KABC Radio in Los Angeles. My colleagues are some of the most supportive people I’ve ever worked with in my career. Like everyone in the media, we’ve been reporting on the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct allegations since they broke, and the flood of similar stories that have come out about others.
Tweeden’s experiences as a broadcaster helped compel her to relate this story.
I’m still angry at what Al Franken did to me.
Every time I hear his voice or see his face, I am angry. I am angry that I did his stupid skit for the rest of that tour. I am angry that I didn’t call him out in front of everyone when I had the microphone in my hand every night after that. I wanted to. But I didn’t want to rock the boat. I was there to entertain the troops and make sure they forgot about where they were for a few hours. Someday, I thought to myself, I would tell my story.
That day is now.
Senator Franken, you wrote the script. But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault.
You wrote the scene that would include you kissing me and then relentlessly badgered me into ‘rehearsing’ the kiss with you backstage when we were alone.
You knew exactly what you were doing. You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later, and be ashamed.
At this point, I’d note only that Franken might have had the photo taken because he thought himself hilarious, because he thought others seeing that photo would see him as he obviously saw himself: as a mighty force of comedy. It’s not likely he did it to humiliate Tweeden. People like him don’t think that deeply or that far ahead.
Certainly, no one should be so devoid of potential humor as to automatically condemn all attempts at sexual humor. Many women would find some such funny, but no man should be so stupid as to think to try something like this with a woman he does not know very well, with a woman he is not certain will find the joke as funny as he thinks it.
There is some fallout falling Franken’s way:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately called for an Ethics Committee investigation.
‘As with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter. I hope the Democratic Leader will join me on this,’ he said. ‘Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable—in the workplace or anywhere else.’
In a statement, Franken said, ‘I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, 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.
I do not, in any way, defend Al Franken, one of many in the Congress doing enormous damage to the rule of law and American constitutionalism. Particularly in this case, though the incident is a decade old, there is unquestionable proof of his groping, and one can reasonably infer from that the rest of Tweeden’s story is accurate as well. In my article on Moore, I argued we should, in the current political climate, be wary of believing accusations against men, particularly very old accusations that cannot be proved, or most importantly, disproved. That’s not the case with Franken.
What’s that you say? Surely this isn’t the only such incident involving Franken? You’re correct:
Franken, then a comedian, was quoted in a 1995 New York Magazine article discussing a skit for ‘Saturday Night Live’ that involved drugging and raping CBS reporter Lesley Stahl. Franken, at the time a writer for ‘SNL,’ suggested one skit should play out with ‘60 Minutes’ commentator Andy Rooney finding an empty pill bottle on his desk.
‘I give the pills to Lesley Stahl. Then when Lesley is passed out, I take her to the closet and rape her.’ Or ‘That’s why you never see Lesley until February.’ Or, ‘When she passes out. I put her in various positions and take pictures of her,’ Franken was quoted saying.
But that’s just Franken being an edgy, hip comedian! Not quite:
The article, along with a 2000 Playboy column in which Franken talked about fantasizing a machine would perform oral sex on him, was used to attack Franken during his 2008 Senate campaign in Minnesota. Republican women also gathered to demand Franken explain himself, according to the Pioneer Press.
Franken eventually apologized for his crude remarks, but he later wrote in his book, ‘Al Franken: Giant of the Senate,’ that he faked the apology to get the necessary support for his election win, according to the New York Times.
‘To say I was sorry for writing a joke was to sell out my career, to sell out who I’d been my entire life,’ he wrote in the book. ‘And I wasn’t sorry that I had written Porn-o-Rama or pitched that stupid Lesley Stahl joke at 2 in the morning. I was just doing my job.
But that’s not all. Melanie Morgan, in 2000, appeared on an edition of Politically Incorrect with Franken, where the topic was budget issues:
I made a statement about the budget numbers, Franken challenged me, I challenged him back. It was about spending priorities, actually just a mundane discussion. But he obsessed over it.’
After the show, Morgan said Franken wouldn’t leave her alone, insisting on continuing the argument.
‘He approached me backstage, angrily called me out on those numbers and insisted he would prove he was right. He wouldn’t leave me alone, he kept following me. As a woman, his presence and proximity to me felt very threatening and intimindating.
I didn’t realize his creepy behavior after the show meant it would continue in the days to come.
He approached Carol, the show’s producer and demanded my home phone number, which was a clear violation of network protocol. I had thought that was the end of the story and was shocked when he started calling my home, badgering me repeatedly.
I became fearful and called Carol to complain and asked her to tell him to back off. But he made another call after that. I thought that he might end up stalking me at my home in Northern California, it was that bad.
‘By the third phone call I was outraged and terrified, as he is really disturbed,’ Morgan recounted.
Morgan said Franken finally left her alone, but only after she pushed back and threatened ‘to call the police and make a report that he was harassing me.’
To this day, she says she is haunted by it: ‘I never forgot that experience and it informed me of his lack of character and obsessive personality. I believe every word Leann wrote.
This should render any future moral pronouncement, or purported defense of women, by Franken laughable and worthy of withering scorn–I mean more than he currently deserves just for being Al Franken. By the standards of those attacking Moore–Democrat and Republican–Franken should immediately resign, or refusing that, should be expelled from the Senate.
But of course, that’s unlikely tohappen. Franken is a Democrat, and while screaming falsely about a “war on women,” perpetrated by evil Republicans, Democrats perpetrate a real war on women. The examples are endless: Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton and JFK, being only some of the most high-ranking offenders. They will not fail to protect their own, even while ruthlessly attacking their political enemies for possibly committing the same sins.
The problem, in both the Moore and Franken cases, is it’s a bad idea indeed, and would set a horrible precedent, to expel a senator, or deny a senate seat to a senator-elect, for allegations of wrong doing, particularly unconfirmed allegations, that took place long before the supposed wrong doer was actually a member of Congress. Such a precedent would not only allow, but encourage all manner of ugly political mischief.
For now, it’s enough to know, beyond doubt, what Al Franken is. One might even consider acting, within the law and the boundaries of reasonable human discourse, on that knowledge.