Al Franken in Perspective
By Robert Kuttner | Jul 22, 2019
The New Yorker’s indefatigable Jane Mayer has written the definitive piece on the Franken affair. In it, she conclusively establishes that Franken’s main accuser, Leeann Tweeden, of the 2006 USO tour incident, was acting as a right-wing operative, a birther no less. Tweeden, Mayer documents, had participated in identical Franken skits involving fended off kisses several times before and had registered no objection.
The photo of Franken with his hands hovering over the breasts of a sleeping Tweeden was a sight gag. The joke was that everyone on the USO tour was wearing flak jackets. Again, Tweeden never objected until it was part of a well-orchestrated right-wing takedown of Franken.
Was Franken guilty of anything? He was guilty of horsing around, and Mayer tracks down three women who felt their space was violated. That’s it. She also gets seven Democratic senators who voted to request Franken’s resignation to express deep regret on the record.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump, who has been a serial abuser, rapist, and mocker of women, continues to be president. Joe Biden, whose loose hands were far more of a problem than Franken’s, continues to run for president.
The reliably opportunistic Kirsten Gillibrand, who started the Franken lynch mob and who insisted there are no shades of gray when it comes to sexual harassment, is running a joke of a presidential campaign stuck in first gear. At least there is a shred of justice there.
Since this episode, Franken has not just been a disgraced ex-senator. He has been treated as radioactive, as if anyone who allows him to write or perform will be branded soft on sexual abuse.
Mayer, author of the definitive book on the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill disgrace, has impeccable credentials on sexual harassment. Maybe Mayer’s piece will revive a conversation that will allow a good and public minded man to reclaim some semblance of his career.