Thursday, November 16, 2017

Senator Franken Apologizes to Leeann Tweeden

Often what's done in the dark is going to come out in the light whether we want it to or not. Harassment and bad behavior is not limited by political considerations. Democratic Senator Al Franken apparently behaved badly on a 2006 USO tour with one Leeann Tweeden, then a Playboy, FHM and Fredericks of Hollywood model, now a radio show host. Although I'm pretty sure that we are only finding out about this now because of the brouhaha over embattled Alabama Republican U.S.Senate candidate Roy Moore, it's still a potent reminder that people (by which I mostly mean men) need to be careful about what they do. It's such a simple thing to get consent first. According to Tweeden, Franken, then a comedian, did not have consent to kiss her or grope her. If this picture had come out before Franken's successful 2008 campaign to become the junior Senator from Minnesota, it's a good bet that he wouldn't have been elected. 

The answer to these sorts of issues isn't necessarily to demonize half of humanity, though some folks would like to do just that. Rather it has to be drummed into some people's heads that even though they work in the entertainment or political arena, they still need to get consent to do certain things, just like everyone else. 

Broadcaster and model Leeann Tweeden said Thursday that Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) “forcibly kissed” her and groped her during a USO tour in 2006, saying that “there’s nothing funny about sexual assault.”
“You knew exactly what you were doing,” Tweeden wrote in a blog post for Los Angeles radio station KABC, for whom she works as a morning news anchor. “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.”
The allegations came two days after a stunning hearing where lawmakers acknowledged sexual harassment is a pervasive problem on Capitol Hill. In her blog post, Tweeden recalled that 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.”

Franken, she said, “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.” But on the day of the show, she wrote, “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 ‘okay’ 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. 
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.”

There are two other issues. One, it could be that Tweeden is lying and that this really was a crass Benny Hill style joke, one to which she agreed. But based on her statements and those of Senator Franken I really don't think that's the case. Two, the picture angle gives some hyperpartisan people license to argue that Franken wasn't grabbing what it looks like he's grabbing, that he was just pretending to do so. It sure looks to me like he's got his hands exactly where he's not supposed to have his hands. And even without actual contact taking a sexualized photograph of a woman co-worker without her permission is still wrong. Are there worse sins than what Franken did? Yes. Yes there are. But do people need to condemn bad behavior from political allies as well as from political enemies? Yes. Yes we do. And maybe, just maybe people can seek and provide forgiveness where possible. Sexual harassment isn't a partisan political issue.

What's your take?

Should Franken resign?

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