Opinion — Leeann Tweeden has alleged that Senator Al Franken forcibly kissed her under the guise of rehearsing for their USO tour show in 2006. Sen. Franken was a comedian at the time and headlined the show.
If the story was correctly recounted, and Sen. Franken has not contradicted it, then Tweeden’s story about the forced kiss is classic sexual harassment. Franken used his position in the work environment to force a sexual encounter, albeit in a far less intrusive way than some of the charges against Harvey Weinstein and President Donald Trump.
There was also released a picture of Sen. Franken supposedly touching Tweeden’s breasts while she slept.
It is difficult to tell if he actually touched them or was just making a crude display about doing so.
The picture does insinuate he probably was excited by her body and did want to have sexual contact with her. So the picture provides corroborating evidence to Tweeden’s claim, demonstrating Franken’s mindset around the kiss. Yet in and of itself, the picture does not necessarily show anything more than poor taste.
Given Tweeden’s celebrity status in large part due to her exhibiting her body, is the picture of Franken the comedian all that surprising? No, not in the context of off stage antics. Yet that does not justify the story of the kiss as Tweeden tells it. Since Franken has apologized and Tweeden has accepted it, we will only know more about this incident if the Senate chooses to initiate an ethics probe that Franken recommended himself.
CNN Reports a Second Allegation Against Sen. Franken
According to CNN, in the most recent sexual harassment allegation against Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota constituent accuses Sen. Franken of grabbing her rear while taking a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Lindsay Menz’s allegation is that Sen. Franken’s hand “was wrapped tightly around [her] butt cheek.”
This case of she said (groping)/he said (he doesn’t remember a photo op from 7 years ago) does not have any corroborating witnesses. Her husband’s support of his wife’s allegation is based solely on her informing him of the incident. Even though he took the picture, he did not notice anything wrong.
Here are the facts and what we are expected to believe from the allegation:
- Sen. Franken was voted into office in 2008.
- Sen. Franken attended a State Fair in 2010 where politicians routinely take numerous pictures with constituents.
- Sen. Franken pulled Menz tightly next to him to take the picture (either Sen. Franken pulled her in by the buttocks, or pulled her in by the waist or hip and then moved his hand to her buttocks).
- The picture is taken with Menz, seen smiling quite broadly.
- Menz’s husband who took the picture does not notice the alleged groping or her discomfort and does not realize what has happened until after his wife has informed him.
- Since Sen. Franken has already walked away, the husband does not confront Sen. Franken.
So we are to believe Sen. Franken took a picture in public with a woman in front of her husband, firmly groped her during the picture taking and the woman covered her reaction, smiling quite pleasantly for the picture, such that her husband did not even notice anything wrong. In addition, the only corroborating evidence is that she informed other people, including her husband and parents, after the incident. Essentially, the only other evidence CNN can provide is hearsay the accuser herself.
Let’s assume this unlikely scenario of seven years ago is all true. Then the husband’s reaction would be questionable too. If a man took a picture of his wife with a Senator and the wife told him immediately afterward that the Senator firmly grabbed her buttocks apparently causing her some distress, wouldn’t the husband accept what she said and pursue the Senator to address him?
CNN also reported that Menz says she voted for Trump. Given that she felt “gross” after the incident with Sen. Franken, her decision to vote for a candidate with far more accusations, many of a much more sordid variety, seems quite contradictory. Further, “Menz said she believes she has voted for Sen. Franken as well but is not sure.” Wouldn’t a woman who felt sexually violated think at the time “I even voted for that *****” or “at least I didn’t vote for him?” That is not something one would forget after a traumatic incident or anytime thereafter.
The Washington Post Misinterprets a Statement and Holds it Against Sen. Franken
The Washington Post covered the CNN story with a headline asserting “Why Al Franken could be in a lot more trouble now.” The first three points of the article state, 1. this may be indicative of a pattern, 2. Sen. Franken was a Senator at the time and 3. Sen. Franken did not deny the incident. Let us assume the event did not happen or is grossly mischaracterized by Ms. Menz. Then 1. would not apply and 2. would not be relevant. Further, given the number of pictures that Franken likely takes with constituents, it is highly likely he does not remember this one from seven years earlier and 3. would be the correct response – he could not deny something he doesn’t remember.
This is why the fourth point is so crucial – that accusers should get the benefit of the doubt. By lowering the standard of proof of the allegation, then 1, 2 and 3 above would apply to this incident.
The problem is the Washington Post mischaracterizes Sen. Franken’s comments that accusers accounts should be taken seriously as providing them “the benefit of the doubt.” Indeed, the full first sentence of the Washington Posts’ fourth point states “Sen. Franken himself has said that accusers should get the benefit of the doubt: As The Fix’s Aaron Blake has documented here.” (The Fix is part of the Washington Post.)
Yet Sen. Franken never actually says “accusers should get the benefit of the doubt.” What Sen. Franken has suggested is that their claims should not be dismissed as is often the case. As Blake wrote on November 16, “Just last month, in response to the Harvey Weinstein saga, Franken posted on Facebook that responses doubting female accusers are ’disappointing.’”
“’As I’ve listened to their experiences, I’ve realized that the disappointing responses women often face when they go public both embolden harassers and encourage victims to stay silent,’ Franken said.”
Sen. Franken stated what is widely perceived as a large part of the problem – women who come forward are not to believed and/or should stay silent. The logical extension of this is that such accusers are assumed to either be not credible or over-reacting and that this is the wrong response (according to Sen. Franken’s logic).
Sexual harassment and violence are unacceptable. We all must do our part to listen, stand with, and support survivors.
— Sen. Al Franken (@SenFranken) October 23, 2017
In essence, Sen. Franken is saying what well-trained Human Resources Departments now do in the corporate matters: take such accusations quite seriously and not dismiss them. In fact, this is exactly in line with Sen. Franken’s call for an ethics investigation of himself. Yet the Washington Post misuses Sen. Franken’s words to suggest the allegations of Sen. Franken’s accuser should be considered as fact before further inquiry.
In other words, the Washington Post just concluded that Sen. Franken believes the accused of sexual harassment is guilty until proven innocent. That is quite an extreme bias in reporting.
Endnote: while Sen. Franken is a force to be reckoned with during Senate hearings, this commentator lost faith in the Senator when he essentially said my judgment is more important than the voter while defending his Super Delegate vote during the 2016 primaries. While I believe Sen. Franken and every other elected politician should be primaried out of office for deciding their Super Delegate vote before the primaries started, I don’t think questionable allegations and a journalistic attack should be the driving force for their exit.
Top photo | Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., listens at a committee hearing at the Capitol in Washington. A second woman has accused Minnesota Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching, saying on Nov. 20, 2017 that he put his hand on her bottom as they posed for a picture at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, after he had begun his career in the Senate. Menz’s allegation comes days after a Los Angeles broadcaster, Leeann Tweeden, accused Franken of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Ian Berman is an entrepreneur and former corporate banker at leading global banks in New York City. He now focuses on financial advisory services and writing about representative government, equitable public policies and ending American militarism and Israel’s continuing colonization of Palestine. He is the Co-Founder of Palestine 365, the Ongoing Oppression and its predecessor, Palestine 365, on Facebook.
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