SEVERE WX : Flood Warning View Alerts

The nagging problem with the Al Franken case

Article Image

Multiple women have come forward to accuse Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching. Two of those incidents occurred while he was on separate USO tours.

Posted: Jul 24, 2019 7:00 AM
Updated: Jul 24, 2019 7:00 AM

The Al Franken scandal just won't die.

More than a year after Franken resigned from the US Senate, his story has been resurrected, this time by the highly-regarded journalist Jane Mayer in the New Yorker. She adeptly uncovers the journalistic failures and apparently less-than-legitimate motivations of Leeann Tweeden, the first woman to accuse Franken of harassment.

Tweeden is the woman who, at the end of a 2006 USO tour in which she and Franken performed, was photographed, apparently sleeping, by the tour photographer, while Franken mimed reaching for her breasts. Tweeden is a right-wing operative, and the story -- and photo -- broke via media outlets that didn't do any real fact-checking or give Franken a right of response.

The aftermath -- seven other women coming forward, Franken staying largely silent, feminists and his Senate colleagues eventually calling for his resignation -- amounted to, Mayer wrote on Twitter, Franken being "railroaded."

One important takeaway from the piece is that we are still figuring out a fair process to handle these #MeToo claims. A great many people agree with Mayer that Franken was unfairly pushed off his perch. But another crucial takeaway is this: Men, ultimately, need to be responsible for what they do.

Eight women in all accused Franken of groping or unwanted kissing. The miming breast-grab of a sleeping woman may pale in comparison to, say, the accusations of rape against the President of the United States. But still, it's no small thing, unless we simply expect physical aggression from men toward women.

Male readers, consider: would you think it was a small thing if your older male boss grabbed your butt and forcibly kissed you? Female readers: Are there circumstances in which you could see yourself grabbing the bottom of a subordinate employee, or forcing a kiss on his lips?

Yes, sometimes women harass and assault men. More often, men harass and assault other men. But overwhelmingly, the kind of stories we write off as no biggie are also the most pervasive ones: men harassing, grabbing and kissing women without their consent. Change up the genders and the utter weirdness of it becomes a bit clearer.

Yet over and over again, we expect women to tolerate men's bad behavior -- or justify it by saying the man is just socially awkward, or desperate, or oblivious. This is one defense of Franken, made in a quote from comedian and Franken defender Sarah Silverman in Mayer's piece: that he is "a social -- not a sexual -- 'lip-kisser.'" Tellingly, everyone who reported being socially kissed on the lips by Franken was female.

It may indeed be that Franken is an awkward guy -- as described by other of his supporters -- whose intentions are pure. His acts, though, were still distressing (I am a big fan of Franken's politics and adored him as a politician; I still would not want to be kissed on the lips by him).

Why should women have to tolerate behavior that is neither standard nor socially acceptable -- that is frankly gross -- in order to accommodate a socially inept man? It's hard to imagine, say, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez going through her career kissing her male colleagues on the mouth and having it shrugged off as "oh that's just Al!"

It is true that the #MeToo movement has not yet figured out a sophisticated system of dealing with wrongdoing -- #MeToo, after all, is not itself a legal system nor even an organization, but rather an amorphous catchphrase. The Franken case is one that poses a good counterfactual: wouldn't it have been better to have slowed down and investigated these claims more thoroughly before pushing for Franken's resignation?

Perhaps -- although perhaps it would have been politically damaging for Democrats to have Al Franken on the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Kavanaugh hearings. Certainly we should all consider how a legal concept like due process should play in here. But due process exists in criminal proceedings precisely because the stakes are so high. We must also insist on a fair process when leveraging social and professional, but not criminal, penalties.

What that looks like is less clear. An investigation? Sure. An "innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," with no consequences unless that very high bar is met? Probably not.

This latest attempt to bring Franken back from the dead does at least present the opportunity to debate these crucial issues.

But the reanimating of the Franken story also points to the ways in which we excuse men on the basis of intent while holding women accountable not just for their own actions, but often for the consequences of men's as well. Just look at the blame heaped on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for saying Franken should resign. She didn't force him out; he left voluntarily, if -- certainly -- under pressure. And yet she shoulders the burden of his decisions, without the excuse of "undermining due process wasn't her intent."

It is possible to think Democrats got it wrong on Franken without concluding that Franken was in the right. It is possible to recognize that some #MeToo cases end up with an imperfect result without concluding that the movement has gone too far (judging by the man in the White House, I would say it hasn't gone far enough).

And it is necessary to shift away from our knee-jerk impulse to excuse badly-behaved men as well-meaning while holding women to standards of perfect decision-making (and even making them responsible for men). That impulse to give men a pass comes from a fundamental assumption that men are deserving: of Senate seats, of unrestrained expressions of sexuality, of power, of personality foibles, even if those foibles make them anti-social and involve violating entirely reasonable and predictable physical boundaries.

This assumption of deserving -- of belonging -- is also what keeps women out of the halls of power, or at least what makes us so conspicuous when we are there. Despite a record number of woman in Congress, we are nowhere near making up half of that supposedly representative body. Is that Al Franken's fault? Of course not. Did he benefit, electorally, personally and professionally -- and is he defended even now -- because of assumptions that he belonged and that his intent mattered more than his actions? Yes.

This is shifting. Male power is being challenged. Sometimes, that happens at the ballot box -- Wendy Davis, who as a state Senator in Texas gained national attention for filibustering a state abortion bill in 2013 and then ran unsuccessfully for governor -- announced her candidacy for Congress this week.

Other times, it happens when women speak out against male misbehavior. It's OK to think that the reaction to the allegations against Al Franken was overkill. Franken is no monster. But he is an imperfect man who made a series of bad choices. Maybe he deserves a second chance. But no one is to blame for his decisions other than him.

Lafayette
Clear
30° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 30°
Kokomo
Clear
22° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 22°
Rensselaer
Clear
21° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 21°
Lafayette
Clear
30° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 30°
Danville
Clear
27° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 19°
Frankfort
Clear
23° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 24°
Feels Like: 17°
Frankfort
Clear
23° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 24°
Feels Like: 17°
Monticello
Clear
23° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 25°
Feels Like: 23°
Monticello
Clear
23° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 23°
Logansport
Clear
23° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 23°
Dry, mild conditions continue
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 663511

Reported Deaths: 12633
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion908511647
Lake48510882
Allen35951638
Hamilton32138398
St. Joseph30096513
Elkhart25423417
Vanderburgh21283379
Tippecanoe20096203
Johnson16380360
Porter16009272
Hendricks15855300
Clark11999181
Madison11764319
Vigo11636230
Monroe10363163
Delaware9854179
LaPorte9790197
Howard9075198
Kosciusko8574111
Bartholomew7479147
Warrick7430151
Hancock7418132
Floyd7226170
Wayne6645192
Grant6437157
Boone610389
Morgan6103125
Dubois5923111
Dearborn549068
Cass545899
Marshall5432105
Henry542593
Noble510178
Jackson465167
Shelby461490
Lawrence4189113
Gibson401781
Harrison401064
Clinton396553
Montgomery388483
DeKalb386478
Miami357663
Knox357585
Whitley349837
Huntington346277
Steuben339255
Wabash332376
Putnam331159
Ripley327762
Adams323949
Jasper317043
White297452
Jefferson295474
Daviess285596
Fayette271956
Decatur271088
Greene261680
Posey261431
Wells258575
Scott251250
Clay241544
LaGrange241270
Randolph225576
Spencer218030
Jennings215744
Washington212127
Sullivan203639
Fountain201842
Starke188451
Owen182853
Fulton179337
Jay178328
Carroll176519
Perry173435
Orange171150
Rush165322
Vermillion160842
Franklin159535
Tipton146841
Parke139416
Pike127833
Blackford120727
Pulaski106744
Newton96632
Brown95139
Benton92213
Crawford91013
Martin80214
Warren75814
Switzerland7558
Union67310
Ohio53911
Unassigned0433

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events