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Boardman writes: "By now (late Sunday November 19) the rush to Red Queen justice - 'sentence first, verdict after' - seems to have slowed, or perhaps expired. Always with accusations like this, their impact relies on others coming forward to support the credibility of the first accuser."

Senator Al Franken on Capitol Hill. (photo: Al Drago/NYT)
Senator Al Franken on Capitol Hill. (photo: Al Drago/NYT)

Al Franken’s Behavior Pattern With Women - Consistently Supportive!

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

21 November 17

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Game changer? Early on November 20, after this story was written, CNN reported that Lindsay Menz, 33, of Frisco, Texas, reached out to CNN to accuse Senator Al Franken of an incident in 2010 at the Minnesota State Fair, when her family lived in Minnesota. She was posing with the senator while her husband, Jeremy Menz, took their picture. Lindsay Menz told CNN: “… [he] pulled me in really close, like awkward close, and as my husband took the picture, he put his hand full-fledged on my rear…. It was wrapped tightly around my butt cheek.” Jeremy Menz did not see the grope, which is not illegal under Minnesota law, but Lindsay Menz reported the incident to family and friends at the time, and responded to a friend on Facebook: “Dude -- Al Franken TOTALLY molested me! Creeper!” Lindsay Menz said she voted for Trump in 2016 but also voted for Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar in the past, and believes she voted for Franken. Lindsay Menz said that reading about Leeann Tweeden prompted her to come forward with her own story, which she didn’t want to do on her own. Franken issued a non-denial denial, saying he didn’t remember the photo moment, which was one of thousands he’s done. This is the first accusation involving Franken’s behavior in the Senate, making any Senate Ethics Committee investigation more critical. For now, the Reagan principle applies: “Trust, but verify.” In time the principle of proportionality will be tested (unless further revelations change the game further). This is Day Five of the Franken story, which provides an unexpected lens through which to view the piece below, written at the end of Day Four.]

Leeann Tweeden “scandal” spends first four days shrinking in plain sight

ith a spurious “kissed and groped” meme, the Leeann Tweeden team of rightwing hucksters grabbed headlines Thursday morning, November 16, attacking Minnesota Democratic senator Al Franken with what seemed a credible sexual assault accusation. Credulous media across the political spectrum took the false framing at face value, even though Leeann Tweeden’s own version of a USO tour in 2006 made it clear that the “kissing” was part of a rehearsal momentarily gone out of hand and the “groping” was a sophomoric photograph of mock groping that she never felt (she was asleep and only saw the picture days later). Eleven years later she went public with the story, asking the world to believe she’s been nursing the hurt for all that time.

For two days, November 16-17, the story burned brightly as Leeann Tweeden went on an extensive media tour, starting with her employer KABC Talk Radio, followed by her longtime friend Sean Hannity. For most of that time, people were mindlessly reiterating the dishonest “kissed and groped” framing, reinforcing the impression that American public figures have a hard time looking at evidence, marshaling facts, drawing distinctions, articulating differences, and generally showing any ability to think clearly about hot button issues. In time it was revealed that the “kissed and groped” story was shopped around in advance by KABC. One of the first to promote the story as an attack on Al Franken was long time Trump-Republican operative Roger Stone, who teased the story as “next in long list of Democrats to be accused of ‘grabby’ behavior.” Responding lamely to CBS News about Stone’s involvement, KABC claimed on November 17, “We have no political agenda“ – which raises more questions than it answers.

By now (late Sunday November 19) the rush to Red Queen justice – “sentence first, verdict after” – seems to have slowed, or perhaps expired. Always with accusations like this, their impact relies on others coming forward to support the credibility of the first accuser [see Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, et alia]. So far, no second shoe has dropped on Franken, even though Tweeden coyly invited others to come forward, while slyly implying that Franken is a current, active predator:

I’m telling my story because there may be others…. I want them, and all the other victims of sexual assault, to be able to speak out immediately, and not keep their stories – and their anger – locked up inside for years, or decades.

Tweeden reprised this shtick on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where her innuendo of present victims waiting to come forward was even stronger:

Because if he did this to somebody else, or if anybody else has stayed silent, or anybody else has been the victim of any kind of abuse, maybe they can speak out and feel like they can come forward in real time and not wait a decade or longer.

That bit of slippery slamming, lacking any supporting evidence, is just a smear. Until such evidence is available, mindless believing of an unsupported claim is credulous and unwarranted. We shall see where the facts lead, but so far they are trending away from Franken-as-predator in the direction of Tweeden-as-political-character-assassin. Here’s a sampling of some of the straws in the wind:

Senator Franken mentioned Tweeden on Senate floor in 2010: The reference in full to an unspecified USO tour: “I was kind of a co-host with a beautiful woman named Leeann Tweeden….” More interestingly, in the same floor speech, Franken described the members of his eclectic tour: “Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Country western artists. Almost all of them were very right-wing, and we love each other, because we went on the tours.” On these USO tours Franken took on the military’s stay-in-the-closet policy for non-heterosexual troops, in decided opposition to traditional right-wing homophobia:

So I got to my Don’t Ask Don’t Tell material. “One thing I don’t get,” I’d say, “is Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The bravest serve. Take your commander, for instance. He’s one of the bravest men ever to serve in the U.S. military. And he’s also one of the gayest. General, stand up, thank you!” The troops loved this, they thought it was hilarious, everyone was cheering and laughing – maybe especially those female soldiers up in the bleachers.

Franken apologized at least three times: Franken first issued a short apology on November 16, then later in the day a much longer, seemingly heartfelt one, while also saying he supported a Senate Ethics Committee inquiry and would cooperate with it. He also sent a private, personal apology to Tweeden, which she read aloud when she appeared on “The View” in the midst of her media tour:

“I want to apologize to you personally. I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, but that doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse and I understand why you could feel violated by that photo. I remember that rehearsal differently, but what’s important is the impact it had on you and you felt violated by my actions and for that I apologize. I have tremendous respect for your work for the USO and I am ashamed that my actions ruined that experience for you. I am so sorry.”

By the time she was on “The View,” Tweeden was softening the harshness of her original KABC accusation. No longer implying that Franken had a closetful of skeletons, Tweeden told her TV audience rather disingenuously:

I’m not calling for his resignation, nor am I calling for his career to end. I just want to shine a light and stand on the shoulders of these other women to say, “This is not right, and this is not what should be happening in our society.”

Women start coming forward about Franken: The November 17 Washington Post had a story based on reactions of eight women who had worked on Senator Franken’s staff. They were unanimous in their opinion:

In our time working for the Senator, he treated us with the utmost respect. He valued our work and our opinions and was a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our offices.

What does the photo prove? According to Leeann Tweeden, the photo proved that Franken “grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping.” That characterization has been challenged. The photo itself does not support a charge of “grabbing,” and maybe not even of touching Tweeden at all (one hand is in mid air, the other throws a shadow) – the evidence is not dispositive. But it is tasteless, tacky, sophomoric, pick your pejorative. Snopes has examined a supposed quote from the photographer – not identified – that the photograph was staged by Franken and Tweeden in collusion. Franken has not said that. Tweeden has said she was asleep and there is no credible evidence to the contrary. On the other hand, Tweeden was not present for the event. Whatever the full reality may be, all the photo proves is that a 55-year-old comedian had himself photographed doing a Saturday Night Live type gag.

Has Leeann Tweeden been slut-shamed? Some say so, and perhaps mention of her long history of posing scantily clad or nude (in Playboy) is a form of slut-shaming. But it IS her history and is relevant to her purported outrage over the “groping” photo. Interestingly, the Google images page demonstrating this history (linked to in this story) has been cleaned up to a hilariously fastidious extent, making it seem that she almost never wore a bathing suit – in other words, Google has created a structural lie.

And other video has surfaced that make her Franken-focused outrage seem perhaps contrived for political consumption. Appearing with Robin Williams, Tweeden mock-smooches him, wraps a real leg around him, and pats his bum. In a USO tour photo, Tweeden appears to grab a healthy handful of a guitar player’s butt. Another USO tour photo shows Tweeden apparently kissing a surprised-looking soldier full on the mouth.

More women speak out about Franken: The November 17 New York Times talked to three women who were on Saturday Night Live with Franken. Jane Curtin said, “I have never seen him in a situation where he has been sexually aggressive with anybody.” Victoria Jackson said he told her “he was troubled she acted like ‘a ditz’ in meetings when he knew she was smart, a comment that unsettled her but one that she ultimately did not feel was harassment.” Her stock in trade on the show was acting like a ditz.

On Real Time With Bill Maher on November 17, Bill Maher defended Franken, which is not a surprise. Maher also drew the necessary distinction between Franken (with one accuser) and Judge Roy Moore (9 accusers) and President Trump (16 accusers):

So, how about another #MeToo campaign, where it’s: I can tell two unlike things apart #MeToo. I know the difference between a man who once acted like a dick and a man who is a dick #MeToo. I know the difference between someone who behaved like a high-schooler and someone who targeted high-schoolers #MeToo.”

The women on the same show, Rebecca Traister and Chelsea Handler, were articulate and incisive (especially after the 29-minute mark) on the difference between Al Franken and actual monsters. No wonder a spokesperson for Franken said November 19 that Franken has no intention of stepping down. Leeann Tweeden has said she accepts Franken’s apology and “it’s time to move on.”

Trump weighed in with lying tweet: On November 16, Trump first tweets fake news about Franken photos that don’t exist, but which echo his own famous quote about pussy-grabbing. But then Trump says of Franken: “And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women.” Wait a minute, that’s a defense of Franken. He has a history of supporting women; he has women throughout his life attesting to his character. Trump has nothing even close. Trump’s record with women is consistently self-condemning. That’s one reason there are at least 14 sexual assault claims against the president, one of which involves his raping a 13-year-old (allegedly). We don’t know how many other victims he has silence with settlements. Trump has publicly called his accusers liars. Privately he has famously said:

… I moved on her actually. You know she was down on Palm Beach. I moved on her and I failed. I’ll admit it. I did try and fuck her. She was married…. And I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping…. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look….

[As another woman approaches] Yeah, that’s her, with the gold. I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. I just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything…. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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