NPR’s Fresh Air broadcast an interview with the journalist that wrote an article for The New Yorker about the accusations against Al Franken that led to his resignation from the Senate two years ago. The thought behind the article was since he never got to go before a Senate ethics committee like he wanted, what would the kind of investigations that would have been done uncover?
One of the first things Jane Mayer does is play the Fresh Air interview with Al Franken from 2004. In it, he talks about the USO tour he just gone done with, and he describes a Bob Hope-style comedy sketch about putting Karri Turner, the actress from JAG, in a position where she’d have to kiss him, she objects and it’s eventually one of the military personnell from the audience that gets to kiss her. At the end, there’s lines about how she needs to take care of herself and part of that would be getting a yearly breast examination. The punch line is “Lucky for you, Dr. Al Franken is here.”
Jane Mayer notices that’s exactly what the first woman, Leeann Tweeden, accused Franken of doing to her on the USO tour in 2006, but it’s centered about what happens in the rehearsal where he’s trying to force her to kiss him. Tweeden’s statement is that Franken wrote the sketch just to have an excuse to kiss her, but now Mayer has information that the sketch existed a few years before, so already there’s a problem with her accusation.
The link I provided above has both the streaming audio of tonight’s broadcast and a transcript. Here’s some of the important points:
- Two other people at the radio station Tweeden worked at helped her prepare the information so it could be published on the station’s website.
- Mayer interviewed those two people and found out they did not do any fact checking on Tweeden’s accusations and did not conduct any interviews of their own before they published it. They took her at her word.
- The radio station gave the information to The Drudge Report before they contacted Al Franken to see if Franken wanted to comment on it, but they contacted him after they had already published it.
- At the time, the radio station was trying to position itself as a very pro-Donald Trump station. Al Franken has been very publicly against President Trump. As of now, the station is the leading pro-Trump station in the Los Angeles area.
- Mayer found that the photo Tweeden published about Franken leering over her while she’s asleep on a military transport and poised as if he’s going to grab her breasts (which are covered by a flak jacket) also matches the events in the sketch.
- Mayer interviewed other actresses that participated in USO tours with Franken after 2003 and before Tweeden joined also performed that same sketch. Another point against Tweeden’s claim of “he wrote it just to kiss me”.
- Mayer interviewed the seven other women that made accusations against Franken, and what each of them described was a single incident that lasted 3-5 seconds and may have just part of Franken’s normal behavior at the time, which was to be a “hugger” and a “kisser” when he greeted people.
- After he went on the campaign to become a Senator, one of Franken’s staff pointed out that that was kind of inappropriate. Franken was surprised because he didn’t realize it, but he changed his behavior and those kinds of greetings faded out.
- Franken later said that no photos should ever be taken of someone while they are sleeping because they can’t give their concent. Mayer classifies Franken’s behavior when the photo was taken as matching his “jerk” persona that he played often as a comedian.
So we get to the point where Tweeden’s accusations are made and it’s really too late for Franken to react to it, so he wants to go before an ethics committee so he can present evidence. He’s not given that chance and is pressured into resigning. The Democratic party was faced with “how can you condemn what Donald Trump and others did when one of your own also did it”. Eight people made accusations, there must be something going on, especially when the first person to make the accusations put him in the same category as Harvey Weinstein.
Now, some of those same people that helped pressure Franken to resign have said they regret doing so. After listening to that broadcast, it seems to me it’s another case of where #MeToo became #MeTooFar because people were so caught up in the furor that they didn’t take the time to look closer. If they had, they might have seen the same holes in Tweeden’s story that Mayer did.