First, let’s look at the facts.
Leanne Tweeden wrote to Al Franken: “You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it.” Tweeden agreed to rehearse a skit with Franken in which he kisses her. This was a skit and a kiss they performed throughout their 2006 USO tour. She says he put his tongue in her mouth and she felt violated. Al says he doesn’t remember the kiss that way. In either case, she gave her consent to rehearse the kiss as part of the skit, so, it’s not true that he kissed her without her consent.
In the photo Franken is shown approaching a sleeping Tweeden with his hands about to touch her parachute or flak jacket. It is not clear from the photo whether he actually touches the flat surface of the parachute or flak jacket, but he is certainly not grabbing her breasts. He was probably making an obvious sophomoric joke about reaching to touch her breasts and finding a flak jacket protecting her.
Yes, of course, it is a stupid sexist joke. It objectifies the victim by making it seem her only worth is as a sexual object.
Al Franken was acting like a crude burlesque comic.
But that’s what a USO Tour is like.
Bob Hope, a former burlesque and vaudeville comic, was the face of the USO for 50 years. He always toured with a dozen “American Beauties,” whom he would introduce and interview. His job was to entertain the troops who were then all male and very eager to see a woman:
“Last Christmas in Alaska, I met a GI who was so lonely he was going steady with his tattoo. And his buddies kept asking him if she’s got a sister!”
“This ship stays at sea a long time. They only go back to port when the chaplain asks to see a chaplain … To give you an idea how long these guys have been at sea, they just made Phyllis Diller their pinup girl.”
The 2006 USO Tour didn’t have “American Beauties,” it had the Dallas Cheerleaders, Al Franken as the comic headliner and Leanne Tweeden—the Playboy cover girl in August 1996 and Hooters Calendar pinup in 1993 and 1994. She was invited on the Tour primarily because of her nationally acclaimed secondary sexual characteristic—her breasts. Men get turned on looking at breasts. Breasts remind them of sexual differences and sex, and that reminds them of the thrill of endorphins released into the consciousness at the moment of orgasm. The body acts in predictable ways to ensure preservation of the species.
The USO shows are crudely sexual, and they reinforce dangerous stereotypes about men and women. The model for the men is a crude comic who finds sexual meaning in everything a female says, and the women are “American Beauties,” Dallas Cheerleaders, Hooters waitresses or Playboy Bunnies. Those were the crude outlines of sexual identity portrayed on the 2006 USO Tour.
It probably hasn’t changed much since then.
And that’s a seriously wasted opportunity.
Being a warrior in the past meant having a license to kill, plunder and rape. There were no laws. Your weapon was the law: Kill all the men! Rape all the women!
That’s what conquest meant.
Unfortunately, that’s what it still means to many men in the military. The Department of Defense says there were more than 19,000 assaults against women by men in the military in 2010. That needs to change.
The attack on Al Franken has already weakened progressive resistance to Trump and the reactionary Republican Congress. Senator Chuck Grassley has decided to move forward with the nomination of David Stras to the 8th District Court of Appeals. Franken originally objected to the nomination: “Justice Stras’s professional background and record strongly suggest that, if confirmed, he would embrace the legacy of his role models and reliably rule in favor of powerful corporate interests over working people, and that he would place a high bar before plaintiffs seeking justice at work, at school, and at the ballot box.”
Normally, if a senator objects to a judicial appointment from their home state, the committee chair will not hold a hearing on the appointment. Grassley has decided to hold a hearing on Stras, and go against precedent and tradition in this appointment (possibly) because Franken is in too weakened a condition to object.
That will be a serious loss for all of us.
Women senators have said they will give Al Franken’s contributions to their campaigns to charity, and they have asked Franken to resign.
That’s a loss for them and, if they lose their elections, a loss for all of us.
Franken is one of a small handful of progressive voices in the Senate. He has been a champion for women and minorities.
His silence is a tremendous loss.
The intended consequence of this campaign against Franken is to weaken opposition to Roy Moore’s campaign for the U.S. Senate in Alabama. Moore is a publicly acknowledged pedophile. He has been accused of forcing sexual relations on a girl when she was 14. He chased after high school girls in the local mall when he was in his 30s. But many Alabama Christian Evangelicals don’t care about that. He’s not a Democrat. They can count on him to be pro-life, to vote against abortion. He won’t support a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. He supports the white patriarchy.
Conservatives are much more tolerant. It doesn’t matter to them that Trump was going to “grab ‘em by the pussy,” or that Moore is a pedophile. What matters is that Trump and Moore will reaffirm white male supremacy.
I don’t believe Leanne Tweeden. In her on-air interview with Congresswoman Jackie Speiers she says she had a revelation: “At that moment, I thought to myself, Al Franken did that exact same thing to me.” She told Tom Arnold she had talked to Sean Hannity about that photo ten years before in 2007.
Roger Stone, hours before Tweeden’s on-air interview, tweeted: “It’s Franken’s turn in the barrel.” How did he know before her broadcast what was going to happen unless he helped plan it?
Evelyn Stice wrote “I Don’t Believe These Women” in her blog Write the Fight. She said, “The mere fact that sleazebucket Stone clearly knew what was coming is problematic—problematic enough to throw up a lens through which we need to examine the rest of these accusations.”
Stice goes on to examine the claims of the other accusers:
“Accuser 2: Lindsay Menz
“According to Lindsay Menz, she took a photo with Franken at a Minnesota State Fair in 2010. (Indeed, there is a photo.) While the photo was being taken, she said, Franken’s hand slid down to her butt. Now … it might’ve. As Franken himself said, he didn’t remember the incident but believed women who said his actions made them uncomfortable. It’s worth pointing out that both Menz and her husband voted for Trump. That in itself is not damning, but if you couple it with the fact that, again, Roger Stone knew what was coming for Franken before it was made public … it casts substantial doubt on this story because it makes it sound like it could easily be part of a setup.
“Let me remind you once again that I am not saying that I believe these women are lying. I believe there is reasonable doubt that they are telling the truth.
“Accuser 3: Anonymous
“An anonymous woman told Huffington Post that during a 2007 event, Franken grabbed her butt during a photo op.
“Given the issues with the other two stories, especially when viewed through the Stone lens, I find anonymous accusations even less compelling than usual.
“Franken said he didn’t remember this incident and that it was hard to address anonymous reports, which is a reasonable thing to say.
“Accuser 4: Also Anonymous
“The second anonymous accuser also said that Franken “cupped her butt.” In addition, she added the titillating detail that he suggested they go to the bathroom together, an accusation Franken categorically denied based on the fact that he’d never said that to anyone.
“Again, anonymous report, the Stone lens, and in this case, a detail that doesn’t ring true. This one is a no-go for me.
“Accuser 5: Stephanie Kemplin
“Another USO Tour story is told by Stephanie Kemplin, who was a military police officer at the time. She says that when they posed for a photo, Franken reached around and cupped her breast for five or 10 seconds, and that she turned toward him before the photo was taken. (The photo shows Franken with his arm around her back.) This one on its own might be slightly more believable because her sister and a man she was dating at the time have corroborated that she said Franken copped a feel. Still, the thing that hit me on reading this story is the kind of positioning that would have to take place. Franken is a short man, at 5’6, with, it seems, proportional arms. That he could reach around and hold her breast seems very unlikely. More likely, I think, is him draping an arm over her right shoulder, which could of course have his hand resting on her breast.
Still, the picture doesn’t show that, nor does she look even a little uncomfortable in the picture. She is leaning in, smiling what seems to be a genuine smile, which doesn’t jibe with her account that she was immediately embarrassed and frozen.
“Side note: Kemplin is a Republican and Trump voter.
“Accuser 6: Anonymous
“An anonymous elected official told Jezebel that in 2006, Franken, who had been touring with his radio show and had taped a show in her town, kissed her, open mouth, on the cheek. Kissed her on the cheek.
“We need to think about what we define as assault, people. Overly familiar? Perhaps, although entertainers (as Franken was at the time) who meet tens of thousands of people probably define personal space a bit differently than most. Assault? No. Calling a kiss on the cheek assault frankly cheapens the meaning of the term.
“And again, anonymous.
“Accuser 7: Anonymous
“A former congressional aide said that this incident also happened in 2006 after a taping of Franken’s radio show. She said he tried to kiss her and said it was ‘my right as an entertainer.’
“Look, I’m just gonna say outright: that’s bullshit. None of the other women said he said anything like that, and if that doesn’t sound like an extra detail thrown in to make a lie sound more convincing (although in reality it has the opposite effect), I don’t know what does. This one I AM going to go beyond simply doubting. I believe it’s an outright lie. Indeed, Franken called it ‘categorically not true’ and said that the idea he would claim that as his right is ‘preposterous.’ And again, anonymous.
“Accuser 8: Tina Dupuy
“Now this one is a little different. I tend to believe Dupuy’s account. She says in 2009, she posed for a photo with Franken, who put his arm around her and squeezed her waist. I believe it both because of the forthright nature of her account and because I have had numerous men do it to me, especially when posing for photos. I have also had women do it to me. It is a natural touch, especially when posing for photographs. But it is not a particularly sexual one. Not every touch is a sexual touch. Again, we need to be careful what we define as assault.
“Side note: I do not think that Dupuy had anything to do with Stone. I think it’s more likely that she remembered this incident which very well may have made her uncomfortable at the time—because we all have different levels of comfort when it comes to being touched—and wanted to show solidarity with women she assumed were like her. I can’t tell you for certain what makes me think that, only that her story rings true in a way the others do not. She didn’t add any salacious details, and she told it in a straightforward, clear manner. I believe Dupuy. I just don’t believe she was assaulted.”
It seems the Democratic senators calling for your resignation are now demanding spotless heroes.
Well, Al, you’re not spotless, but you’re good enough. Your jokes are corny sometimes. But they were never meant to harm anyone.
You’re smart enough. You know how it works. And your staff (that you made a special point in thanking in your resignation speech) knows how it works. The rape victim who was working with you and your staff on a bill to fund training of police to work with victims of sexual assault and trauma asked that you no longer sponsor her legislation. Doesn’t she still want to use the advance work and research that your staff has already done on this project? All the work that you have already done for women’s rights and empowerment doesn’t need to be abandoned.
And doggone it, we love you, and we need you. If you don’t want to be senator anymore, “That’s OK.” But you know how bills are written, how they’re passed into law and how they’re enforced. We need you to teach us about the process.
You were doing such a great job on Jeff Sessions that Field Marshall Steve Bannon decided it was time to get Generals Sean Hannity and Roger Stone (close friend to Leanne Tweeden’s radio co-host) to send in someone to blow you up.
Everything they do is meant to blow up the system. You were an easy target—a public performer, a comic, but their intent is to burn down the Reichstag. They want to de-legitimize democracy so they can justify tyranny, autocracy, the rule of the bully in the schoolyard.
We need to stand up to them. And we need to be united. There are many more of us than there are of them, many more working people than billionaires wanting tax cuts. They want to divide us, get us fighting among ourselves.
Yes, you did some gross and stupid things around women. So have most other men your age. For the past few weeks you have made every man your age in America spend some quiet time thinking about what a jerk he’s been with women at some time in his life.
Men need to change.
Let’s do something about it. Let’s get something through Congress that creates training for police officers dealing with trauma and sexual assault.
Let’s all of us work on it.
Gail O’Hare is asking everyone she knows all over the country to send Al a postcard (no fear of white powder) with one word: STAY.
She says, “I want this investigation. I want Trump investigated. Let’s see who was protected by that outrageous slush fund. Let’s make this a real movement that doesn’t make it a point of honor to believe all women without question, but to respect them as credible witnesses. To simply ‘believe the women’ is an insult to Anita Hill.”
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We are asking that there be a fair presentation of evidence and reasoned judgment.
And until then Al Franken remains innocent until proven guilty.
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