The cherry on top here is that this highly sympathetic tale of a swell guy caught up in a #MeToo tornado was written by Jane Mayer, who co-authored the infamous New Yorker piece last year in which Deborah Ramirez had her memory conveniently jogged about Brett Kavanaugh assaulting her when they were at Yale together. Remember?
She was at first hesitant to speak publicly, partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident. In her initial conversations with The New Yorker, she was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty. After six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections to say that she remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away…
Ramirez acknowledged that there are significant gaps in her memories of the evening, and that, if she ever presents her story to the F.B.I. or members of the Senate, she will inevitably be pressed on her motivation for coming forward after so many years, and questioned about her memory, given her drinking at the party.
And yet, after several days of considering the matter carefully, she said, “I’m confident about the pants coming up, and I’m confident about Brett being there.”
Mayer and, alas, co-author Ronan Farrow lowered the credibility bar to an inch off the ground so that Ramirez’s story could clear it and enter the public debate about whether a right-wing Supreme Court nominee should be borked. Ten months later, in the case of a left-wing former senator accused by no fewer than eight women of misdeeds ranging from unwanted tongue-kissing to furtive ass-grabbing during photo ops, the bar has risen substantially. No excerpt will do Mayer’s Franken piece justice so you should dive in and start skimming around to see how hard she worked to try to impeach Leeann Tweeden’s claim that Franken kissed her inappropriately during a USO tour shortly before Franken became a senator. Mayer talked to military handlers, other actresses who’d done USO skits with Franken, radio personnel who helped her take her story public, and on and on. She scrupulously noted Tweeden’s friendships with evil right-wing gargoyles, to further cast doubt on her motive. (It was highly verboten to suggest partisan motives in Christine Blasey Ford’s account of what Kavanaugh did, remember.) Oh, and she threw in a little light slut-shaming, in case you’re inclined towards the “can we blame Al for thinking she wanted him to french her?” Franken defense:
Tweeden participated in other ribald U.S.O. skits. In one routine, she tells the audience that, as a morale booster, she has agreed to have sex with a soldier whose name Franken will pull from a box, explaining, “These are extraordinary circumstances.” The gag is that every name she picks is Franken’s, because he’s stuffed the raffle box. In a 2005 U.S.O. show with Robin Williams, Tweeden jumped into his arms, wrapped a leg around his waist, and spanked his bottom as he suggestively waved a plastic water bottle in front of his fly.
Mayer convincingly argues that the skit Franken and Tweeden performed on tour wasn’t specially written by him for her, to give him a pretext for rehearsing kisses with her, as Tweeden had suggested in accusing him. She also makes a solid case that the famous photo of Franken miming the act of grabbing Tweeden’s breasts on a military plane was actually a callback to a joke from the skit, in which a doctor played by Franken insists on giving Tweeden a breast exam — although even Franken acknowledges that making that gesture towards a woman while she’s sleeping is gross. The point isn’t that Mayer’s piece is completely without merit; it’s that her evidentiary standards for assessing accusations against Kavanaugh and Franken diverge so wildly that there’s no explanation except rank partisanship.
People noticing that the New Yorker approach to Kavanaugh differs ever-so-slightly from the New Yorker approach to Franken might also ponder how the "devilish billionaire puppeteers" style of Mayer's Koch brothers work would read if it were applied to George Soros.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) July 22, 2019
It’s not just righties who think so:
The whole thing is really almost stunningly hypocritical, and I say that as someone who isn't easily stunned because of course there's a lot of hypocrisy in politics.
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) July 22, 2019
Not until very deep into this very long piece does Mayer move past Tweeden’s accusation and address the fact that no fewer than seven other women accused Franken of misconduct. That detail had to wait, it seems, so that she could delve at great length into character testimonials by friends and colleagues of Franken insisting that he’s the opposite of a serial harasser, practically asexual. There were, of course, copious character testimonials for Brett Kavanaugh during his SCOTUS confirmation hearing as well, many from women, which went overlooked in the Ford/Ramirez firestorm. And the punchline is that Mayer never actually debunks anything. In fact, she even presents evidence that Tweeden evinced discomfort when Franken’s name came up before she came forward with her accusation — before quickly attempting to minimize that too:
In February, 2017, Tweeden was hired as a news anchor on KABC-AM’s show “McIntyre in the Morning.” That spring, McIntyre mentioned Franken on the air and noticed that Tweeden “flinched.” He later asked her about it, and she said, “Let’s just say I’m not a fan.” On October 30, 2017, as the Harvey Weinstein story was inspiring a torrent of other sexual-harassment accusations, “McIntyre in the Morning” did a phone interview with Jackie Speier, a Democratic representative in California, who said that, as a young congressional aide, she had been sexually assaulted by a chief of staff; he had held her face and stuck his tongue in her mouth. During the break, Tweeden said to McIntyre that this was what Franken “did to me.” Speier’s allegation, however, involved a boss assaulting a subordinate in an office; Franken and Tweeden were volunteers performing a scripted kiss, and he had no supervisory authority over her.
Uh, so what? Assault is assault.
In the end Mayer’s preferred theory for what Franken did seems to be that he’s “physically obtuse. Staffers had told him not to swing his arms so much when he walked, and to close his mouth when he chewed.” He was also prone to friendly kissing of acquaintances upon greeting or departing. That is, Mayer seems to think this is all a big misunderstanding: If he grabbed some asses, he was clumsy. If he snuck a kiss on the lips with a woman friend, well, he’s just socially clumsy. And if all else fails, she implies, what he did just wasn’t that bad. Not bad enough to warrant resigning from the Senate, at least. That’s debatable, but as even some of Franken’s accusers were quick to remind her, they didn’t force him to resign. That was his own decision. The keenest regret in all of this both for Franken and for Mayer herself seems to be, as Josh Barro put it, “that if he dug in his heels he might have gotten away with it. That’s not the same as having been railroaded.” Right. If he had insisted on a Senate ethics hearing, he may very well have survived, guilty or not. But various institutional pressures were brought on him, allegedly including from his own leadership, and he gave in whereas Kavanaugh fought on and won. That’s the takeaway I think Mayer wants the New Yorker’s readers, most of whom will lean left, to have from this: If you’re a progressive and you’re accused, fight on. If all else fails, Jane Mayer and the New Yorker will be there to cast a wary eye on the allegations against you and to drop barely-sourced depth charges on right-wing enemies.
Update: Lest there’s any doubt that there was an agenda here, Jeryl Bier flags this Jane Mayer tweet from back when the Franken allegations first began appearing in 2017:
How about this: Dems will consider Al Franken resigning if Trump resigns first?
— Jane Mayer (@JaneMayerNYer) November 22, 2017
She’s spent two years feeling disgruntled that right-wing men like Trump and Kavanaugh haven’t suffered professionally for the accusations made against them whereas Saint Al chose to resign. Today’s piece was her attempt to balance the scales. Agenda journalism from the word go.