Maybe? The Star Tribune editorial board takes Al Franken to the woodshed after getting accused of sexual assault by Leeann Tweeden yesterday, as well as getting caught in a photograph appearing to grope her while she was asleep on a USO tour. Franken tried offering two different apologies for the photograph while dodging an admission on the separate allegation of assault, but to their credit, the Strib’s editorialists weren’t buying either one. “We’ve heard the humor defense before,” they wrote last night, and also rejected the idea that the photograph was intended to be humorous in the first place:
In apologizing, Franken said he didn’t recall the rehearsal incident “in the same way,” although he declined to say exactly how he remembered it. He also used an increasingly tired dodge, saying the photo “clearly was intended to be funny but wasn’t.” Let’s be clear: The photo was never intended to be funny. It was a mean attempt to humiliate and denigrate a fellow USO volunteer who had the temerity to reject his advances.
We’ve heard the humor defense before. Franken’s initial Senate run suffered over his history of profane and at times misogynistic humor, which included a 1995 proposed “Saturday Night Live” sketch on the comedic “rape” of CBS reporter Lesley Stahl. In apologizing to the DFL Party convention in 2008, Franken resorted to saying he had come to realize some of his jokes “weren’t funny.” The apologies are wearing thin.
Largely unremarked by the national media is a sexual harassment scandal unfolding within the Minnesota legislature at the moment. A DFL state senator and a Republican state representative have been accused of inappropriate behavior, for which the Strib has demanded their resignations. The harassment in these cases took place during their terms, while Franken’s incidents precede his public office, but the Strib’s editors don’t appear terribly interested in jurisdictional questions. Instead, they tell Franken that he’s damaged his moral authority enough to at least consider whether he should remain in office at all:
Franken, so far, is accused of one incident that occurred before he took office. That does not excuse or mitigate the gravity of his conduct, which was despicable, but the story was still developing as this editorial was being written.
Franken now faces what is sure to be a prolonged Senate Ethics Committee investigation led by Republicans as they try to salvage the candidacy of one Roy Moore, an Alabama Republican who stands credibly accused of sexually assaulting a string of young women, one as young as 14. Franken’s scandal simultaneously provides cover for them and damages his ability to be an effective moral voice for Minnesotans — perhaps too much for him to continue in the Senate.
Ahem. Republicans in the Senate are hardly trying to “salvage the candidacy of one Roy Moore,” as they pretentiously put it. The Strib has been covering the Moore case well enough to know that Senate Republicans have been trying to push Moore out of the race, and have openly discussed the possibility of refusing to seat Moore if he wins. Perhaps the editors should read their own newspaper, or try reading someone else’s.
Still, at least the editorial board has laid down a marker on Franken, one that will be useful if any more such allegations emerge. Two key members of Franken’s DFL in Minnesota don’t want to wait around for that, calling on Franken to resign with no maybes about it:
Two prominent members of Minnesota’s Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party are calling on Sen. Al Franken to resign his Senate seat following allegations of sexual misconduct.
Although many other Democrats have called the former comedian’s actions disturbing, state auditor Rebecca Otto and Megan Thomas, president of the party’s official Feminist Caucus, say he should leave office. …
Otto, a candidate for governor in Minnesota, said in a statement that “I believe it’s in the best interest of Minnesotans and of women everywhere for Senator Franken to resign, and to set an example to powerful men across America that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.”
Thomas explicitly rejects a wait-and-see approach, and wrote in a Facebook post that she will dread her next encounter with Franken:
Should Senator Franken resign? The “political” answer is to wait and not overreact. But I also know that the next time I see him in person I will, however fleeting or unneeded, be afraid because of what he is doing in that picture. No one should fear their elected representatives, so, sadly, for me, I think the Senator should resign.
While the picture was actually the lesser of the two offenses, the sheer adolescent entitlement and hostility of it captured for eternity will probably do the most damage of the two allegations Tweeden leveled today. Franken will never outrun that picture, nor his lame attempts to explain it away. And if another credible allegation of sexual harassment emerges, his own home party may not wait for a Senate Ethics Committee report to officially declare him persona non grata.