Morning Joe host: Should we believe the "Playboy model who goes on Hannity"?

Mika Brzezinski will catch a lot of flack for this segment, but she has a point — even if it might be in service to a man who “acted like a jerk,” and even if in this specific case she overlooks one potent piece of evidence of credibility. Should we believe all accusers who allege sexual misconduct, Brzezinski asks, without regard to their character or motivations? And do we distinguish between actual sexual assault and mere boorish behavior when discerning the application of justice?

Brzezinski aims her guns at the wrong target, however, or at least for the wrong reasons:

“I’m concerned about women, who are legitimately sexually harassed in the workplace across America, and where this is taking us,” Brzezinski said, before reading an excerpt from a Washington Post column asking “Was Al Franken’s punishment fair?”

Brzezinski then seemed to call into question the legitimacy of Leeann Tweeden’s allegations (the radio news anchor first accused Franken of forcible kissing and groping her while she slept, which prompted the other women to come out and accuse the senator of misconduct.)

“We’ve never really talked about the woman who first came out against Al Franken,” she said, before questioning the “Playboy model who goes on Hannity, voted for Trump.”

“I see some politics there, but I haven’t brought that up every step of the way because of course, in this ‘Me Too’ environment, you must always believe the women.”

Why would Tweeden’s credibility hinge on her past work as a Playboy model? Granted, the magazine exploits people and their sexuality, but her appearance in it does not give men a license to manhandle her or to humiliate her. Tweeden also had evidence to back up her claim — that ugly photograph in which Franken clearly intended to humiliate her with a juvenile prank that would have embarrassed most men outside of their adolescence. Franken was 55 years old at that time.

Regardless of where she went on media outlets to discuss her allegations, Tweeden provided more objective evidence than most other women did with their accusations. If political affiliation and participation in consensual sexual behavior determine whether we “believe the women,” then we’re not really “believing the women” at all. We’re just choosing up sides again.

Still, Brzezinski raises other points worthy of consideration. While Franken has been accused of being a boorish pig at the least, the accusations didn’t involve his work as a Senator, and only one of those alleged incidents took place during his time as a Senator. How much should that count in reversing the will of Minnesota voters in electing Franken to office? And shouldn’t the Senate have taken the time to step through those accusations first before Franken’s colleagues suddenly demanded the bum’s rush? Franken angrily lashed out at that in his resignation speech, but Franken chose to resign rather than demand that due process, so in that sense he short-circuited his own defense.

The question still remains, however. In a column Brzezinski quotes, the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus wonders whether justice was actually accomplished yesterday:

Franken presents a more difficult case both because of the quality of the evidence against him and the nature of the alleged transgressions. Much of the alleged behavior took place before he joined the Senate, which doesn’t make it acceptable but does make it different. Some of the Senate-era behavior is offensive but less serious; a hand on the butt during a photo op is different from a tongue down the throat. And some is anonymous, albeit corroborated by other witnesses, which should give all of us pause. The final, and perhaps last-straw, allegation involved an unnamed former Democratic political aide who claimed Franken, while a radio host, attempted to forcibly kiss her, announcing, “It’s my right as an entertainer.” Franken said the story was “categorically not true.”

Consider: One of Franken’s colleagues, New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, is under federal indictment for allegedly taking bribes in the form of lavish gifts and using the power of his office to help a campaign donor/friend in dealings with the federal government. Menendez’s trial ended with a hung jury last month, after which the Ethics Committee announced it would resume its inquiry into his conduct.

If senators have the patience to let the ethics process proceed in the Menendez case, why not with Franken? What about weighing whether some lesser punishment than what was essentially forced resignation would better fit Franken’s circumstances?

The right policy is zero tolerance. That does not answer the question about what is the right punishment, or what proof there should be before it is meted out.

I’m not sure that the difference is in the “quality of the evidence,” (Tweeden had the photo, remember, and other accusers had contemporaneous corroboration as in other cases) but in the nature of the allegations. That’s what Marcus attempts to differentiate, and she’s correct to do so. We treat crimes differently based on circumstances, the level of offense, and the damage done. Shoplifting is much different than armed robbery for a reason, although both are theft. A hand on someone’s rear end is much different than rape, and Conyers’ groping of congressional staff and abuse of taxpayer funds for sexual encounters is different than boorish behavior outside of office. Menendez’ alleged crimes and offenses took place during his term in office and represent violations of the public trust, and yet his fellow Senate Democrats continue to contribute money to his campaign and defend his right to remain in the Senate while due process plays out.

How can they explain the massive differences in their approach to Franken and Menendez except out of political expediency? Franken was much more dispensable; a resignation would allow a Democrat to appoint his replacement, while Menendez’ governor is Republican Chris Christie for a few more weeks. Once again, we’re not seeing any principle here other than pure political calculation.

Brzezinski may be off base on Tweeden, but she’s not wrong to be concerned about applying a one-size-fits-all approach. Perhaps when next week’s election in Alabama has concluded, we might all take a deep breath and work on a rational process to hold public officials accountable for malfeasance that relies on a process more credible than public anger harnessed for political purposes.

Addendum: Just to set the record straight with my friend Joe Scarborough, I drink Sparkling Ice sugar-free drinks (coffee in the morning), and my home office is on the top level of my house. Juicy Juice is bad for my blood sugar levels.