Did Al Franken wreck the #MeToo movement or save it?

Yesterday, Ed Morrissey looked at the somewhat unsettling comments made by Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski in the wake of Al Franken’s resignation. A number of critics were put off by her characterization of Franken’s original accuser as a Playboy model who goes on Hannity and voted for Trump. Rightly so. If we suspect that an allegation is false and there’s credible reason to believe so, then we can definitely begin fishing around for the possible motives of the person making the claim. But with that picture hanging around out there, I think you’d have to deliver a lot more ammunition against her than the fact that she might be a Republican and posed in a racy magazine. (And since when did slut shaming become okay on the left?)

But that’s really not the issue we should be addressing in terms of that high strung conversation on the Morning Joe set. It distracts from the larger subject which Mika seemed to be trying to broach and it’s one I’ve been warning about since the first Harvey Weinstein stories came out. Brzezinski described the current climate as one where, “now we have a machine gun” and it’s being leveled at men all over the place This not only applies to those who seem to be fairly obviously guilty of sexual assault (if not flat-out rape), but also sexual harassment and perhaps not even that. I believe the phrase “boorish behavior” even escaped the lips of a few women discussing Franken’s situation.

Before going any further I wanted to link to the two video clips of this discussion in case you missed it. The first MSNBC clip is pretty long, but if you skip ahead to the ten-minute mark you can catch the three or four minute exchange we’re talking about.

The second one is quite short, but even more volatile, covering on the final three minutes of the show. You’ll note that Scarborough is essentially boxed out of the conversation while the three women on the set blast away at each other.

Allow me to get to the meat of the question as to what precisely Al Franken’s resignation has done to the #MeToo movement. Mika asks if we’re “the judge, the jury and the police” and one of her guests says yes, we are. (“We” meaning women.) Mika goes on to say that we’re at a pivotal moment, but also a very dangerous time. Delving further into her comments, she’s clearly attempting to draw some lines which I knew were going to come into dispute as this train rolled forward. But it took a Democratic poster boy for liberal causes getting caught in the spider’s web for this conversation to begin in earnest on the left.

Yes, I know that Joe Scarborough pointed out that this isn’t a case of Brzezinski being selectively outraged because she supposedly criticized the Democrats for not bringing down Bill Clinton back in the nineties. Fair enough. I can’t find any record of that because she was working at CBS affiliate WFSB-TV/WFSB-DT in Hartford, Connecticut at the time, but I’m willing to take their word for it. The point is that she’s not the only one who seems to have, shall we say, more of an interest in due process and not going too far in the Court of Public Opinion now that Al Franken is the one stepping down.

Here’s a question that Ed asked on this subject yesterday:

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?

This is a theme which has been growing in volume over the past few days. Kathleen Parker, in a WaPo column somewhat mockingly titled, Al Franken, Martyr, sketches out a story along the same lines. She continually compares the sins Franken is alleged to have committed to the accusations against Roy Moore. Assuming both are true, she characterizes Franken’s butt grabbing, “clownish prank” on camera and aggressive kissing as, objectionable, but they were nowhere near as repugnant as Moore’s actions. Parker goes on to describe Franken’s acts as, “on a par with yanking ponytails.” She also concludes that Franken falling on his sword was more of a political neccessity for his party than a fair hearing of the facts.

Columnist Ruth Marcus:poses the question, was Al Franken’s punishment fair? In that piece she is not the first to state that, “much of the alleged behavior took place before he joined the Senate, which doesn’t make it acceptable but does make it different.” Really? I don’t see how that line of argument isn’t offensive to every woman dealing with such situations. Marcus also states that, “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.”

Now we’re getting to the heart of it and the choice that all of the millions of jurors in the Court of Public Opinion must be ready to answer. Rape and sexual assault involving unwanted, blatantly sexual physical contact are non-starters. Prove your case to the public’s satisfaction and the perpetrator must go. But the lines around sexual harassment, including some less obviously sexual physical contact, are more blurry. Putting your hand on someone’s clothed backside is clearly boorish and merits a slap in the face. But a conviction at trial? Maybe. It depends on the circumstances.

And what of the non-physical harassment? We’re hearing a number of these accusations including the sin of repeatedly “asking somebody out.” Some workplaces try (often without success) to forbid that and with good reason, given the need to protect the company from lawsuits. But when does asking someone on a date out of sincere attraction and hopes for a relationship cross the line into harassment suitable for criminal or professional punishment? Let me come clean for a moment on that one. Those who know my wife and I personally can all tell you how we met. We were both volunteering several times a week at a local Humane Society animal shelter. I suppose, in the 2017 context, that makes us co-workers of some sort. I fell head-over-heels for her at first sight and quickly asked her out. She turned me down. I went on over the next couple of months to ask her out literally a dozen times. She kept turning me down, but was always not only polite, but frequently humorous about it. (Unbeknownst to me, she had a boyfriend she was currently in the process of breaking up with and wasn’t going to accept a date until they were fully disentangled.) On the 13th or 14th attempt she said yes. I often joke to friends that she only agreed so I would finally shut up. We were married less than two years later and that was more than 20 years ago.

So, was I sexually harassing her? By current definitions I apparently was. But she never thought so and I certainly didn’t. The point is, there is a big difference between assault, harassment and boorish behavior. That sense of nuance (if I’m forced to use the word) has been largely missing in the #MeToo conversation, where a hang ’em all from the same tree mentality seems to rule the day, the collateral damage being a price we’ll just have to pay. Now the conversation is shifting and a bit more discretion in our use of Mika’s “machine gun” is being discussed. But I’m fairly sure that wasn’t going to happen on the left with any concerns over the rights of Roy Moore or anyone else being accused of various activities which they deny. It took a beloved (to the Far Left) figure like Franken to force that uncomfortable pause in the conversation. So rather than destroying the momentum of #MeToo, Al Franken may have bolstered its credibility, albeit at a cost to himself.