Jane Mayer Thinks We Don't Feel Bad Enough For Al Franken
Jane Mayer, in this week's New Yorker, presents us with "The Case for Al Franken." Jesus, not this again. We can't write about Kirsten Gillibrand taking a bullet to save a busload of orphaned refugee nuns without the comments sections derailing into complaints about how the New York senator "Et tu, Brute-d" the former Minnesota senator to an early political grave. We wanted to just ignore the piece, but we saw this sexist tripe.
That tweet aged w- ... oh wait, Tribe has already deleted it.
Al Franken is still rich, white, alive, and generally beloved. Don't try to sell him to us as Willy Loman. Also, men really need to stop using terms like "opportunistic" or "slippery" to describe women -- even if those women have dared to criticize their favorites. Gillibrand doesn't have to answer for shit. She's not responsible for Franken's choices. After an exhaustive investigation, we've determined who is responsible, and it's Al Franken. Last month, Mayer found the "disgraced senator" wandering around his Minneapolis home in "jeans and stocking feet."
It was a sunny day, but the shades were mostly drawn. Takeout containers of hummus and carrot sticks were set out on the kitchen table. His wife, Franni Bryson, was stuck in their apartment in Washington, D.C., with a cold, and he had evidently done the best he could to be hospitable. But the place felt like the kind of man cave where someone hides out from the world, which is more or less what Franken has been doing since he resigned, in December, 2017, amid accusations of sexual impropriety.
Who cares where Franken's wife is? She's not responsible for the half-assed spread. He could've at least thrown in some pita, maybe even cheese and crackers. Already, Mayer is making excuses for Franken's actions while insisting we feel sorry for him. Minneapolis isn't some common Elba where Gillibrand banished him.
Now Franken was just one more face in a gallery of previously powerful men who had been brought down by the #MeToo movement, and whom no one wanted to hear from again. America had ghosted him.
It's so strange to see #MeToo described as this force of nature that's destroying powerful men. This type of phrasing humanizes the accused men while depersonalizing the accusers. Mayer does go into great detail about Leeann Tweeden, who accused Franken of sexual misconduct during a 2006 USO tour, but she gives Tweeden the full Mollie Hemingway treatment: She's a conservative! She's willingly appeared on Sean Hannity's show!
Mayer contends that Tweeden's story is "full of holes," but her character references for Franken aren't that compelling. His longtime fundraiser, A.J. Goodman, said he "can be a jerk, but he's all about his family." Former "Saturday Night Live" colleague James Downey also doesn't help:
"He's lots of things, some delightful, some annoying. He can be very aggressive interpersonally. He can say mean things, or use other people as props. He can seem more confident that the audience will find him adorable than he ought to. His estimate of his charm can be overconfident. But I've known him for forty-seven years and he's the very last person who would be a sexual harasser."
Tweeden accused Franken of using her as prop for his humor. Everything else Downey describes is also consistent with a sexual harasser. Mayer boasts of "fact-checking" on Twitter, but she mostly speaks with Franken's friends who either dismiss Tweeden's concerns ("To get offended by that sounds ridiculous, like fourth grade") or keep telling us how much Franken loves his wife, which has fuck all to do with whether the the alleged incidents took place.
Meanwhile, back at Mayer's profile of Franken.
Holding his head in his hands, [Franken] said, "I don't think people who have been sexually assaulted, and those kinds of things, want to hear from people who have been #MeToo'd that they're victims."
"Those kinds of things"?
First place, #MeToo is not just about sexual assault. Franken was never accused of rape, but women don't have to accept gross behavior either. They have the right to draw lines, no matter if the line crosser is a prominent Democrat. We're also not crazy with the use of #MeToo as a verb, as though it's something that happens to men, as though they're somehow victims of assault.
Franken apparently has spent his down time thinking about "due process, proportionality of punishment, and the consequences of Internet-fuelled outrage." The phrase "due process" was thrown around a lot during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. We thought it was dumb then. We think it's dumb now. Freddie Gray was denied due process. Franken just lost his job. That happens. Could Franken have survived an independent investigation? Maybe. Who knows. (As Mayer points out, he called for one, but then he quit.) But in the short term, Franken was a political albatross. He resigned the same month Doug Jones narrowly beat mall cruiser Roy Moore. Could Moore have pulled out a victory if Franken stuck around, showing Democrats as all talk on sexual misconduct allegations? We also agree with Matt Yglesias that Franken would've been a disaster for Democrats during the already contentious Kavanaugh hearings.
Mayer's portrait of Franken is simultaneously that of a poor bastard "no one wants to hear from again" and someone frequently stopped on the street and told he shouldn't have resigned. That's not the "tragedy" Laurence Tribe was lamenting before he deleted his tweet. It's the end of Dead Poets Society. Franken believes he could've "countered the narrative aired in the press" if he'd appeared before the Senate Ethics Committee. (Republicans run the Senate, by the way, and would've delighted in torching him.) And some might think Gillibrand forced Franken to resign prematurely, but if she has that kind of power, she ought to try it out on Republicans. Start with the senator from Kentucky! (Either of them, really.)
Mayer interviews Senate Democrats who regret calling for Franken's resignation now, but now is not then. If everyone wants to jump on the Franken got a raw deal bandwagon, they should encourage him to run for president. Everyone else is doing it.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.