And The Witch Hunters Come Calling At Al Franken’s Door…Desperately, He Tries To Explain Away The Pointy Hat, The Black Cat, And The Broom He’s Been Riding

Al Franken!

Of course! Why didn’t I see that coming?

Homely guy, gets involved in the theater club as the class clown to meet girls, moves through the sex and party culture of Harvard theater, on to the hedonist crisis culture of Saturday Night Live and Hollywood, where anything goes, where Harvey and Woody are gods, where sexual harassment and assault are a tradition and everybody does it…after all, it’s just sex…

Leeann Tweeden, a Los Angeles radio news anchor and former Playboy model,  accused Senator Al Franken (D-Minn) of sexual assault and harassment when they were both on a USO tour in 2006. Her story was accompanied by the photograph above, which takes it out of the “he said-she said” category immediately. Within hours, a second woman, a conservative who argued with Franken on an edition of  Bill Maher’s old Comedy Central show, Politically Incorrect, reported that he had harassed her as well, though not sexually, in 2000.

Franken immediately issued a non-apology apology, saying, “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”

In other words, ‘I don’t believe you about my pushing myself on you when you were awake, and feeling you up while you were asleep was obviously a joke, but I apologize anyway, because you obviously can’t take a joke, and my apolologing  the easiest way to get out of this.” On the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale, this is a hybrid bad apology with elements of Level #7…

“A forced or compelled version of [a legitimate apology] in which the individual (or organization) apologizing may not sincerely believe that an apology is appropriate, but chooses to show the victim or victims of the act inspiring it that the individual responsible is humbling himself and being forced to admit wrongdoing by the society, the culture, legal authority, or an organization or group that the individual’s actions reflect upon or represent .”

and the even worse #9…

“Deceitful apologies, in which the wording of the apology is crafted to appear apologetic when it is not (“if my words offended, I am sorry”). Another variation: apologizing for a tangential matter other than the act or words that warranted an apology.”

This was lousy, and the reviews were immediate and negative. So Franken came back with a second version, this time in a formal statement:

If you examine it closely, the second apology was more unethical than the first one, but a lot more sneaky about it.

It reads..

“The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women. There’s more I want to say, but the first and most important thing—and if it’s the only thing you care to hear, that’s fine—is: I’m sorry.”

Wait: what is he sorry for? Since Franken lumps in his alleged victim with everybody under the Minnesota sun, it is unclear, and deliberately so. Surely he didn’t harass everybody in Minnesota? It appears that he’s apologizing because he can’t be as effective an attack dog against Republicans and conservatives who are accused of harassment. He never apologizes directly for what Tweeden says he did to here besides what the photo shows.

“I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.”

Again, which actions? Is respecting women a political position of convenience, or is it genuine? If it is genuine, how do you explain Tweeden’s story? Are you just talking about the photo? If not, is this respect for women a new thing, or did you regard the way you treated them in 2006 as respectful enough when you were sure nobody would find out about them?

“But I want to say something else, too. Over the last few months, all of us—including and especially men who respect women—have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women.”

Translation: “Hey, remember, I’m one of the good guys! (But I still don’t remember that kissing thing Leanne accused me of)…”

“For instance, that picture. I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what’s more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it—women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.”

…thus slyly moving the discussion away from the main part of Tweeden’s story, and attempting to narrow it to the part that is beyond denial.

“Coming from the world of comedy, I’ve told and written a lot of jokes that I once thought were funny but later came to realize were just plain offensive. But the intentions behind my actions aren’t the point at all. It’s the impact these jokes had on others that matters.”

Now Franken starts getting really cute. His intentions aren’t relevant, he says, but he still makes sure everyone knows that he was just trying to make people laugh—you know, like the time he played a brain-damaged man for laughs on Saturday Night Live! This was just another well-meaning joke that didn’t work, and that’s an occupational hazard, but he understands why it bothers people who don’t get what comedians have to do.

And I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come to terms with that.

Voila! The other part of the #9 unethical apology: “apologizing for a tangential matter other than the act or words that warranted an apology.”

“While I don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.”

Wow. ‘Don’t believe this accusation by a woman: it didn’t happen that way. Still, women should be believed, whether they are truthful and accurate or not. Because that is what I’m supposed to say as a member of the Democratic Party. I understand this.’

“I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate.

Brilliant and diabolical. Franken wants an investigation so it can clear him and prove that Tweeden’s version is wrong, but presents the idea as if he is nobly making an ethics claim on himself. What a weasel. But smart!

“And the truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories. They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them.”

Translation: Let’s stop focusing on me, and get back to the witch hunt. I agree, ladies: you should be able to take down anyone by pointing a finger. Be sensible; why would you point at me? Don’t forget I’m one of the good guys! You don’t want to lose my vote in the Senate: be sensible.

If  “women deserve to be believed,” why does Al still dispute half of Tweeden’s accusation?

Ethics Alarms Verdict: Franken’s second apology is worse than his first one. It is a #10:

“An insincere and dishonest apology designed to allow the wrongdoer to escape accountability cheaply, and to deceive his or her victims into forgiveness and trust, so they are vulnerable to future wrongdoing.”


Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Professions, Quotes, Romance and Relationships, Workplace

16 responses to “And The Witch Hunters Come Calling At Al Franken’s Door…Desperately, He Tries To Explain Away The Pointy Hat, The Black Cat, And The Broom He’s Been Riding

  1. Neil Dorr


    I don’t believe it is, but what if Tweeden’s story about the rehearsal is made up? What is the ethical way to apologize for one breach of morality while affirming your innocence against another?

    “Yes, Your Honor, I did run the red light, but I wasn’t drinking.”

    I don’t ask argumentatively; I’m genuinely curious.


    Maybe the kiss was just a way of Biden his time …

  2. La Sylphide

    Here’s my question: what was the photographer thinking? I am willing to take responsibility for ducking and dodging 60 year old men in the break room when I was in my 20s and then not speaking up. Where was the photographer in this photo? At some point wasn’t he, or she, responsible for saying “dude, don’t do that! It’s not funny!” ???

    • Because what he was really saying was, “Oh, Al, you’re hilarious!’

      • Pennagain

        Such a writer Moore’s lawyer could taken a lesson off of!

        I was going to put that at the bottom of the page, but there was no “Leave a Reply” there, and I got a funny feeling:
        as sometimes . . .
        it may happen that a spacey can’t be found,
        I have to write it here. I have to write it here,
        and not be thus ashamed of taking other people’s ground.
        I’ll look at it and leer [I’ll laugh aloud and cheer].
        There’s proof of Al in photographs,
        a thousand words. And Moore,
        cannot defend against the women squealing at his door.
        And wisenheimer W{isen}stein may turn this way and that, No extrication possible: his fire’s burning fat;
        it’s time that Harvey’s known, like Woody, as a Democrat.
        I have to write it here, I have to write it here.
        From the fondling to the fucking, all is come quite clear.

  3. La Sylphide

    And so we begin to understand (and hopefully empathize) the fight of a single woman ( or man) up against a rampart of entrenched behavior.

  4. Andrew Wakeling

    What an awful proposition ….. that women ‘deserve’ to be believed …… because they are ‘women’ and not ‘men’. In my book you get no extra credibility for being ‘white’ rather than ‘black’, ‘rich’ rather than ‘poor’, ‘knowledgable’ rather than ‘ignorant’, or female rather than male. And it is deeply troubling that anyone should ever think otherwise.

    But why the fuss about the groping photo, which could well have been a posed photo to make some point ……. which might in context even have been entertaining ….. or even at the time ‘ funny’? Like someone posing with a Dracula mask, and false fangs? It seems really odd for Tweeden to complain only after 10 years. And the existence of the photo, and that she had a copy, suggests some degree of compliance from her at least? But then why would Franken bother to apologise, several times and so badly? Is the baying pack of prudes really that scary that cringing obeisance is obligatory? How depressing!

    • Emily

      I don’t believe all women deserve to be believed. I know enough women who would be happy to lie or exaggerate things for attention or victim status or opportunism, or who have their own mental illnesses or disorders that make their perceptions of events suspect, to think that 100% of the women coming forward in these cases are pointing out actual harassment that needs to be addressed.

      That being said, I also think the climate right now is giving a lot of women who shrugged and brushed something off a chance to speak. It might have been a case of not wanting to make waves over something that was over, of considering a situation creepy or annoying but not worth the hassle of a legal or PR battle, or of wanting to fit in with the Hollywood crowd or “boy’s club,” but those women do have a point that what happened to them wasn’t okay even if it wasn’t important enough to them at the time to raise hell about.

      So… Franken’s accuser? My personal take is that he was creepy and annoying to her, probably unintentionally but probably not innocently, and she brushed it off at the time but kept the picture in her back pocket for political opportunism. I think the picture is real, the situation was mostly real, but her motives aren’t pure.

      And I think that’s going to happen a lot in the coming months, along with outright lies, and women telling the truth who were legitimately scared. We’re going to have to look objectively and logically at the accusations and motives in each situation and make tough decisions about who we believe and how much blame people deserve.

      Or we could just burn witches. I think that’s what the internet decided to go with.

  5. It occurs to me that this situation may end up worse for Franken simply because there is a photograph.

    If you follow the NFL, Ray Rice was initially given a (controversial) two game suspension for domestic violence against his fiance. After a new video surfaced that showed him punching her (which was the underlying offense all along), he was suspended indefinitely and released by his team. Despite his winning a grievance against those actions, he has never played a down in the NFL since.

    As I understand it, the video didn’t really reveal anything not already documented in the police reports and plea bargain — but I guess it made it more real to people than simply reading a report.

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