Disgraced Al Franken now a victim of sexual McCarthyism

It looks like Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) will become the latest casualty of the “Harvey Weinstein effect:” he is expected to announced his resignation amidst mounting pressure from Democrats to step down due to multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. As an independent whose politics lean libertarian/conservative, I have little affection for Franken. But I believe that his political defenestration based on mostly unvetted, often dubious allegations of what mostly amounts to boorish behavior sets a dangerous precedent-and is a clear sign that the crusade against sexual harassment has taken a wrong turn.

Franken’s downfall began when newswoman and former entertainer LeAnn Tweeden came forward in mid-November to charge that, as a comedian, he sexually harassed her on a 2006 USO tour. According to Tweeden, Franken forcibly and aggressively kissed her while rehearsing a skit and then engaged in minor hostile acts toward her-culminating in posing for a photo in which he mimed groping her breasts while she slept on the flight home. (Numerous Franken detractors claimed, wrongly, that it showed actual groping.)

A few days later, Texan Lindsay Menz claimed that the Senator put his hand on her posterior during a photo opportunity at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Then, two anonymous Minnesota women said the same thing happened to them at Democratic fundraisers, one a feminist event. Army veteran Stephanie Kemplin of Ohio said Fraken cupped her breast while posing for a photo on a USO tour in Kuwait in 2003.

The Senator’s fate seems to have been sealed by two new allegations: another claim of photo-op groping, by Manhattan writer Tina Dupuy, and a charge by a former congressional aide that Franken tried to kiss her in 2006 when she attended a taping of his radio show with her boss.

Sen. Al Franken disputes that he’ll resign

Usually, those of us who argue that an accusation of sexual abuse should not equal conviction-even in the court of public opinion-accept that independent multiple accusations are strongly indicative of guilt. But the Franken allegations leave plenty of room for doubt.

Al Franken's downfall began when newswoman and former entertainer LeAnn Tweeden came forward in mid-November to charge that, as a comedian, he sexually harassed her on a 2006 USO tour.

Al Franken’s downfall began when newswoman and former entertainer LeAnn Tweeden came forward in mid-November to charge that, as a comedian, he sexually harassed her on a 2006 USO tour.

(Handout/Getty Images)

For instance: while Franken’s suggestion of accidental slippage while putting his hand on a woman’s waist has been widely derided, Canadian TV personality and entertainer Liana Kerzner, whom I recently interviewed about the #MeToo moment-and who has done numerous photo opportunities-believes it’s quite possible. Given the number of photos for which Franken has posed, one would expect the accusations to be in the double digits if he was a serial groper.

Kemplin’s story in particular raises red flags: would Franken have groped her breast-which would have been fully visible-before the camera? The photo shows a smiling Kemplin in a hug with Franken; she says she had twisted her body by then.

There are also questions about Tweeden’s account, some raised by conservative commentator John Ziegler. While Tweeden has said Franken deliberately scripted the kiss for their skit, he had actually performed the same skit in the same way with other female entertainers. It is worth noting that humor in USO comedy performances tends to be ribald; Tweeden herself has been photographed groping a male musician’s rear. Of course a woman’s participation in crude humor does not excuse sexual assault; but surely it mitigates crude humor toward her.

The two new charges are mind-bogglingly trivial. The alleged attempt at forcible kissing was an apparent move to kiss the woman good-bye on her way out. (When she ducked away, Franken allegedly said it was his “right as an entertainer” – which, if true, sounds like a joke to cover his embarrassment.) As for the “groping” claim, Dupuy says Franken squeezed her waist while posing for a photo. That this is being taken seriously shows the #MeToo crusade has jumped the shark.

Cathy Young is a columnist for Newsday.

Cathy Young is a columnist for Newsday.

(Provided)

We now have a climate in which it is a heinous sin (except among Roy Moore voters and other “deplorables”) to question an accuser’s honesty, or the context or the gravity of her complaint. This almost certainly explains Franken’s feeble attempts to defend himself without invalidating his accusers’ “experience.” The gender politics are compounded by partisan politics: while Republicans have a motive to go after Franken, so do progressives seeking to enshrine “believe the women” dogma among Democrats. As a result, Franken’s alleged loutishness gets lumped together with Moore’s alleged molestation of underage girls.

Such a climate is very likely to breed false or exaggerated claims, including the reinterpretation of past behavior once seen as innocuous and/or consensual. The #MeToo moment has turned into sexual McCarthyism.

Young is a columnist with Newsday.

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