Franken: Just very, very sorry

Last night CBS Minnesota broadcast excerpts of the interview Al Franken gave to anchor/reporter Esme Murphy at his daughter’s home in Washington, where he rode out the storm over the long Thanksgiving weekend during which he issued laughable and inconsistent statements on his misconduct. CBS Minnesota has posted the broadcast report (video below, about six minutes) and a companion summary here. It has also posted the entire 33-minute interview. If you have been following this story, the whole thing is must viewing; I have posted it at the bottom. My comments below are based on the full interview.

Here is the broadcast report that excerpts the highlights of Murphy’s interview.

Esme loves Democrats in general and Minnesota Democrats in particular. On her local Sunday morning show she has fawned over Franken. She has fawned over Amy Klobuchar. She has fawned over Keith Ellison. In this interview, however, she was uncharacteristically confrontational with someone she admires.

She came to the interview prepared. She had reviewed the women’s statements alleging Franken’s misconduct. She had studied Franken’s various “apologies.” Watching Franken respond to her questions, I can see the wheels spinning. As she bores in, he tries to remember or to calculate: what’s my line?

Franken’s approach is to give up what he can’t hold. He runs with Tweeden’s acceptance of his apology for the kiss that he remembers differently than she (he won’t say how he remembers it) and for the grope for which we have the photograph.

As for the allegations that he has grabbed the ass of a lady or three, he doesn’t recall. The photographs were taken in “crowded and chaotic situations.” If you’ve ever seen the film Z, think “lithe and fierce, like a tiger.”

However, he can’t deny that it happened as the ladies have said. To all the ladies he’s grabbed before, he offers a conditional apology: “I am very sorry if these women experienced that.”

For the most part, Franken is regurgitating rehearsed lines. Murphy asks him what he did. He’s a warm person, he says. He hugs people.

Editor’s note: He’s not a warm person. He’s a jerk.

Some women have felt that he has crossed a line. “They feel that in these interactions I’ve done something to disrespect them,” he says. That wasn’t his intention, he adds, but his intention doesn’t matter. He has to be more careful and more sensitive.

Murphy interjects an epistemological question to pierce Franken’s fog (at about 2:15 of the full interview): “When you grab somebody’s butt, don’t you know it?”

When Franken wanders off again, she asks: “Are they mistaken that their but was grabbed? Is that what you’re saying.”

“I’m not saying that,” Franken responds.

When Franken refers to his intent, Murphy pierces the fog again: “Do you think this happened unintentionally?”

Franken emits more fog. Murphy renders the judgment of a reasonable viewer weighing the evidence: “With all due respect, people are going to look at this and find it hard to believe that someone such as yourself wouldn’t know he was grabbing somebody’s butt.”

Good for Esme.

Watching the video I see Franken’s disgust over Murphy’s reluctance to assume the position — the fawning position. He bristles when she calls him on his euphemistic characterization of his misconduct as “disrespecting” women. Franken is not accustomed to skeptical treatment by the Minnesota media.

“I want to be able to handle this in a way that adds to the conversation,” Franken says. Good Lord, no.

At two points Murphy brings up the minor controversy that Franken weathered with a false apology in the 2008 campaign and even cites Franken’s discussion of it in his memoir. However, she omits his confession to the false apology with which he weathered that particular storm (“I wasn’t sorry that I had written Porn-o-Rama or pitched that stupid Lesley Stahl joke at 2 in the morning”). This is the only obvious shortcoming I see in Murphy’s interview.

We are left with the false apology with which he seeks to ride out this storm: “I am just very, very sorry.” In a colloquial sense it may say more than he intends.

Franken is not going anywhere. His refuge is the Senate Ethics Committee investigation. It is the key to his political survival. We will have to make whatever use of him we can.

Here is the whole thing. It is in its own way an important and revealing document.

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