Jane Mayer writes about Al Franken’s downfall at the hands of the #MeToo movement. The piece is called “The Case of Al Franken.”
It’s obvious that Mayer believes Franken didn’t do much wrong and that he shouldn’t have been pushed out of the Senate by his fellow Democrats.
Mayer doesn’t come right out and say so. However, she makes her position clear by (1) noting that a number of Democrats who thought Franken should resign now believe he shouldn’t have and (2) acting, in effect, as Franken’s defense counsel by minimizing the incidents of sexual harassment that led to his demise and by attacking the Senator/comedian’s accusers.
There’s irony here. Mayer has been on a three-decade crusade against Justice Clarence Thomas. Yet, unlike with Franken, Thomas was not accused of unwanted physical touchings, there was no documentary evidence that Thomas did what he was accused of, and no one with any credibility came forward to support the allegations against him.
The one witness, other than Hill, who at one point was prepared to testify about alleged misconduct by Thomas, was not at all credible. In the end, she elected not to testify (probably to the relief of Joe Biden, who didn’t believe her and realized she couldn’t withstand cross-examination). In Franken’s case, there were eight individuals who said the Senator had touched them inappropriately, and one had a photo to prove it.
Franken told Mayer he “absolutely regrets” resigning from the Senate. No surprise there.
I imagine he regrets not only missing out on the fun and power of being a U.S. Senator, but also failing to fight. Mr. Tough Guy turned out to be a pushover.
Franken undercut his prospects for survival by buying the BS of the #MeToo movement. That BS is summarized by Kirsten Gillibrand, who still maintains she was right to insist on Franken’s ouster, but who may be feeling a backlash in her flagging (to say the least) presidential campaign. Gillibrand told Mayer:
The women who came forward felt it was sexual harassment. So it was.
That’s nonsense, of course, but Franken subscribed to it. In an apology to his initial accuser/victim, Franken said:
There’s no excuse, and I understand why you could feel violated by that photo. I remember that rehearsal [the one where the accuser said he forced his tongue into her mouth] differently, but what’s important is the impact it had on you—and you felt violated by my actions, and for that I apologize.
No. What’s important is whether Franken did what he was accused of. But Franken didn’t have the guts to say so.
Franken kept asking for “due process,” and that’s his pitch to Mayer, as well. But if “what’s important” is how his accusers felt, what would have been the point of an investigation?
What was important to Franken’s fellow Democrats was picking up a Senate seat in Alabama. The opportunity to do so hinged on getting people to believe the worst of the sex-related allegations against the Republican candidate, Roy Moore.
That’s why Senate Democrats as a group were so eager to see Franken resign. It’s quite possible that the more rabid #MeToo Senate Democrats would have called for Franken’s ouster even absent the Alabama Senate race. However, Franken could probably have ridden out the storm, but for Alabama.
Now that a Democrat holds the Senate seat in question, it’s easy for Democratic members to express regret about Franken’s fate. Quite apart from how they feel about Franken, the males among them understand that they aren’t immune from allegations of sexual misconduct, whether real or imagined.
The lesson, I think, is that the kind of mindless #MeTooism championed by Kristen Gillibrand and embraced by Franken, even to some extent after it was turned against him, is not sustainable as pure doctrine. That’s also the lesson from the Kavanaugh confirmation battle.
The doctrine can, however, be a wild card used, when the circumstances are right, to topple, in knee-jerk fashion, certain public figures. That’s what happened to Al Franken.
It couldn’t have happened to a “nicer” guy.
UPDATE: I should have pointed out, as Ross Douthat did, that “the New Yorker approach to Kavanaugh differs ever-so-slightly from the New Yorker approach to Franken.” Mayer wrote an infamous story about Debra Ramirez who, after having her memory “jogged” and consulting an attorney, said she recalled sexual misconduct by the Supreme Court nominee at Yale.
You can believe the New Yorker reporting on Kavanaugh was journalistically responsible and not a poorly-corroborated rush that actually undermined Blasey Ford. You can also believe Al Franken was unfairly railroaded. But believing both requires an awful lot of partisan willpower.
I’m not sure you can believe that Mayer’s piece on Ramirez was responsible journalism under any circumstances, but you get Douthat’s point.