Editorial: The politics of bad behavior

  • Sen. Al Franken AP

Friday, November 17, 2017

Yesterday, we published an editorial addressed to the men of America, in which we suggested several assumptions they should make when interacting with women. The examples we used were not products of the imagination, but real examples of the kind of harassment women face daily and throughout their lives. Our hope is that men will read the list as part of an assessment of their own behavior toward women, now and in the past.

Today, we hope to send a message to a broader audience – the American voters – about the way allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault are handled in the political arena.

On Thursday, Los Angeles radio newscaster Leeann Tweeden accused Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat, of groping and kissing her against her will during a 2006 USO tour, which took place before Franken was elected to the Senate. Tweeden said Franken “put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth” under the guise of rehearsing for a skit Franken had written. Weeks later, when Tweeden was back in the U.S., she was flipping through photos of the tour when she came across one of Franken smiling at the camera as he appeared to place his hands on Tweeden’s breasts. “I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated,” Tweeden wrote in a post on KABC.com.

On Wednesday, four more women stepped forward to say Roy Moore of Alabama, a Republican candidate for Senate, groped or forcibly kissed them decades ago. That makes nine women so far who have made allegations against Moore. One of the women said she was 14 when Moore touched her sexually, another said she was 16. When Moore heard of the Franken allegations, he saw an opportunity for political cover through irrelevant comparison. He tweeted: “Al Franken admits guilt after photographic evidence of his abuse surfaces. Mitch: ‘Let’s investigate.’ In Alabama, ZERO evidence, allegations 100% rejected. Mitch: ‘Moore must quit immediately or be expelled.’ ”

If you believe, like Moore, that there is a double standard among journalists and Democrats (and now “establishment” Republicans) when it comes to addressing sexual misconduct, you are entitled to that position. But if you allow your own political leanings to cloud your assessment of whether a politician’s behavior was appropriate or not, or whether his accuser should be believed, you become a victim of your own double standard – and that is more dangerous. We have no reason not to believe Franken’s accuser, nor do we have any reason to think that nine women are lying about Moore. If we have learned anything from the history of sexual misconduct in American politics, it’s that women who come forward have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

What Franken did was wrong, and his public apology is meaningless. The only apology that has any value is the one he delivers away from the spotlight to Leeann Tweeden. If she is willing to listen, it is up to her and her alone to judge his sincerity. To treat Franken’s written public apology as a glimpse into his soul is naive at best.

So far, Moore owes at least nine women an apology. Instead, he has chosen to deny any wrongdoing and will do so until he is crushed beneath the weight of evidence and truth. It is then and only then, his back firmly against the wall, that he will say he is sorry as he slides into the depths of political infamy.

There is nothing similar about the behavior of Franken and Moore. They share this space only because they are in the news at the same time and reside at opposite ends of the political spectrum. But they have behaved badly as men; not as a Democrat or Republican – as men. There are those who want you to believe party affiliation matters on this subject. It doesn’t.