Shortly after Leeann Tweeden went public with allegations that Al Franken had groped her during a USO tour through the Middle East in 2006, the Minnesota Democrat released a statement.
“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” said Franken. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”
The picture – Tweeden appears to be asleep in the photo – to which Franken refers is this one:
No matter what your political affiliation, you have to see how inadequate Franken’s first apology is. He a) insists that Tweeden is misremembering an episode in which he grabbed the back of your neck and stuck his tongue in her mouth during a “rehearsal” for a kissing scene and b) minimizes a photo in which he appears to be fondling her breasts while her eyes are closed as simply a joke – albeit one in poor taste.
Guy Cecil, the former head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and now the boss of a leading Democratic super PAC, voiced his frustration with the inadequacy of Franken’s apology on Twitter.
“That was not an apology and was an insufficient response to serious allegations,” Cecil tweeted. “Al Franken must be held accountable if our party wants to live up to our commitment to women & girls.”
Franken, sensing that he had made the situation worse, not better, with his “apology,” issued an actual apology hours after this first attempt. Here’s the key bit:
“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,”
Which is fine. And good. (Worth noting: Franken’s second apology wasn’t a mea culpa; he reiterated that he didn’t remember the rehearsals for the skit in the same way that Tweeden did.)
But, it doesn’t make up for Franken’s first apology. Here’s why.
Franken’s first apology was his knee-jerk reaction – his instinctual response. And that response was to, in essence, say this: I don’t remember doing anything wrong but, hey, if I did, I’m a comedian. It might have have been a bad joke – but it was a joke.
What that signals to me is that Franken – at least initially – didn’t really get it. His initial dismissal – particularly given the post-Harvey Weinstein world in which we now live – feels deeply tone deaf.
Franken’s second apology is a clear cleanup attempt. As is his embrace of an Senate Ethics Committee investigation into his conduct. What Franken is trying to do here is buy himself some time under the belief that time passing will take away from the heat around the issue right now.
It might work! After all, the current resident of the White House weathered a series of sexual harassment allegations last fall and still wound up winning. (Franken, of course, has acknowledged wrongdoing; Trump never did or has.)
The American public has a very short memory. We move on to the next scandal, the next man accused of acting inappropriately with women. And unfortunately lately it seems like a new story on that front breaks every day.
But Franken’s first response to these allegations is worrisome. And be wary of giving him too much credit for a course correction clearly born of a desire to salvage his political career.