I loathe Al Franken.
As I read his book Rush Limbaugh Is a Big, Fat, Idiot (well before I realized myself that Rush wasn’t who I thought he was) I felt a very real and deep anger towards him. I also disagree with him on almost every political issue.
Based on what we currently know, however, it sure seems like he is getting railroaded today based on the story by Los Angeles radio anchor Leeann Tweeden (who works on the show of Doug McIntyre, who I consider a friend). In fact, this is almost exactly the type of story I warned about earlier this week while discussing the new, much lower standards, which the news media suddenly has adopted for reporting allegations of sexual abuse.
Let me first say that I don’t think Tweeden is lying. Franken himself has confirmed part of the story. There are many very serious problems with this accusation instantly being universally picked up by nearly every major news outlet, however, without a hint of vetting or thought, so that, as of this writing it is by far the biggest news story of the day (I have been particularly appalled at many of my fellow conservatives for not being able to resist immediately jumping all over Franken, obviously out of political retribution).
The first issue I have is context. This happened as part of a comedy routine on a USO trip. The little details here matter a lot and it is very easy for them to be altered or exaggerated over time either through the limits of human memory, or via changing self-interest. Even if we assume her story to be 100% true, In Franken’s mind he may have been rehearsing a comedic kiss (one which she admits she originally agreed to), while to her he was creating an excuse get a cheap thrill at her expense.
Her whole story really revolves around the extent of the “rehearsed” kiss. It is the only element of this claim which really clearly falls under the heading of “abuse” or “assault.” On this we are relying on her eleven-year-old recollection versus his (it should also be pointed out that she went ahead with the performance after this occurred, apparently without any sort of official complaint).
That is simply not enough evidence, given the nature of the allegation and the surrounding circumstances, for this to qualify as a major news story. If it is, then we might as well create a news channel to report on such allegations about famous people on a 24/7 basis, because that is where we are headed.
Part of why her story of the “kiss” lacks the credibility that it should have is that, not long after it happened, Franken decided to run for the U.S. Senate. This was a development of which Tweeden was obviously aware and, despite having a platform to get her story out, she apparently made no effort at all to do so. It is now politically incorrect to say so, but this must matter.
I totally understand that people often don’t like coming forward to make themselves possible targets in a political campaign, but I’m sorry, there is a deal you make when you stay silent when the time is right to speak up. You exchange your personal convenience for the credibility of your story in the future. You shouldn’t be allowed to have it both ways, especially in situations like this where no criminal charge or even a lawsuit has ever occurred and there is an obvious political element to it.
Then there is the issue of the photograph, taken on the way home, of Franken posing while “groping” Tweeden’s breasts while she is asleep and wearing several layers of clothing, including a military vest. Part of the problem with evaluating that photo is that we are doing so through the prism that Tweeden’s recollection of the “kiss” is fair/accurate, and that this was therefore proof of Franken having an animus towards her for rejecting his “advances.”
But let’s pretend that the “kiss” was not exactly as Tweeden now says. That photo then has a MUCH different context. Franken is clearly posing, and it sure seems to me to not even be touching her, but rather doing a (stupid/juvenile) “hover” move for what was, just as he now claims, a bad but relatively harmless joke.
There is another important element of the photo that has not yet been explained. How did Tweeden obtain it and why did she save it? Was it because she was told when she woke up that Franken had “assaulted” her and she wanted evidence of this for future use (and then failed to do so, even when Franken ran for the Senate), or, perhaps more likely, did someone send it to her because it was a funny keepsake from their trip which is now being used to create a completely different impression of what happened?
I don’t know the answer to that question, but neither do any of the media outlets which have blindly disseminated it all over the country within mere minutes. That is not proper journalism.
Finally, there is the issue of Tweeden’s profession. I suspect that her story is being given far more weight than it would normally because she is technically a “news anchor.” In my view the opposite should be the case. She is in a situation where she has a clear incentive to exaggerate her story for publicity. That does NOT mean that this is was has actually happened here, but it does mean that it should require her claim get more scrutiny before being reported, not less.
Even the nature of the report itself fails to live up to normal journalistic standards. She did not tell this story to a major news outlet which then verified the details on its own. This was just her own personal account of what she says happened, with no independent reporting or examination of Franken’s side of the story, published on the website of her employer, a very lowly-rated “conservative” talk radio station.
This story, as it currently stands, is not fair journalism and my fellow conservatives would be screaming bloody murder if the target was a Republican they liked, rather than a Democrat they hate.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is a documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at email@example.com
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.