Al Franken was wrong, his actions 10 years ago on a USO tour during a comedy sketch and bad-joke photo afterwards were bad, and he deserved the harsh criticism he got. And Al Franken himself agrees. Franken not only wrote a long, eloquent statement of apology, taking himself to task, but he also did something unheard of, calling for his own ethics investigation -- even though he was a comedian at the time and not yet in the Senate.
There have been suggestions that a lot of this was a set-up. That the woman making the charge had been a commentator on "Fox News." And that it's suspicious that Trump operative Roger Stone was tweeting about this before the story broke. But that's all separate. Whatever brought about the story, the actions actually did take place. And Franken was wrong, and he says so, too.
Where I veer off is the false equivalency that so many Republicans on the far right are trying to draw with Roy Moore and other sexual abuse charges in the news.
Criticize Franken all you want for awful judgement and bad actions. But criticize him for that, not what he didn't do.
Among the things he didn't do was molest eight children, or have 16 women accuse him of sexual abuse as they did at Trump, or brag about being able to grab any women "by the p*ssy" he wants, or have 30 years of egregious sexual predator abuse charges at him, or unzip his pants and...er, refresh himself in front of women, or try to date a 14-year-child when an adult D.A., or get banned from a mall, or call a teenage girl at school during "trig class," or have to pay $42 million in hush money to sweep charges of sex abuse under the rug, or be such a serial sex predator that he had to get fired from running an entire television network. Nor did he go around blaming the women accusers, shaming them as liars out to make money, nor surround himself with pastors, or hide behind Bible quotes, or send out his lawyer to hide behind and suggest mental problems
And one thing Democrats in the Senate didn't do was run away from reporters or say we shouldn't rush to judgement until all the fact are in or question the motivation of the woman bringing the charge or say the people should decide or avoid discussing it. They reamed Franken, one of their own, making clear that such actions are unacceptable.
Franken was wrong. He went too far while rehearsing a comedy sketch, and thought a sex joke about grabbing body parts protected by armor would be funny, when it was not. And he not only apologized movingly, and in detail, explaining not only that he was wrong, but why he was wrong...but also the woman accepted his apology.
Her acceptance of his apology does not excuse his actions. What it does is put them in perspective, showing the limit the woman herself puts on them. We have seen no apologies from most, if any of the sexual abusers on the recent stage, and certainly no acceptances of apology. Except here, with Al Franken.
Shockingly, Trump decided to chime in, for some maniacal reason known only to his inner demons and his eternal need to project his own actions, leaving two bizarre tweets about the story. He wondered, oddly, about all the non-existent other photos of the event -- ignoring that it was the woman herself who released this one, single photo, and if there were others, she would no doubt have plastered them everywhere. He weirdly wondered what Franken's hands were doing in these non-existent pictures. He brought up some audio tape with Franken in the Saturday Night Live writers room pitching a bad sex joke.
You could only stare at the screen and think, "Seriously, guy??? This is where YOU want to go?? You, of all people?!! And you want to bring up an audio tape???? Really?!!" How on earth can Trump not realize that bringing up audio tapes would make pretty much everyone with even a leaky memory immediately think of his own infamous Hollywood Access tape admitting to his own proud sexual abuse, how he could "grab the p*ssy" of any woman he wanted and they'd let you, because you're a star?? And his bringing up tapes only reminds the world of all the behind-the-scenes tapes of The Apprentice, which crew members and the show's participants have said would be filled with Trump at his racist, sexist worst, which is saying a lot -- though unreleased because the producer, a friend of Trump, owns them and thus far is protecting them.
You want to say, "You really, truly, honestly want to go there, guy? With sixteen women accusing you you of being a sexual predator? You want to shine a big klieg light on you, pour all that attention on you, with all that hanging on your body?" It's like a cry begging to be locked up.
And beyond all that, Trump attempting to take on Al Franken alone only reminds the public of his total silence in public and in these tweets on Roy Moore. Nothing. Eight accusations of child molestation, and he's SILENT? That makes it seem he thinks pedophilia is okay. Worse, his silence on Roy Moore, while snarking at Franken, makes it seem like he's scared of what referring to Moore opens up about himself. "Let the voters decide," the one thing his press spokesman said on the subject, not even Trump himself, just doesn't cut it. Well, even without Trump's encouragement of that, the voters will decide, that happens automatically in every election. But what does Trump think?!!! His total silence, while spewing loudly about Al Franken, speaks volumes.
And his wondering about where Franken's hands might be going in all the other non-existent photos only foolishly serves to lay breadcrumbs back to Trump's door. That's how projection works.
All Franken was wrong. He said so himself and called for an ethics committee to look into his past. His action 10 years ago attempting to do comedy was bad. His action today taking responsibility for himself was good.
And anyone who wants to criticize him -- should. So long as they aren't craven hypocrites and don't ignore criticizing others for their actions, indeed not only criticize others but do so at a level that child molestation -- and the kind of serial sexual predator abuse that we all understand can bring about serious prison time -- demand.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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