Opinion: #MeToo: Et tu, Al Franken?

Sen. Al Franken listens during an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on June 20, 2017.
(Michael Reynolds / EPA)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. I’ll remind you that long before there was the UCLA-USC football rivalry (5 tonight at the Coliseum, FYI), there was the Cal-Stanford Big Game (Go Bears!). Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has presented himself as a champion for women. One of his first legislative crusades as senator was to allow American women working for federal contractors in war zones access to courts instead of mandatory arbitration to adjudicate sexual assault cases. After the Harvey Weinstein story broke in October, he called the women coming forward “incredibly brave” and Weinstein’s alleged conduct “appalling” and “far too common.”

Now we learn that Franken — who had always seemed to adeptly maintain the difficult balancing act of having a biting, off-color sense of humor while remaining morally decent — is an example of how “far too common” the mistreatment of women by men is. The Times Editorial Board says Franken’s misconduct — which involved his forcibly kissing L.A. radio anchor Leeann Tweeden and appearing to grope her in her sleep during a 2006 USO tour — is part of a cultural “moment of reckoning”:

Stories that would have been waved off at the time they occurred as harmless or aberrational are now gaining currency. Women who previously have only whispered their stories in private are now being convinced to go public because it seems that, at last, they might be taken seriously, that they won’t be brushed off.

It’s good that that moment has finally come, and that women are stepping forward with stories of sexual aggression of every variation.

So far, we are just scraping the surface, hearing mostly about the misdeeds of very powerful men — not the everyday harassment and intimidation meted out in the lower echelons of society. And thorny questions remain about how society should treat decades-old allegations or differentiate among the many gradations of bad behavior alleged.

Yet it is important that we see the whole picture, even if the tales are decades old, describe murky, unwanted advances or seem at first, in some cases, like nothing more than mean-spirited jokes. We need to understand the breadth of the problem if we are going to begin to address the problem and to change attitudes in a meaningful way.

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Roy Moore and a problem in evangelical culture: Many of the Alabama GOP Senate nominee’s most ardently Christian followers will wince at the idea that Moore allegedly pursued a 14-year-old girl without her parents’ permission and tried to engage in sexual conduct outside marriage. But the part about a minor teenager being courted by a grown man? In evangelical circles, that isn’t uncommon, writes Kathryn Brightbill in an Op-Ed article. L.A. Times

Put an end to the Good Old Boys Club on Capitol Hill. Bay Area Democrat Rep. Jackie Speier set about trying to fix the culture of sexual harassment among Washington lawmakers and their staff, and what she found was appalling: men who did everything from telling women to “be a good girl” to exposing their genitals; draconian nondisclosure agreements; “mediation” processes that were really opportunities for lawyers to silence accusers; and a complete lack of the sexual harassment training most private employers require of their workers. San Francisco Chronicle

What about the presumption of innocence? Jeremy Piven is a hero. After being accused by a colleague of sexual misconduct, the “Entourage” actor denied the charges against him and made a powerful statement against destroying people’s lives and careers without having proved they actually did anything to deserve it, says Brendan O’Neill. “Although people refer to #MeToo as a progressive movement, it is starting to look like an exercise in public shaming,” he writes. L.A. Times

Don’t be too eager to forgive and forget, UCLA. No doubt the three Bruin basketball players arrested in China for shoplifting are sorry now — who wouldn’t be after hanging in legal limbo in China for days, only to be sent home after an intervention from the president of the United States? But “sorry” should not be enough for UCLA administrators, who at a minimum should have suspended the players from competition for a year. L.A. Times

Two new, thousand-foot skyscrapers, two different cities, one menacing message. The Wilshire Grand looms 1,000 feet over downtown Los Angeles with the Korean Air logo lit atop its crown, and the Salesforce Tower rises conspicuously out of place in San Francisco’s skyline, lending its corporate name also to the city’s new Transbay Transit Center. Both massive edifices are not about public pride or even utility — they’re all about branding. Sacramento Bee