Editorial: A moment of reckoning for Al Franken — and everyone else who contributes to the culture of harassment
Stories about powerful men engaging in sexual misconduct are becoming so common that, as with mass shootings, the country is in danger of growing inured to them. But unlike the tragic news about that latest deranged, murderous gunman, the massive outpouring of previously repressed tales of sexual harassment gives us reason to hope.
The latest revelation comes from L.A. radio anchor Leeann Tweeden, who says U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) forcibly kissed her while they were rehearsing for a USO show overseas in 2006, just before Franken began his campaign for the Senate. She also says he groped her without her consent, and there’s a photo that adds legitimacy to her tale. In it, Franken grins over his shoulder at the camera as he reaches for her breasts — possibly touching her, possibly not — while she sits asleep in a military plane jump seat.
This disturbing and juvenile photo was distributed to the USO cast at the time; seeing it, Tweeden said, made her feel “violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated.” That appears to have been the intent.
Franken has apologized, though says he doesn’t remember the incident the way Tweeden does, and he asked for an investigation of his own behavior by the Senate Ethics Committee. Such a probe would be welcome. The committee can also investigate whether it’s an isolated incident or part of an offensive pattern.
We’re having a moment of reckoning, America. 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 it and to change attitudes in a meaningful way.
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