Al Franken’s name once again trended on social media Monday thanks to a lengthy profile on the former Minnesota Senator by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker.
The story, which runs more than 12,000 words, features an extensive interview with Franken. The former writer and performer on Saturday Night Live reflects on having to resign from his U.S. Senate seat in December 2017, after several accusations of inappropriate physical contact with women.
Mayer’s own Twitter tease for her story sums up her feelings on the matter: “How @alfranken got railroaded,” she wrote before linking to the piece.
“I don’t think people who have been sexually assaulted, and those kinds of things, want to hear from people who have been #MeToo’d that they’re victims,” Franken, 68, tells Mayer.
Having suffered a deep clinical depression in the aftermath of the case, he recalled that his therapist compared the experience to “what happens when primates are shunned and humiliated by the rest of the other primates.” Their conclusion, Franken added, is “‘I’m going to die alone in the jungle.’”
At the center of the article — and the controversy — is a 2006 incident during a USO tour, back in Franken’s comedy days. Mayer does new reporting around the story that emerged from the tour from Leeann Tweeden, a former model who is now a conservative talk radio host. Several of the details of the photo taken of Franken striking a pose that he called a joke and she called a threat come under new scrutiny.
Reaction has been pointed and voluminous as the story lands nearly two years after the cavalcade of accusations against Harvey Weinstein ushered in the modern #MeToo era. Mayer — whose books include Koch Brothers investigation Dark Money and whose recent New Yorker subjects have included Fox News and one of Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanagh’s accusers. In her view and those others she talks to, the case illustrates the way that the movement has recklessly jettisoned due process in the name of cleansing the system of toxic male behavior. Even with no one drawing parallels between Franken and those who have admitted to doing far worse, however, many people on Twitter (including media figures) said Franken doesn’t deserve a whit of sympathy.
Seven current and former members of the Senate told Mayer they regret not insisting that the Ethics Committee hold hearings into the matter. Current Senators Kristin Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer also take heat for bypassing the committee hearings and, according to Mayer, not even giving Franken a courtesy phone call to announce they were going public with their calls for his ouster. Both stand by their actions. “I’d do it again today,” Gillibrand says. Told of objections raised by one rich supporter, she said, “If a few wealthy donors are angry about that, it’s on them.”
Franken is just the fourth Senator since the Civil War to resign under threat of expulsion, Mayer notes. His downfall followed a period when he had emerged as a seasoned and tough opponent on the left for President Donald Trump’s administration. While he was replaced with a Democrat in Minnesota, Tina Smith, Franken and his allies argue that he paid too high a price and that the system for evaluating claims of sexual misconduct is broken.
Below is some of the reaction on Twitter. Mayer has her supporters but the anti-Franken brigade (which reserves equal vitriol for the New Yorker writer) has also been out in force.
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