Politics

Al Franken’s Evolving Responses To Sexual Harassment Allegations

Democratic Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s responses to sexual harassment allegations have evolved as more accusers step forward.

Two more women came forward Wednesday, saying that Franken grabbed their butts at two separate events in Minnesota — bringing the total number of accusers to four. All four of the women say Franken grabbed their butts or breasts; one of the women, Leeann Tweeden, also accused Franken of forcibly kissing her while rehearsing a skit on a USO trip in 2006.

Franken’s responses to the accusations against him have evolved from apologizing to women and stressing that they should be believed, to now simply denying any recollection of the events where the alleged groping took place.

Franken initially offered a brief apology after Tweeden, the first accuser, came forward with her story and a photo depicting Franken groping Tweeden while she slept on the USO trip.

“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it,” Franken said.

After harsh criticism for that apology, which was criticized as inadequate, Franken issued a lengthy apology that topped 400 words and emphasized that women “deserve to be heard, and believed”:

The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women.  There’s more I want to say, but the first and most important thing—and if it’s the only thing you care to hear, that’s fine—is: I’m sorry.

I respect women.  I don’t respect men who don’t.  And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.

But I want to say something else, too.  Over the last few months, all of us—including and especially men who respect women—have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women.

For instance, that picture.  I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what’s more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it—women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.

Coming from the world of comedy, I’ve told and written a lot of jokes that I once thought were funny but later came to realize were just plain offensive.  But the intentions behind my actions aren’t the point at all.  It’s the impact these jokes had on others that matters.  And I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come to terms with that.

While I don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.

I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate.

And the truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories. They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them.

Establishment media outlets praised Franken for the second apology, portraying him as owning up to his mistakes. (In reality, Franken only admitted to half of Tweeden’s accusations — he claimed he didn’t “remember” the skit the same way Tweeden did.)

When a second woman, Lindsay Menz, came forward to say that the senator had groped her butt in a photo-op in 2010, Franken claimed to have no recollection of the picture and expressed his remorse that Menz felt “disrespected,” but he offered no apology.

“I take thousands of photos at the state fair surrounded by hundreds of people, and I certainly don’t remember taking this picture. I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected,” Franken said. (RELATED: A Definitive Collection Of Creepy Al Franken Photos Groping Women)

After the third and fourth women came forward in HuffPost Wednesday to say that Franken had grabbed their butts, the senator’s response was brief and expressed no remorse: “It’s difficult to respond to anonymous accusers, and I don’t remember those campaign events.”