Al Franken: I’m a good guy, not a groper. New Yorker Magazine’s Jane Mayer: Al Franken has been unjustly accused. Just ask him. Kirsten Gillibrand: I’d do the same thing today. The rest of us: Pass the popcorn.
New Yorker Magazine is nothing if not consistently inconsistent.
In the fall of 2018, writer Jane Mayer and co-writer Ronan Farrow wrote a hit piece for the magazine on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh that was disguised as investigative journalism. The article detailed an allegation of sexual misconduct made by Deborah Ramirez, who was a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale in the early 1980s.
Mayer and Farrow insinuated that the allegation was so serious and credible that “Republican staffers … expressed concern about its potential impact on Kavanaugh’s nomination.” However, just two paragraphs into the piece – when the nature of the allegation was revealed – we also learned that Ramirez had more or less been coaxed into recollecting that it was Brett Kavanaugh who supposedly participated in the alleged incident she said happened 35 years ago when she was drunk:
She was at first hesitant to speak publicly, partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident. In her initial conversations with The New Yorker, she was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty. After six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections to say that she remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away.
The story was so thinly sourced and incredible that even mainstream media outlets like the New York Times and ABC News had questions about it.
Nearly a year later, Mayer is at it again. But this time she’s not trying to convict a powerful man in the court of public opinion by way of pushing wild, uncorroborated claims that not even the alleged victim can make with any reasonable degree of certainty. Instead, Mayer is trying to exonerate one – former Senator Al Franken (D-MN), by way of using character witnesses like former staffers, fellow comedians, and even Franken himself to vouch for his good-character.
Heavily sprinkled into the mix is a little slut-shaming against Franken’s first accuser Leeanne Tweeden, a tactic that is apparently is only acceptable when used against conservative women who make #MeToo allegations.
Free Beacon’s Alex Griswold debunks Mayer’s arguments pretty convincingly here:
I’ve spent the bulk of this rebuttal focusing on Mayer’s attacks on Tweeden, because that’s how she spent the bulk of her piece. She devotes 57 paragraphs or so writing about Tweeden’s accusation and how—this is the real thrust of her argument—Tweeden is a Trump supporter working for a Trump-supporting radio network, and how they rolled out her story in an intentionally partisan attack. She devotes only ten paragraphs to the dagger in the heart of her thesis; namely that seven other women accused Franken of inappropriate behavior and forced kissing.
Mayer’s excuses for dismissing their stories are to quote Franken supporters making arguments that are far too embarrassing for her to make herself. Sure, two women claimed Franken grabbed them by the buttocks during a photoshoot, but “he’s sort of clumsy,” he’s a “hugger,” and “there’s a difference between molesting someone and being friendly.” Yeah, women say he tried to kiss them without permission and with an open mouth, but “it was the New York hello-goodbye kiss,” and he’s “a social—not a sexual—’lip-kisser.'” (???) And even if it did all happen as these women claim, “This isn’t Kavanaugh. It isn’t Roy Moore.”
She notes one of Franken’s accusers went to the Boston Globe “a week or two before Tweeden stepped forward” with a story about an unwanted kiss, but they thought it was too thinly-sourced to run. No doubt Mayer meant to weaken the case against Franken, but she accidentally included a damning tidbit; while Tweeden was preparing to accuse Franken of kissing her without her consent, a second women was trying to tell reporters the same story, on the other side of country, and independently. That should be damning, but Mayer completely ignores its significance.
Because Franken is quoted extensively in the New Yorker piece and indicated he more or less felt betrayed by how his Senate colleagues turned on him, the spotlight on Monday also turned to 2020 candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), who was the first Senator to go public with a call for Franken to resign.
Gillibrand has long alleged that her calling on him to step down created fundraising issues for her from big-time Democratic donors. While discussing the issue yesterday, the struggling presidential candidate continued to play victim on the issue, and also threw in the woman card for good measure:
Asked after Monday’s event if she’s been hurt in the presidential race in a way that other senators seeking the White House haven’t, Gillibrand noted that others called for Franken’s resignation but “you wouldn’t know that today, given that I seemed to stand alone.”
Gillibrand also noted that, while Franken was still in the Senate after the allegations surfaced, female senators were asked “every day, multiple times a day” about his resignation.
“Were the male senators asked? Absolutely not. So let’s be clear, there is absolutely a double standard,” she said.
“Women are asked to hold accountable their colleagues. The men are not,” Gillibrand added. “Who is being held accountable for Al Franken’s decision to resign? Women senators, including me. It’s outrageous. It’s absurd.”
She said doing so hurts Democrats’ chances of denying President Donald Trump a second term, saying, “If this party thinks that, by not valuing women, they’re going to beat Trump, well, they’re wrong.”
Predictably, Gillibrand tries to have it both ways on the #MeToo issue. She’s been a vocal proponent of women’s voices being front and center, recognized and heard first and foremost before all others, yet because female Senators (and not male Senators) were asked multiple times about Franken’s resignation, that’s evidence of some type of double standard? I don’t think so.
At the time of the allegations against Franken, the #MeToo movement was exploding, women were coming forward daily will allegations against prominent public figures including business leaders, celebrities, journalists, and politicians. Many of the accused either went into hiding, lawyered up, or resigned from their positions in disgrace.
Naturally, male Democratic Senators were looking to the female Senators to gauge their opinions on how serious they believed the allegations were against Franken to see if they warranted what would be a serious call for a fellow Democratic member to step down.
Had Gillibrand not been asked about it, she’d have complained later about how the Senate “boys club” left the women out of the debate. She’s trying to have it both ways here, but it doesn’t work that way.
The New Yorker piece, as unconvincing as it is, comes at a time when Democrats would rather give all their focus and fire to President Trump’s alleged “racism” for his attacks on The Squad. The last thing Democrats want to have to deal with is being reminded that the main reason they sacrificed Franken on the #MeToo altar was not because they “believed all women”, but because they were more concerned about the politics and optics, as Professor Jacobson explained at the time.
That there are former and current Democratic Senators going on record now as saying they wish they’d have handled the Franken situation differently and given him the Senate equivalent of due process (a hearing) only complicates matters. Because back then, the standard was that everyone should “believe all women” without question.
Some Democrats still hold to that standard, as Gillibrand made clear with her statement to Mayer on the Franken issue:
“But the women who came forward felt it was sexual harassment,” she said. “So it was.”
However, that view is being challenged by several Democrats who now say accusers do need to be questioned. They’re seemingly embracing due process not out of any real guiding Constitutional principle, but because in retrospect, those same Senators believe the party did a disservice to one of their own.
The next round of Democratic debates are a little over a week away. It will be interesting to see if the New Yorker’s Franken piece is brought up and, if so, how debate participants – in particular, Gillibrand and handsy Joe Biden – respond on a national stage.
— Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym “Sister Toldjah” and can be reached via Twitter. —DONATE
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