Sexual harassment spotlight shifts to Congress
The wave of sexual harassment allegations against powerful men has swept into Congress, after a woman accused Democratic Sen. Al Franken of groping and forcibly kissing her 11 years ago. Leeann Tweeden, a local radio show host, said last week that the former Saturday Night Live writer “stuck his tongue in my mouth” while they rehearsed backstage during a USO tour to entertain troops in 2006, three years before Franken joined the Senate. She said she pushed him away, feeling “violated” and “disgusted.” Tweeden also released a photo from the flight home from that tour, in which Franken appears to grope her breasts while grinning at the camera. The Minnesota Democrat said he remembered the backstage incident differently, but apologized to Tweeden, saying he felt “ashamed.” A second woman, Lindsay Menz, accused the senator of groping her buttocks while they posed for a photo at a state fair in 2010; he said he had no recollection of the incident.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned Franken’s behavior and called for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation. President Trump, who came out in support of alleged child molester Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate race in Alabama, chided Franken on Twitter, calling him “Al Frankenstien” [sic]. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there was a “very clear distinction” between Franken and Trump, who was accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women during the election. “Sen. Franken has admitted wrongdoing,” she said. “The president hasn’t.” Trump has insisted all of his accusers are lying.
In other developments, BuzzFeed.com revealed that Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, paid one of his former staffers a secret $27,000 settlement in 2015 after she said he fired her for rejecting his advances. Conyers, 88, denies her claims of harassment. In the media world, CBS and PBS fired longtime anchor Charlie Rose, 75, after eight women accused him of unwanted sexual advances.
What the editorials said
Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are pariahs. Roy Moore and Al Franken are under fire. Charlie Rose is history. This may be “the dawn of a new era,” said the Chicago Tribune—one in which powerful men know that if they engage in sexual harassment and abuse they’ll be “toast.” This “national reckoning,” however, has bypassed President Trump, who was caught on videotape bragging about groping women and was credibly accused of multiple sexual assaults. The pass he got from voters may be “responsible for the remarkable transformation now in progress.” Women sickened by his election, it seems, have decided to stand up against their own abusers.
We are now confronting a “systemic problem,” said the Washington Examiner. In every industry, “men in power abuse their position to molest women.” The first step in changing our culture is to “hold our leaders accountable,” and not defend those in our own party, the way Democrats did during President Bill Clinton’s sex scandals. (See Controversy.) Men must teach their sons to treat women with dignity and respect, and men in power must learn to “see power as a constraint,” not a license to harass and exploit women.
What the columnists said
Franken has to resign, said Amanda Marcotte in Salon.com. The only “realistic way” to stop sexual harassment is to ensure that men “face consequences” for engaging in it. If Franken remains in the Senate, he’ll become a “visible symbol of liberal hypocrisy.” By punting Franken’s fate to the feckless Senate Ethics Committee for a likely wrist slap, Democrats are handing Republicans a “threeword weapon,” said Kyle Smith in NationalReview.com. “What. About. Franken.” Liberals won’t be able to demand punishment for any Republican over sexual harassment until he goes—not even Roy Moore. Sure, it’s unfair to equate Franken’s unwanted kiss and feigned photo grope with Moore’s serial predations on teenage girls. “But politics isn’t fair.”
That’s why I have second thoughts about calling on Franken to resign, said Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. “Liberalleaning fields like Hollywood, media, and the Democratic Party” have quickly forced out their harassers, because progressives committed to gender equality won’t tolerate sexism and abuse even from our allies. But if we make an example of Franken while Trump and many other Republicans rally around Moore, would we be unilaterally disarming, and giving more power to Republicans who want to take women’s rights away? Another risk is “overcompensating for earlier apathy,” said Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post. Franken’s behavior was more “boorish” than “predatory,” and he wasn’t Tweeden’s boss. Does an otherwise good and decent man deserve to lose his career over behavior not remotely comparable to Weinstein’s or Moore’s? “Not all crimes deserve the death penalty.”
What’s striking about these scandals is the extent to which people “tolerate misconduct in politicians,” said David French in NationalReview.com. “In most functioning corporations,” Franken and Moore would have been immediately fired. Indeed, the Hollywood and media figures facing accusations have all been suspended or dismissed. But the standard in politics is different. In our polarized climate, neither party can bear to give the other side a “win.” Are either Democrats or Republicans “serious enough about character and integrity to make even the smallest political sacrifice to shore up a fraying national culture?”
AP; Illustration by Fred Harper. On the cover: President Bill Clinton, Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones, and Monica Lewinsky. Cover photos from Getty, Newscom (2) ■