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  • August 2nd, 2019

RUSH TO JUDGEMENT

By Joel M. Vance

 

The July 29 issue of the New Yorker magazine has a long article by Jane Mayer, a long time senior staff writer for the magazine, examining in great detail the circumstances behind the resignation of former Senator Al Franken after he was accused of sexually harassing a woman on a USO tour.  Franken entertained troops eight times on USO tours.

 

The New Yorker is one of the last publications where situations of significance can be examined in great detail by the best reporters in the business. No word bites here—only meticulous reporting. It is where Rachel Carson alerted the nation to the dangers posed by hard pesticides in an issue-long article titled “Silent Spring.” As a result of that reporting bombshell, a number of dangerous pesticides were banned and the nation’s symbolic bald eagle was saved from extinction. The same magazine devoted an entire issue to an article by John Hersey in 1946 about the horrific effects of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

 

It’s obvious that the situation involving Al Franken has nowhere near the significance of pesticides or nuclear consequences in the overall scheme of things, but Mayer’s piece nonetheless sheds disturbing light on today’s world where one after another prominent man falls victim to accusations of sexual impropriety.

 

Mayer’s conclusion? Al Franken was a victim of a media rush to judgment, a predictable and hypocritical faux outrage by the Republican right wing, and, most unfortunately, peer pressure from his Democratic fellow senators, calling for an immediate ouster from his seat on the Senate.  The Democratic call for Franken to resign was led by presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Some of the three dozen Democratic Senators who called for Franken’s resignation since have had second thoughts and have expressed regrets for their decision.

 

Mayer quickly followed her reporting job with a nearly hour-long interview with Terry Gross, National Public Radio’s venerable interviewer who is, in her field, as recognized as is Mayer in hers, as the best there is. Both women are staunch advocates of the Me Too movement and both are acknowledged reporters of significant cultural events who do not judge— they meticulously examine their subject and leave it to the reader or listener to draw his or her own conclusions.

 

It’s instructive to read Mayer’s article and to listen to the Gross interview, available on the Internet, or read the transcription of it. It should be impossible for anyone, having done that, to come to any other conclusion than that Franken was railroaded, out of the Senate, depriving the country of someone who had proved himself a highly beneficial and effective representative.

 

Without going into the details (leave it to Mayer to have done that and to readers to do their homework) the short version is that Franken was accused by a woman named Leeann Tweeden of having forcibly kissed her against her will, and having humiliated her by simulating groping her breasts while she was asleep, and mugging for a photographer. Subsequently, several other women also allege that Franken had, in the past, made them feel uncomfortable by word or deed.

 

It sounds serious, and in today’s sensitive climate, it is. But does what Al Franken did reach the same seriousness as accusations made against people like Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, Bill Cosby—or for that matter the president of the United States, Donald J Trump? There was no forcible rape, nor anything even approaching a physical invasion. There also is no doubt, after reading the evidence, that Franken behaved inappropriately and came off as a sometimes crude lout.

 

What he did was insensitive and stupid, but his account and that of many corroborating witnesses and people who know him starkly contradicts the account given by Tweeden, a right wing media commentator who comes across in Mayer’s reporting as a sloppy journalist and an opportunist out to create a sensational situation, no matter the cost to another person’s reputation.

 

Reaction to Mayer’s article has been both swift and widely varying—not to mention confusing. Jezebel, a feminist blog which has, in the past, been criticized by media observers for stepping over the accepted lines of journalistic integrity, jumped firmly on Tweeden’s side and was highly critical of Mayer’s reporting. The flip side of that was a reaction by Forbes magazine, a conservative media outlet, that was critical of the Senate’s rush to judgment against Franken.

 

The Nation, most liberal of publications argued both sides of the issue— saying that Franken’s behavior was marginal, but also that his reaction was “sullen” and belated. But the reaction from the magazine’s readers seem to tilt heavily in Franken’s direction with one comment summing it up, “I thought Franken took one for the team.”

 

The best analysis of and reaction to Mayer’s article is a piece by Emily Yoffe in The Atlantic magazine which you can read by going to theatlantic.com. “As a society, we are in danger of losing a sense of proportion, and a belief in forgiveness,” Yoffe concludes.  Al Franken could not have said it better himself.

 

If nothing else indicates that the entire episode was overblown, the fact is that the horrible Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein both attempted to buy off potential witnesses against them, whereas Al Franken demanded that his situation be investigated by the Senate ethics committee— and his request was denied. One senses a definite lynch mob mentality here and justice be damned. “He says, she says” situations rarely if ever are solved satisfactorily and almost always result inconclusively. It’s unlike sports events where you choose up sides and the winner is whoever scores the most runs or points.

 

The country is long past a time when it needs and deserves a woman as president. It’s pretty obvious  that a woman candidate is not going to come from the ranks of the Republican Party, a bastion of white male supremacy. Next year’s election has a better than usual chance of seeing a woman heading the Democratic party’s ticket. There are several outstanding female candidates among the more than two dozen Democrats vying for the party’s nomination and it would be more than unfortunate if none of the women is nominated, although the current front runner Joe Biden is just another white guy. He and Bernie Sanders represent the old guard, even with widely divergent political agendas. And, do we need another president (speaking as one of them) of a doddering old white guy?

 

The Democrats have a long and dreary history of nominating white guys who can’t seem to win— remember Michael Dukakis? Then came Al Gore and John Kerry. When it came time for the Democrats finally to choose a woman candidate, they picked Hillary Clinton who ran a fumbling campaign and who, to be honest, was roundly disliked even by many Democrats who grudgingly voted for her because the alternative was unthinkable. As unlikable as she is, she still drew two million more votes than the Groper in Chief we’re currently stuck with.

 

I was discouraged about the current crop of woman candidates when I read that two of the Democrat senators who vociferously demanded Franken’s resignation were Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris, both of whom are talented and intelligent and come across as far more capable of running the country than the fat bigot currently diminishing the prestige of the Oval Office. Gillibrand led the charge for Franken’s resignation and Harris quickly signed on. But, as I said, a handful of Democratic senators who pressured Franken to resign have since said they wish they had not done so.

 

My hope rests in the dubious intelligence of the Democratic Party’s nominating process to pick the one woman I see as having the backbone, the intelligence, the integrity and the demonstrated executive ability to take the reins and do what is right for the country— Elizabeth Warren. I have been a devout fan of hers ever since she headed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—a wonderful government entity created to do what government is supposed to do, protect the citizenry. Predictably, Trump, among  recent actions has destroyed the agency by firing all 25 members of its advisory board.  Ms. Warren had proposed the agency in 2007 when she was at Harvard Law School, before she became a United States senator.

 

With nearly as many candidates as there are hopefuls on a football squad, the Democrats seem dedicated to destroying each other. They remind me of a school of sharks turning on a wounded member and devouring it. Infighting and partisan squabbling merely plays into the hands of the Republicans and my fear is that another four years of Trump would see the end of the nation as the world’s leading democracy, and as the world’s most eminent hope for good.  If we let the 40% of the populace who support the evil con man now in charge take over the operation of the country, we are doomed.  All that we have achieved as a nation for a quarter of a millennium would be for naught.

 

If the Me Too movement truly wants to get upset about the treatment of women, let it put aside the sexual aspect for a moment and concentrate on the treatment of four freshman women Congressional representatives by Donald Trump and his misogynistic Republican cohorts. It has been widely reported, but not dwelled on nearly enough that he has demonized the four women of color, snarling that they should go back where they came from (ignoring the fact that all four are US citizens and three are native born). To me this egregious treatment of four women by a man who quite obviously believes that women are inferior beings is deserving of far more attention than the allegations of sexual harassment against Al Franken.

 

Some years ago, my wife and I stood in line for more than an hour to get Franken to sign his book “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them”. The senator-to-be wrote, “to Joel and Marty, Love, Al Franken”. He  smiled (not leered) at my lovely wife Marty when he wrote it and she didn’t feel a bit harassed, only honored and delighted..

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. John Taylor

    August 2nd, 2019 at 10:26 am

    Reply

    I agree with most of what you say here, Joel, except when it comes to Bernie…He’s not just another old white guy. In my opinion he has pushed the Democratic Party towards an FDR-style Democratic Party — what this nation needs — not the neo-liberal corporate goon squad — particularly Shillary and Harris — who find it acceptable to schlep corporate money from the very foxes currently guarding the nation’s hen houses, and to pitch Republican-lite ways of doing things. Warren isn’t all that bad, but when she sided with Shillary in 2016, and didn’t endorse Bernie, who was considered her philosophical and economic soulmate at the time, she struck me as another opportunist, instead of someone who stuck to the principles. I’m convinced the neoliberal corporate DNC is throwing all those people into the presidential ring to deny Bernie another nomination (and its pretty plain that Shillary and her ilk cheated him in 2016) by siphoning off most of the programs he pitched in 2016 and claiming them as their own.

  2. CJ

    August 9th, 2019 at 12:42 pm

    Reply



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