Thursday morning, TV personality Leeann Tweeden accused DFL U.S. Sen Al Franken of two instances of sexual harassment that occured during a USO tour in 2006.
Franken, who was then a writer and radio host, responded to the accusation with a short statement. Franken said he had a "different" memory one incident, in which he's accused of forcibly kissing Tweeden against her will.
In the other case, there was no use denying it: Tweeden has a photo of herself, asleep, and Franken appearing to grab her breasts; of this, Franken said it was "supposed to be funny but wasn't."
The junior senator from Minnesota has clearly recognized this brief response was insufficient, especially these days, with once-powerful men are falling from grace left and right as women come forth with stories of mistreatment.
Franken has now issued a second, much longer statement on the matter. He apologizes to Tweeden, among others -- "people I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and a supporter of women" -- unequivocally, and says there is "no excuse" for him to stage the image of him groping her.
As for the alleged kiss, Franken still says he does not remember the moment in a dress rehearsal the way she does, but says, "I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences."
Franken also writes about years spent in the "world of comedy," and says he realizes now he wrote and performed many jokes which he "later came to realize were just offensive."
After the news broke, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for an ethics investigation into Franken, which the senator says he would willingly submit to. "I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken," Franken said, "and I will gladly cooperate."
Read Franken's full statement below.
“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.
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