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Politics & Policy

Jane Mayer’s Hollow Defense of Al Franken

Sen. Al Franken departs the Capitol with wife Franni after announcing his resignation, December 7, 2017. (Yuri Gipas/Reuters)

Over at The New Yorker, Jane Mayer has a lengthy piece in defense of Al Franken, the former Minnesota senator who resigned in disgrace last year after a photo surfaced of him appearing to grope radio host LeeAnn Tweeden in her sleep. Mayer writes that the Democrat “resigned only three weeks after Leeann Tweeden, a conservative talk-radio host, accused him of having forced an unwanted kiss on her during a 2006 U.S.O. tour,” and, though she acknowledges the existence of the photo, spends most of the piece arguing that Franken was the victim of political opportunists on his own side and conservatives who were out to get him.

Mayer quotes several of Franken’s former colleagues in the Senate, Democrats who now regret their role in forcing him out of office and who lament in the piece the lack of “due process.” It’s the central theme of Mayer’s article: Franken never had his day in court.

It’s worth noting that, to this day, the former senator has never denied either forcibly kissing Tweeden or posing for the photo in question. Both at the time of her allegations and again to Mayer, Franken tried to cast the incident as a joke gone awry. Here’s what Mayer writes on that point:

Franken tried to devise a response, but, he told me, he found it “impossible to explain the context of the goofing around everybody had been doing, so I just said, ‘It was a joke—it wasn’t funny, and I apologize.’ ” His statement was lambasted on social media as hopelessly inadequate. He released a longer, more self-critical apology. But, he told me, “I was in shock, and I wasn’t thinking as clearly as I should have.” He went on, “You feel very trapped. And the press was just reporting it as she said it.”

The question, then, should not be whether Franken received “due process” while the facts were still uncertain. After all, he admitted to having done what he was accused of. Both Franken and Mayer instead seem to think that the punishment didn’t fit the crime, that he got a raw deal.

Maybe so. Perhaps Franken’s treatment of Tweeden didn’t merit his colleagues pressuring him to resign from the Senate. Perhaps his misconduct, having come to light at the same time as various more egregious Me Too firestorms, was unfairly lumped into a broader cultural desire to “believe all women” and harshly punish any man accused of any sexual misdeed. Perhaps he deserved, as he insisted to Mayer, a hearing before the Senate Ethics Committee.

But these pleas for sympathy ring hollow coming from a writer like Mayer, who has proven herself more than willing to disregard journalistic ethics when the subject of sexual-harassment allegations isn’t on her political team. She published an entire book in 1995 asserting that the George H. W. Bush administration engaged in subterfuge to ensure that Clarence Thomas would be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice despite Anita Hill’s accusations against him — never mind that none of Hill’s allegations were corroborated.

And for Mayer, this is a pattern. Much more recently, she co-authored — along with Ronan Farrow — a New Yorker piece revealing the existence of a second sexual-misconduct allegation against Brett Kavanaugh. His accuser Deborah Ramirez, Mayer and Farrow wrote, “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.” (Emphasis added.) More from their piece:

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. Ramirez is now calling for the F.B.I. to investigate Kavanaugh’s role in the incident. “I would think an F.B.I. investigation would be warranted,” she said. (Emphasis added.)

It required “six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney” for Ramirez to apparently recollect that Kavanaugh had exposed himself to her, a fact that should have given pause to any reputable journalist or outlet. Meanwhile, Mayer and Farrow failed to find a single witness who could confirm that Kavanaugh had even been at the party, let alone that he behaved as Ramirez said he did. The New York Times’ subsequent reporting also failed to confirm Ramirez’s account, despite contacting several dozen people.

In her piece today, Mayer spilled a great deal of ink exploring Tweeden’s conservative political sympathies. By contrast, she wrote next to nothing in her article with Farrow last summer, noting only that Ramirez is a registered Democrat, and that she “said that her decision to speak out was not politically motivated.”

Mayer, it seems, cares remarkably little about due process or commensurate consequences — unless the man who is punished for his admitted sexual misdeeds shares her political agenda.

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