MSNBC Downplays Sex Abuse: Maybe Franken Just ‘Needs a Talking-To?’

Given the extensive coverage of the allegations of criminal sexual misconduct against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, you may be wondering how liberal journalists have been covering the multiple accusations of sexual assault against Democratic Senator Al Franken. Well, if you were expecting unreserved condemnation and calls for Franken to resign his seat, you would be pretty disappointed, at least if you were watching MSNBC.

As just one example from Monday’s MSNBC Live with Katy Tur showed, the liberal host and guest Rebecca Weir were both more than willing to go to absurd lengths to cover for Franken’s behavior.  They suggested that while “good people can do bad things,” Franken shouldn’t “lose everything [he’s] worked for,” “negat[ing] years of good.” Tur also went out of her way to promote a statement from Franken’s female ex-staffers defending his character and praising him as someone who “was a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our office.”

 

 

Tur introduced the segment by briefly reviewing the Franken sex assault allegations and welcoming her guest onto the show:

Now to another allegation of sexual misconduct against Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken. Lindsay Menz posted a tweet last week claiming that Franken grabbed her while taking a picture with her at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. In a statement to CNN on Sunday, Franken said he did not remember taking the photo with Menz. Also, he said he felt badly that she felt disrespected. Menz posted her allegation on Twitter the same day that Los Angeles radio news anchor Leeann Tweeden accused Franken of kissing and groping her during a 2006 USO tour in the Middle East. Franken has apologized to Tweeden. He said though that he will not resign. But he and several of his colleagues are calling on an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee to, at the very least, clear the air. Joining us now to talk about it is Rebecca Weir. She’s a lawyer in Washington and a former staff member for retired California Republican congressman Gary Miller. She came forward with her own allegation that Miller asked her to twirl for him during a 2001 meeting at his district office in California. Oh, how lovely for you that must have been.

After making clear that she was being sarcastic with her last comment, Tur moved on to ask Weir if she thought that “these [are] the sort of allegations that will end up forcing [Franken] to resign.” Weir replied by immediately seeking to diminish the allegations against the Democratic senator and also inexplicably appeared to justify Tweeden’s groping by Franken as part of “a satire piece”:

You know, I think we still need to see where this goes. It seems that some of this behavior was -- occurred before he was in office and even while he was in the middle of a satire piece, certainly not the one that you just described. We have to see where it goes. But I think -- again, it shows what a pervasive problem this is not only on Capitol Hill but for America. Sexual harassment is something that we are grappling with. We're at a tipping point in America. And I think we have to ask the question of, you know, looking at our brothers, our sons, our husbands in a different way and coming to terms with the fact that they may have engaged in behavior that at the time they thought was innocent, but in reflection, they realize because of their power and their status wasn't appropriate.

So rather than deal with the Franken allegations head-on, Weir turned the conversation towards broadly accusing American men (“our brothers, our sons, our husbands”) of being sexually predatory. Instead of asking her guest to get back on track, Tur went along with Weir and pushed the conversation towards more generally talking about sexual harassment on Capitol Hill:

TUR: So where should we draw the line, Rebecca, for who should be publicly shamed, who should lose their job, who should lose their livelihood, and who just, um, needs, I mean, I don't know, needs a talking-to or needs to apologize? Where -- I mean, have we figured out where that line is?

WEIR: Right, this is a question I have been asking myself, you know, what am I gaining by coming forward with my story, what I hope will happen? And for me, it's mostly about change of a culture that is so pervasive and institutionalized on the Hill. But I think we're talking about a continuum of behavior. You know, groping is very different than an insensitive comment made in a meeting.

TUR: Right.

WEIR: Um, and, you know, we -- different situations are gonna require a different response. Certainly Roy Moore in the allegations of sexual child molestation against him I believe are disqualifying. Um, insensitive comment in a meeting? I don't know. I find myself hoping that the country will think about constructive confrontation and that women will feel empowered to confront their harassers in the moment.

Isn’t it amazing that a conversation about Al Franken is back to Roy Moore mere minutes later? It’s almost like liberal journos really don’t want to talk about allegations of sexual misconduct when they’re made against Democrats.

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Tur followed up by going on a brief tangent implying that she has been sexually harassed by people at MSNBC or somewhere else that she has worked “in the media,” but did not get specific. After not having talked about Franken directly for most of the segment, Tur finally brought the discussion back to him, but not for the purpose of condemnation:

But let's talk about Senator Franken. A number of the women that used to work in his office have released a statement defending him, and it reads in part: “Many of us spent years working for Senator Franken in Minnesota and Washington. In our time working for the Senator, he treated us with the utmost respect. He valued our work and our opinions and was a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our office.” How much weight does a statement like that have?

Weir responded by suggesting that Franken should not suffer serious consequences for his alleged criminal sexual acts:

I think it's compelling. But at the same time, it doesn't give Senator Franken a pass on what he did in these instances. Good people can do bad things. You saw with the head of the Democratic Party in Florida who recently resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment. You know, he came forward and said: I did this, I'm so sorry; I, you know, I had a personal failing; I'm gonna work on it, and for the good of the party, I'm stepping aside. You know, that's the kind of response that we would want to see from people acknowledging that there's a problem and working to correct it going forward so that true change can happen. And in order to do that, I think we need to create the space for men and women to not feel so threatened that, you know, they're gonna lose everything they’ve worked for, that one instance negates years of good.

Tur concurred with Weir and then closed out the segment by expressing her hope that women will be taken more seriously in the future when accusing men of sexual harassment or crimes.

Perhaps with accusations against politicians in particular, more people would take them seriously if the media did not make such obvious and strenuous efforts to treat such allegations differently depending on the politics of the accused.

A full transcript of the segment follows below:

2:38 PM EST

KATY TUR: Now to another allegation of sexual misconduct against Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken. Lindsay Menz posted a tweet last week claiming that Franken grabbed her while taking a picture with her at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. In a statement to CNN on Sunday, Franken said he did not remember taking the photo with Menz. Also, he said he felt badly that she felt disrespected. Menz posted her allegation on Twitter the same day that Los Angeles radio news anchor Leeann Tweeden accused Franken of kissing and groping her during a 2006 USO tour in the Middle East. Franken has apologized to Tweeden. He said though that he will not resign. But he and several of his colleagues are calling on an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee to, at the very least, clear the air. Joining us now to talk about it is Rebecca Weir. She’s a lawyer in Washington and a former staff member for retired California Republican congressman Gary Miller. She came forward with her own allegation that Miller asked her to twirl for him during a 2001 meeting at his district office in California. Oh, how lovely for you that must have been. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

REBECCA WEIR: Thank you for having me.

TUR: Um, um, I hope you don't mind my sarcasm.

WEIR: No.

TUR: Senator Franken, are these the sort of allegations that will end up forcing him to resign?

WEIR: You know, I think we still need to see where this goes. It seems that some of this behavior was -- occurred before he was in office and even while he was in the middle of a satire piece, certainly not the one that you just described. We have to see where it goes. But I think -- again, it shows what a pervasive problem this is not only on Capitol Hill but for America. Sexual harassment is something that we are grappling with. We're at a tipping point in America. And I think we have to ask the question of, you know, looking at our brothers, our sons, our husbands in a different way and coming to terms with the fact that they may have engaged in behavior that at the time they thought was innocent, but in reflection, they realize because of their power and their status wasn't appropriate.

TUR: So where should we draw the line, Rebecca, for who should be publicly shamed, who should lose their job, who should lose their livelihood, and who just, um, needs, I mean, I don't know, needs a talking-to or needs to apologize? Where -- I mean, have we figured out where that line is?

WEIR: Right, this is a question I have been asking myself, you know, what am I gaining by coming forward with my story, what I hope will happen? And for me, it's mostly about change of a culture that is so pervasive and institutionalized on the Hill. But I think we're talking about a continuum of behavior. You know, groping is very different than an insensitive comment made in a meeting.

TUR: Right.

WEIR: Um, and, you know, we -- different situations are gonna require a different response. Certainly Roy Moore in the allegations of sexual child molestation against him I believe are disqualifying. Um, insensitive comment in a meeting? I don't know. I find myself hoping that the country will think about constructive confrontation and that women will feel empowered to confront their harassers in the moment.

TUR: Yeah, I mean, we’ve all had someone say something totally ridiculous or inappropriate to us even in an office setting by somebody who’s been above us. I mean, I certainly have growing up throughout this, this, um -- the time I’ve spent in the media. But, um, yeah, there is a line that I'm trying to figure out where exactly it is. But let's talk about Senator Franken. A number of the women that used to work in his office have released a statement defending him, and it reads in part: “Many of us spent years working for Senator Franken in Minnesota and Washington. In our time working for the Senator, he treated us with the utmost respect. He valued our work and our opinions and was a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our office.” How much weight does a statement like that have?

WEIR: I think it's compelling. But at the same time, it doesn't give Senator Franken a pass on what he did in these instances. Good people can do bad things. You saw with the head of the Democratic Party in Florida who recently resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment. You know, he came forward and said: I did this, I'm so sorry; I, you know, I had a personal failing; I'm gonna work on it, and for the good of the party, I'm stepping aside. You know, that's the kind of response that we would want to see from people acknowledging that there's a problem and working to correct it going forward so that true change can happen. And in order to do that, I think we need to create the space for men and women to not feel so threatened that, you know, they're gonna lose everything they’ve worked for, that one instance negates years of good.

TUR: Yeah.

WEIR: Again, that's where it comes back to this continuum of really understanding what kind of repercussions have to come with what kind of behavior.

TUR: Or at the very least that they’ll be taken seriously early on in their careers.

WEIR: Correct.

TUR: Lawyer Rebecca Weir. Rebecca, thank you very much for being here.

(...)


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