In spite of repeated proclamations from MSNBC pundits that anyone expressing a scintilla of skepticism about any claims of sexual misconduct must therefore support that gross misbehavior, MSNBC’s best and brightest repeatedly broke this self-imposed standard over the past week vis-a-vis the Al Franken sexual assault allegations. Morning Joe added to this shamelessly hypocritical coverage on Tuesday, questioning if the latest Franken accuser can “prove” her accusation that Franken shoved his tongue in her mouth. The hosts also waffled on whether or not Franken should suffer any serious consequences for his alleged sexual crimes, with co-host Willie Geist wondering whether Franken should be treated as a “pariah” and “have his life ruined and thrown out.”
The brief segment in question came after an extended commercial-free discussion of practically all the sexual harassment scandals that have dominated media coverage over the past couple of weeks, with everyone from Charlie Rose to media favorite Roy Moore making appearances in the discussion. After having already gone over his case earlier, co-host Mika Brzezinski re-focused the conversation on Franken and pondered the significance of the accusations against him by reflecting on her own experiences of sexual harassment:
BRZEZINSKI: Then now think about Al Franken. Like, I do- -- I'm just not comfortable with this. It’s, it, it -- I don't want to step on a mine and say that that behavior or that picture is acceptable. It's not. But is it the same? And by the way, I do these, um, you know, book tours with Joe and we do, like, pictures with a thousand people. Am I allowed to say how many times my butt has been grabbed? I mean, I don't know. I'm not saying it's okay. I’m just saying is that-
JOE SCARBOROUGH: [interjecting] By the way, with me right there.
BRZEZINSKI: I’m, I would-
SCARBOROUGH: And I put, you know, it’s like, it’s-
KATTY KAY: And you got a protective guy.
BRZEZINSKI: No, he literally had to pull the hand off my butt.
SCARBOROUGH: Sometimes it slides down, sometimes it’s whatever.
BRZEZINSKI: Now, is that a sex crime? I just -- where are we?
SCARBOROUGH: And by the way, hold on. But you’re not saying that's okay.
BRZEZINSKI: No! Believe me, I didn’t like it. Not enjoying it.
From this initial exchange, it seemed clear that the panelists were prepared to unequivocally condemn the type of sexual assault that Franken is alleged to have committed, but this didn’t hold up for long. Scarborough’s next move was to suggest that Al Franken did nothing deserving of serious opprobrium. What was his reasoning? Apparently, the “very conservative” National Review and The New York Times both back up his argument:
What's interesting, Katty, is you have, you have the National Review, a very conservative outlet, saying Al Franken doesn't deserve the death penalty. You have Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times saying the same thing. And there have been a lot of conservatives I saw on Twitter yesterday saying the same thing, like, are -- with Al Franken, are we jumping the shark? So this seems to be a case that is not tribal. A lot of conservative thought leaders and a lot of Democrats are starting to say: [waves his hands] Wait.
The National Review article (which was brought up earlier on in the show) that Scarborough referred to did make the case that what Franken has been accused of is not really that serious, but the author’s primary argument was actually a broader set of points opposing the assumptions of third-wave feminism (and MSNBC):
[C]onservatives should be careful about joining this. Every time the definition of rape, abuse, or molestation is brought down another notch and this new low-water mark is agreed on across the political spectrum, the prospect for a different type of harm increases. If we agree for short-term political pleasure that Franken is guilty of serious sexual molestation for an unfunny photograph taken years ago and for a sloppy and unwanted pass at a woman, then two things are certain to happen.
The first is that the difference between bad manners and rape will become blurred yet further.
Second, this opportunistic process risks embedding the now-prevailing narrative of third-wave feminism, which is that men are all rapists or proto-rapists and that women in our society tread a constant and violent minefield their entire lives when dealing with the male sex. This narrative — which for many young men and women is making relationships too complex to be worth having — needs to be pushed back against, not enforced.
While this argument is certainly worth considering on its own merits, by MSNBC's standards, the National Review article is clear evidence that the magazine is a “totally corrupt enterprise” defending sexual abuse. So why would Joe cite it to engage in apologia for Franken? I can only suppose that as long as Joe is throwing cold water on the Franken accusations, any breach of protocol is acceptable.
More significantly, Scarborough’s citation of Michelle Goldberg’s piece as a defense of Franken was especially atrocious. In the op-ed, Goldberg recanted her prior call for the Democratic senator to resign primarily based on arguments for political expediency, but she also denied that sexual assault is a crime and heaped adoration on Franken for his dedication to “women’s rights” (see here for more details).
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If Scarborough really wants to go down that path, he should be wary. Less than two weeks ago on Morning Joe, MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace and USA Today reporter Heidi Przybyla excoriated Republicans for even qualifying their condemnations of Roy Moore’s alleged sexual criminal activity with “if true” prefixes. More damningly, only five days ago, Wallace and MSNBC analyst John Heilemann lambasted the entire Fox News network for Sean Hannity’s plea for the truth to come out in Moore’s case, interpreting this as an endorsement of “child molestation.”
Of course, on second thought, if MSNBC’s journalists don’t actually care about evenly applying their harsh rules across the board, then Scarborough is probably in the clear.
After Joe’s farcical attempt at white-knighting on Franken’s behalf, BBC World News anchor Katty Kay jumped into the conversation and committed the liberal mortal sin of mildly doubting the absolute veracity of the accuser:
KAY: The thing about the Al Franken story, I, I mean I, I’m un- -- I don't know about this one. And, you know, he did stick his tongue, allegedly,-
BRZEZINSKI: [interjecting] Allegedly.
KAY: -forcibly in somebody's mouth. If that was proven to be the case, what message if he doesn't go does that send to other potential people who might do that?
[Mika and Joe cut in at the same time]
BRZEZINSKI: How does-?
SCARBOROUGH: [starts talking over Kay] And how is that gonna be -- how’s that gonna be proven to be the case?
KAY: Well, I don’t know how. Becau- -- I guess you have an ethics inquiry, that’s the process.
BRZEZINSKI: [interrupting, talking over Kay] I guess it's just us. We’re the judge, the jury, and the cops, and the accusers are too. And that’s not gonna help.
KAY: [talking over Mika] Or you wait and see what -- how the story develops and if there are other incidents that emerge.
This snippet was a bit difficult to make out in parts due to near-constant crosstalk, but at no point did Kay appear to receive even the slightest backlash for calling into question Lindsay Menz’s (the latest Franken accuser’s) story of having her butt grabbed by the Democratic senator. While there shouldn’t normally be an issue with calling for a more complete version of the truth with regard to any accusations of criminal or morally questionable behavior, MSNBC’s journalists are the ones who have so fiercely insisted on labeling anyone who doubts an accuser’s claims as being the worst kind of human being imaginable, so I guess that Kay now falls in that category as well.
Co-host Willie Geist closed out the segment by relaying a completely ridiculous anecdotal story about how women he has spoken to in private have expressed their lack of a desire to put Franken on par with Harvey Weinstein. This seemed to be an attempt to concur with Scarborough’s previous minimizations of the allegations against Senator Franken:
GEIST: Your question about degrees of this is when [sic] we talked about when Donny was here on Friday as well. And it's a conversation I’ve had for the last couple of weeks with women, with women. How do you feel about this? Is Al Franken -- or when you say Al Franken, it becomes protecting the Democrats. Let’s say politician X doing what he did in the same boat, should his picture be on the same graphic on TV with Harvey Weinstein, who now we know is a serial predator, an alleged rapist, and all of these things that he’s been accused of? Should they both be run out of public life? Should they both be thrown off the stage? And the answer I've gotten from most women is “no.”
GEIST: And that, to your point, Mika, isn’t -- does not excuse the first behavior.
BRZEZINSKI: It’s all bad.
GEIST: It says those are both gross and if somebody did that I would report it and I don’t like it.
BRZEZINSKI: [interjecting] And we’re finally here.
GEIST: But do I think he's a pariah and should have his life ruined and thrown out? And again, I'm not just talking about Al Franken, I'm talking about the degrees of the kind of sexual harassment and assault we’ve been talking about.
Geist neither answered his own question nor explained who precisely has called for Weinstein and Franken to be put on the same moral level of condemnation, and no one on the panel asked for clarification. Instead, they shifted back to talking about Charlie Rose and other topics of the day.