On Friday’s Morning Joe, the MSNBC show’s hosts and guests spent most of their broadcast mourning the announced resignation of Minnesota Senator Al Franken from Congress in the wake of over half a dozen allegations of sexual assault against him. In a stunning display of hypocrisy, MSNBC’s liberal morning pundits went to extraordinary lengths to cast doubt on the women who have accused Franken of sexual misconduct, violating the network’s own oft-repeated standards for Republican and conservative politicians.
New York Times writer Bari Weiss was even brought on to complain about how “some innocent people are going to go down” as a result of what co-host Mika Brzezinski dubbed a “sex panic.” With so many liberal media and political figures biting the dust career-wise in recent weeks, the co-host also explicitly questioned the accuracy and honesty of Franken’s accusers, wondering repeatedly “if it happened” and whether “all women need to be believed.”
However, before diving into today’s show, let’s take a cursory glance back at how Morning Joe, The New York Times, and MSNBC have treated Republicans and conservatives who have been charged with committing sexual misconduct or those who have defended them. Were they given the benefit of the doubt or treated as principled defenders of due process?
Well, in short: Not at all.
In the lead up to the presidential election last year, The New York Times repeatedly pushed front-page allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Donald Trump in a completely uncritical fashion. In particular, NYT reporters Megan Twohey and Michael Barbaro published two separate pieces in 2016 painting Donald Trump as a serial sexual predator and a creepy pervert. Media outlets across the political spectrum published and broadcasted endless follow-up reports on woman after woman coming forward with more allegations similar to those originally put out by the Times.
Skipping forward to this year, MSNBC’s pundits have been absolutely relentless in rhetorically crucifying anyone on the political right who has come anywhere within ten feet of saying that Moore deserves more fact-finding or some sort of due process regarding the accusations against him of sexually assaulting and dating teenage girls. As I noted on NewsBusters on November 21st:
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.”
The next day, as NewsBusters also covered, Morning Joe devoted a significant portion of its show to labelling the Republicans as either the “party of pedophiles” or “child molesters” for not more vigorously opposing Moore’s candidacy.
So, according to MSNBC and NYT, at least with Republicans, the rules for sexual misconduct allegations seem pretty clear:
1) The female accusers are always telling the absolute truth.
2) Impeach/resign/expel/drop out now, [relevant person’s name]!
Okay, that’s not too hard to understand. So, how well did the liberal journos stick to these standards today on Joe?
Ehh, not too well. In fact, Morning Joe used a stunning array of methods to disparage the Franken accusers’ accounts of sexual assault [all times EST]:
BRZEZINSKI: I’m worried for women, I'm concerned about women who are legitimately sexually harassed in the workplace across America and where this is taking us. Ruth Marcus says it one way. She tackles the issue in her P-, Washington Post column and she says: “Was Al Franken's punishment fair?” And she writes, in part, this: “There's no doubt, in the case of Al Franken, that Democrats are better off with the Minnesota senator gone. There's more doubt about whether justice was done. The political calculus is simple: Franken had to go. With the grotesque picture of him groping, or pretending to grope, the breasts of a fellow USO performer, he would have been a nonstop distraction, muddling Democrats' case against” the “alleged groper President Trump and alleged child molester Roy Moore. Franken paid not only for their sins but also for the alleged behavior of Bill Clinton two decades ago. Democrats underreacted then and consequently were impelled to overreact now.”
And, um, the woman -- I mean, all this time along, and I’m gonna read another one, we’ve never really talked about the woman who first came out against Al Franken who’s in the picture that you say, Susan, is just the death knell. I would think a dress owned by Monica Lewinsky would bring down a president, but it didn't. So I'm surprised that you think a comedian’s picture of a performer, Playboy model who goes on Hannity, who voted for Trump -- um, you know, I see some politics there, but I haven't brought that up every step of the way because, of course, in this “me too” environment, you must always just believe the women. And I think that there's a lot of reasons why we need to look at the women seriously and believe them, and in many cases -- like, for example, I spoke to accusers in Mark Halperin, which, to which he admits a lot of what he's accused of doing. I spoke to them. I believe them. I'm just wondering if all women need to be believed. And I'm concerned that we are being the judge, the jury, and the cops here and so did Senate Democrats getting ahead of their skis. And, trust me, Kirsten Gillibrand, I want you to run for president, but you gotta keep it real.
SUSAN DEL PERCIO: But with -- when it comes to Al Franken, he's, he’s collateral damage. There's just no way else to put it.
BRZEZINSKI: That’s, okay, so I would appreciate if senators, um, Democratic senators would say the photo is too, uh, too dangerous. We recognize the work that he’s done for women. I have a list of, of, of legislation that he sponsored for victims of domestic violence and rape survivors. We appreciate his work at this time. Right now, that picture is too politically damaging and we prefer if he step aside. That would have been a more honest way of asking him to step down. In my opinion, just my opinion, I feel like we are, we’re just -- we've got a machine gun out, and we're just, you know, going around the room with every man that perhaps we don't like politically. I don't know. Here’s Masha Gessen. She says it a lot better than me. This is what concerns me. Sh-, uh, she writes in The New Yorker in a column entitled "Al Franken's Resignation and the Selective Force of #MeToo." And it reads in part this:
“The case of Franken makes it all that much more clear that this conversation is, in fact, about sex, not about power, violence, or illegal acts. The accusations against him, which involve groping and forcible kissing, arguably fall into the emergent, undefined, and most likely undefinable category of “sexual misconduct.” Put more simply, Franken stands accused of acting repeatedly like a jerk, and he denies that he acted this way. The entire sequence of events, from the initial accusations to Franken's resignation, is based on the premise that Americans, as a society, or at least half of a society, should be policing non-criminal behavior related to sex. If only Franken's heartbreakingly articulate expression of his loss were capable of focussing [sic] our attention on this root, and on the dangers of the drive to police sex.” The sex panic that is happening. Having said that, Kasie, there's a lot of work to be done on Capitol Hill.
KASIE HUNT: I think that there is. And, and, I think that the mood on Capitol Hill yesterday reflected some of the conflict that you have highlighted here. I think there was a lot of sadness among women, Democratic senators, who truly did actually feel that Franken has done good work on behalf of women.
SCARBOROUGH: Mika, so, the joke has been, I have, at times, put my arm down low and I said I'm going to put, you know, put what I called the “butt bar” to stop people from their hands wandering down.
[smiles and mild chuckling from panel, including Mika]
But guess what?
BRZEZINSKI: That's not funny. But, yeah.
SCARBOROUGH: No, no, but I’m just saying it happens and there's so many people. And sometimes people do it accidentally. I've had women, um,-
BRZEZINSKI: I just-.
SCARBOROUGH: -middle-aged women from Middle America do it to me through time. You know what you do? You're like – ugh, ugh. And it moves on. And you know what? You assume maybe it was a mistake, maybe it’s this, maybe it’s that. But, David Ignatius, for a guy to be going: Well gee, let’s see, I've had 10,000 people do this, and this woman says back in 2008 my hand wandered to her waist and maybe a little bit lower. If that is the new standard for destroying people's career, that is a dangerous, arbitrary standard. Not just -- I find that -- I, listen, I find that behavior gross and vile and when, and when people in photo lines do it to Mika, I just stop and stare, like, what the hell’s going on? I’m not justifying that gross behavior. I'm saying, to say to a senator who does this 10,000 times over a decade -- hey, back in 2009, you may not remember, but you grabbed me in the waist in a way that made me feel uncomfortable or went down to my, my butt.
DAVID IGNATIUS: No, we're all struggling to figure out what the new balance is, what the right standards are. A good starting point, obviously, as, as, as people keep saying is, conduct that makes women uncomfortable-
IGNATIUS: -is inappropriate and we need to think more about that as, as, as men, and in the workplace and in general. This is, as Time magazine told us, the year of the silence breakers.
IGNATIUS: I thought that was the right cover choice. Something big is happening in our culture. And, as with any big thing that happens, there's some kind of overreaction. We're not trying to feel our way, but the funda-.
SCARBOROUGH: [interrupting] Like, like, like for instance, the French Revolution.
IGNATIUS: Well, I don't think this is the French revolution.
SCARBOROUGH: [talking over Ignatius] No, no, I'm just saying. Some, some-.
IGNATIUS: [inaudible] People are not being taken to the guillotine. But, but I think you’ll find, you’ll find [inaudible].
BRZEZINSKI: [interrupting] Um, wait a minute.
SCARBOROUGH: [interrupting] How, how, how, how, how about – wait a second. But what about, what about -- and, and again, this is something, I think, that Masha talked about, or maybe it was Bari Weiss talked about it – this is going to keep going and it's going to keep steamrolling. And women have said this, not me, but it ultimately leads to a Duke lacrosse case, it ultimately leads to, ultimately leads to a Rolling Stone Virginia article, two stories which, by the way, while I've been at this network, we covered as the truth, I covered as the truth for a month.
IGNATIUS: Pe-, people get wronged in these investigations, and the two examples you cited are, are, are, are perfect ones. I'm just saying that, that, again, the Time magazine cover was right.
IGNATIUS: This is the year of the silence breaker.
BRZEZINSKI: I'm the first to-.
IGNATIUS: And, you know, I -- it was poignant to watch Al Franken, who in many ways has been a hardworking, decent legislator, who was a classmate of mine in college, this is a person I’ve known for many years, uh, see his political career shatter that way.
BRZEZINSKI: [agreeing] M-hm.
IGNATIUS: But, when you look at the fundamentals of what's going on, you’d, you’d have to say: He’s, he just got caught up in something-
IGNATIUS: -whose fundamental rightness, I -- it's, it’s, it’s just -- when I go home, talk to my wife and daughters, I don't hear a lot of s-, you know,-
IGNATIUS: -people saying: Stop this right now, it's just gone too far. I'm not hearing that at all.
BRZEZINSKI: No, I, I don't disagree, and I'm very torn apart by it. But I, I feel that to just be on one side of all of these stories sometimes is very dangerous.
[preceded by clips of Franken’s Senate speech yesterday]
BRZEZINSKI: And with that, Al Franken will be leaving office in the next few weeks. It’s pretty moving, twenty-minute speech that he made. Bari Weiss, you've been writing about this. Um, what's your perspective on what happened yesterday?
WEISS: Very smart politics. The Democrats have just -- are making themselves into the party of family values while the Republicans are now the party of people like Roy Moore who are alleged to have molested 14 and 16 year-old girls. Which is the more long-lasting and appealing political brand? I don’t even think there’s a contest. Also, they'll be able to keep Al Franken's seat because the governor will appoint, apparently, Tina Smith, his deputy, who conveniently is also a woman. So that's the political question. There's a different question here, though, which is the ethical one and the moral one. And that's much more gray. Right now, I fear that there's a sort of category collapse and a moral flattening happening which is that the punishment -- when a judge gives down a punishment, the punishment has to fit the crime. Does Al Franken deserve the same punishment as Harvey Weinstein, as Charlie Rose, as Matt Lauer, as Garrison Keillor, as Leonard Lopate, who doesn’t even know what he stands accused of, the public radio host who was public-, who was es-, physically escorted out of the WNYC building the other day because of an anonymous complaint? That's my fear, is that all of these people are having the same punishment, and in a way, it devalues the more serious allegations. That's my fear.
BRZEZINSKI: Well, we had a, a U.S. Senator who was sort of leading the charge on Al Franken resigning saying: You know what? She's tired of, of trying to make a differentiation between a, um, I don't have the exact word, but a grope, or a whatever, and assault, that it's all bad. They all should go? I mean?
WEISS: It's all bad. I'm not defending squeezing someone's butt.
BRZEZINSKI: But is there a difference?
WEISS: I think there is a difference. I think most Americans would think, think that there's a difference.
BRZEZINSKI: But wait a minute, that’s if-.
WEISS: Harvey Weinstein is a serial predator, you know.
BRZEZINSKI: I mean, hold on. Can we back up a little bit?
BRZEZINSKI: That's if it happened. Am I allowed to say that?
WEISS: He's denying that it happened.
BRZEZINSKI: Right. So am I allowed to say “if it happened,” or should we just assume it did?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, well, you know, that, that, that-.
WEISS: But it’s, it’s -- the problem is in this climate, even asking if it happened is such a risky thing to do. And I think that's dangerous.
BRZEZINSKI: I do too.
WEISS: Right, and I, I mean, this is part of, obviously, a much broader cultural moment in which, you know, companies and brands are deciding: We don't wanna touch this. We don't wanna be near someone who’s accused. But the problem is, is that some people, some innocent people are going to go down, and is that worth the price of sort of bringing down the patriarchy? A lot of feminists right now are saying: It's worth the price. I'm uncomfortable with that.
BRZEZINSKI: I am too.
Does MSNBC think we are stupid? Or maybe they’ve developed a nasty case of amnesia? In any case, their hypocrisy on covering sexual misconduct allegations against Democrats appears to be set to continue on heedless of the consequences.