Just when it seemed that the scandal involving former U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) -- who was photographed apparently groping female reporter Leeann Tweeden during a 2006 USO tour -- was finally over, along came HBO's Real Time host Bill Maher, who was pictured doing the same to fellow comedian Bob Saget during a plane trip to and from Hawaii.
The picture was tweeted by Maher early Thursday, January 4, and he also posted: “These New Year’s Hawaii trips are getting weird -- Saget, forgive me!”
Maher’s attempt at comedy took place two days after the Minnesota Democratic senator fulfilled his promise to step down on Tuesday, January 2, and his replacement, former Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith, was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence the following morning.
As was the case when the photo of Franken was made public in mid-November, reaction to Maher’s tweet was as quick as it was strong.
According to an article written by reporters Stephanie Haney and Jessica Finn for the Daily Mail website: Maher and Saget “are known for their off-color humor but have been slammed for going too far too soon by poking fun at Al Franken's groping snap.”
“Many of Maher's fans thought the stunt was funny,” they stated, “but others were quick to point out the tasteless nature of the joke, especially given Franken's official resignation on Tuesday."
In response to the tweet, some Twitter users echoed a sentiment of “not funny” and “too soon.”
One user asked: “Are you mocking Sen. Franken and the victim? Not cool.”
That prompted another person to respond, saying: “I think he’s mocking the Democrats’ decision to force Franken out.”
A poster named Authentic American "created a combined hashtag of the phrases ‘#MeToo' and '#TooSoon,' saying: '#MeTooSoon, Bill. Even if the Franken pic is of horseplay, it reminds many women -- and others -- about being mistreated and harassed.”
The #MeToo hashtag and social media version of the movement caught public attention after Harvey Weinstein was outed in October for pervasive abuse of power and rampant sexual assault over his decades-long career.
“Maher didn't clarify the intended message of the post,” the reporters added, “but many social media users pointed out that he's a comedian, and making light of current events is what comedians do.”
“Some also noted that when Franken took the photo that led to his political downfall … , it was before his career in public service and he, himself, was a comedian at the time,” Haney and Finn added.
John V. Lombardo then noted: “Jokes about sexual misconduct are easy, not funny, offensive.”
Maher should “get a new job,” Donna Stopnik responded.
RobotJ asserted that the tweet was “maybe probably in bad taste. I don’t think this is funny. Help change the game, Bill (and Saget), not keep it going the same. Use your platform and powers for good sir,” he added.
“I cannot believe Al Franken had to resign over a joke?” Michael Filler noted. “People cannot even take a joke these days?”
“His apology was heartfelt, enough for him to resign,” Filler added. “Why cannot people learn to forgive and to forget? But the president on the other hand gets to be president? Why?”
Another poster asked: “Starting off the new year in an especially offensive and insensitive way, aren't we, Bill? Al just left a couple days ago.”
Meanwhile, Haney and Finn noted, Franken “sang the praises of his replacement,” urging his Twitter followers to beginning following the new senator:
Tina Smith is a dedicated public servant who has worked tirelessly on behalf of Minnesotans.
I spoke with her last night, and I know she'll be an effective U.S. senator who brings people together to get things done. I'll be following [her]. Hope you do too.
In a post of her own, the new senator tweeted: “I'm looking forward to continuing to be a fierce advocate for Minnesotans and carrying on the progressive legacy of this seat. I hope you'll follow along here because I'm ready to get to work.”
As NewsBusters has often reported, Maher has been a left-wing activist for decades, including when he claimed that the Second Amendment was passed to enforce slavery.
In addition, Maher had previously inserted himself into the debate over the severity of Franken’s actions by saying the Democratic official deserved condemnation but did not deserve to be lumped in with the likes of Roy Moore, the former U.S. Senate candidate from Alabama who was accused of sexually assaulting and molesting children.
Since HBO has renewed Maher’s contract through 2020, it looks like the liberal host will continue to slam conservatives and Republicans for a long time to come.