Media Members Play Defense for Al Franken Amid Sexual Misconduct Scandal

November 17, 2017

Some members of the media have downplayed the sexual misconduct Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.) has apologized for committing in 2006, pointing to his contrition and even suggesting the photo of him with his hands over a woman's breasts as she slept was "mock groping."

Franken was photographed with his hands over the breasts of Leeann Tweeden, who was traveling on a USO tour with the then-comedian in 2006. She released the picture on Thursday and recounted how Franken also forcibly kissed her during rehearsal for a skit. Franken apologized without admitting to improper conduct besides what was pictured.

MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt downplayed Franken’s actions as the story was developing Thursday. Calling them "allegations" despite the fact that there is photographic evidence and Franken admitted wrongdoing, Hunt qualified Franken’s actions as "not actually groping, but mock groping."

Hunt summarized Franken’s actions in sanitized terms, not laying out Tweeden’s description of being forced to kiss Franken’s "slimy" mouth or feeling "violated."

"In a nutshell, she said she was on this USO tour that Al Franken wrote—he was a comedian then, not a senator—wrote into the script that he should kiss her," Hunt said. "Tried to get her to rehearse it. It was uncomfortable. She avoided him after that. Then he took a picture, which his office now says was of a joke, that showed him potentially—not actually groping, but mock-groping her while she was asleep."

On "Deadline: White House" Friday, host Nicolle Wallace and Wall Street Journal reporter Eli Stokols said Franken deserves credit for his contrition.

"Al Franken was contrite," Stokols said. He was echoing Wallace, who credited Franken for admitting and apologizing for his conduct.

On MSNBC Friday, political correspondent Garrett Haake said Franken "leaned into accepting responsibility," even though he admitted only to the groping charge, which was photographed. Franken did not take responsibility for forcing his tongue into Tweeden’s mouth, which he said he "remembers differently."

Haake credited Franken for agreeing to an ethics investigation and "quieting his critics in his own party and from the right."

"[Calling for an investigation] seems to have done a lot to quiet his critics in his own party and from the right, just to say that there's a process here and that he's willing to take part in it," Haake said.

Haake also commended Franken for apologizing to Tweeden, saying applause for that apology on ABC’s "The View" indicates that the scandal will "work its course."

"Bottom line, Leeann Tweeden reads this apology on ‘The View’ this morning—a show watched by women, hosted by women, very much in that demographic area—and when she's done reading the apology one of the hosts says, ‘You know, that’s pretty good,’ and the crowd applauds it," Haake said. "There seems to be a movement here towards allowing this to kind of work its course with Al Franken."

Haake did not mention that the audience and nearly all the hosts of "The View" skew to the left.

On Thursday, CNN’s chief political analyst Gloria Borger repeatedly expressed her trust in Franken’s contrition.

"I don’t doubt his remorse at all," Borger said, noting the picture but dismissing Tweeden’s account that Franken went even further. "He didn't remember the messy kiss, but whatever."

"I look at this and I look at Franken, and I’m sure he’s remorseful, I’m sure he’s beating himself up over it, because he is in a lot of trouble," Borger added.

Borger then noted that Tweeden is not calling for Franken to resign, which host Brooke Baldwin said is a "great point."

"He is suffering tremendously," Borger added, while noting that the ethics investigation was an "easy out."