When #MeToo Got It Wrong: The Al Franken Controversy, One Year Later
It’s been a year since former Senator Al Franken resigned amidst accusations of sexual misconduct, but the controversy over Democrats’ treatment of Franken remains. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who led the charge against Franken, has lost supporters over her handling of the situation. Those who support Gillibrand, however, argue that Democrats were smart to push Franken out. The passage of time hasn’t made the Franken episode any less polarizing, perhaps because for many, it still feels unresolved.
Since there was no meaningful investigation into the accusations against Franken, the necessary conversation was cut short. The accusations were made, one after another, and within a matter of weeks one of the most beloved and effective Democratic senators was gone. By the time people spoke up on Franken’s behalf, it was already too late.
To this day, I still believe the way Democrats turned on Franken was unjustified. So even though it may not be smart or popular to defend him, I’m going to do it anyway. The accusations against Franken were questionable. The dominant narrative that he engaged in a “troubling pattern of behavior” was false. And the way Gillibrand and her colleagues rushed to force Franken out — when only 34 percent of women polled in Minnesota thought he should resign — was alarming. The larger goals of the #MeToo movement are desirable, but in Franken’s case, #MeToo got it wrong.
To understand why, let’s consider the strength of the accusations against Franken, examine the so-called “troubling pattern of behavior,” and assess whether or not getting rid of Franken has helped Democrats. At the end I’ll offer my overall take on the Franken situation.
If all you’ve seen about the Franken controversy are headlines like, “An Eighth Woman Accuses Franken of Misconduct” it’s understandable why you’d assume he was a sexual predator. After all, how could someone be wrongfully accused by eight women? In cases like Harvey Weinstein’s or Bill Cosby’s — where the pattern of behavior was so clear and the alleged conduct was undeniably sexual assault — assuming they were probably guilty was reasonable. But Franken’s case is different — both in the severity of the behavior alleged and the purported…