What Exactly Is Senator Al Franken Apologizing For?


FILE -- Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 5, 2017. A growing national outcry over sexual harassment reached the Senate on Nov. 16, when a radio newscaster accused Franken of kissing and groping her without consent during a 2006 USO tour of the Middle East before he took public office. Franken almost immediately released an apology to the newscaster, Leeann Tweeden. (Eric Thayer/The New York Times)

Senator Al Franken, fresh off more allegations that he groped the rear ends of women he took pictures with, is returning to work today. His fellow Democrats are trying to circle the wagons around him, giving him all sorts of credit for his supposed contrition.

Case in point, Senator Dick Durbin, speaking on CNN this weekend:

Al Franken has acknowledged what he did was wrong, and it was wrong. He’s also submitted his whole case to the Senate Ethics Committee. I think that was the right thing to do. Let’s have a hearing, an investigation. Let’s let this really reach whatever conclusion it’s going to reach, but through a due process. That to me makes sense. Others who have tried to run away through charges–you have to say Al Franken has faced it, and he’s done it in a responsible way.

The problem with the point Senator Durbin is making is that Franken hasn’t really acknowledged that he did anything wrong.

The most serious part of the initial accusation against Franken is that he forced a tongue kiss on model and broadcaster Leeann Tweeden back in 2006. Franken has addressed that accusation more than once, and while he has always couched his comments in apologetic language, he’s actually denying it.

“My recollection is different than hers,” Franken told Minnesota CBS affiliate WCCO of Tweeden’s account:

Franken also isn’t acknowledging that he did anything wrong with the women who are accusing him of groping them during photo shoots. “As I said, I take thousands of photos. I don’t remember these particular photos,” Franken told WCCO.

When asked directly if he’s ever put his hand “on some woman’s butt,” Franken continued to claim amnesia. “I can’t say that it hasn’t happened. In crowded chaotic situations, I can’t say I haven’t done that. I am very sorry if these women experienced that,” he said.

In summary, Franken is saying he’s sorry, but for what exactly? He denies the most serious of Tweeden’s accusations, and he claims he doesn’t remember groping any of the three other women who have accused him of inappropriate behavior. The only thing Franken is owning up to is that now-infamous photo of him pretending to grab Tweeden’s breasts during a USO flight, and that’s probably because there’s, you know, a photo.

I don’t know if Franken or Tweeden have the right of what happened on that USO tour. I also don’t know to what extent, if any, Franken groped these other women who have accused them. But I do know that the first step in apologizing is acknowledging that you did something wrong.

I don’t think Franken has done that yet, and we shouldn’t let those aiming to let him off the hook pretend as though he has.