Ladies, let’s not take this too far

The Detroit News - - Front Page - Ijacques@de­troit­news.com

Ican’t be­lieve I’m do­ing this, but I’m com­ing to the de­fense of Min­nesota Sen. Al Franken. While he was ac­tu­ally pretty funny in his former life as a co­me­dian, he seems to have lost most of his hu­mor as a politi­cian. And he’s taken great plea­sure in grand­stand­ing and mock­ing Repub­li­cans he doesn’t like at Se­nate hear­ings. But Franken, who an­nounced Thurs­day he is re­sign­ing, shouldn’t have been forced out of his job over the sex­ual mis­con­duct ac­cu­sa­tions that have been lev­eled against him in re­cent weeks. At least not like this.

A hand­ful of women have made claims that Franken has cupped their pos­te­ri­ors dur­ing pho­tos or tried to kiss them, among other com­plaints. Most of these al­le­ga­tions are just that — there is no proof other than what the women have said (ex­cept for the pre-Se­nate photo of him with his hands on Cal­i­for­nia ra­dio host Leeann Twee­den while she was asleep). And on Thurs­day Franken said sev­eral of the in­ci­dents never hap­pened, and oth­ers did not hap­pen the way his ac­cusers claim. The most se­ri­ous charges, in­volv­ing Twee­den, oc­curred years be­fore Franken was elected.

Franken has pro­fusely apol­o­gized for of­fend­ing the women, even as he’s chal­lenged their ac­counts. In his Se­nate floor speech, he ex­pressed con­fi­dence that the ethics com­mit­tee would have cleared him once the facts were aired. He should have been given that op­por­tu­nity. But there is no due process for sex­ual harassment com­plaints. The ac­cused is au­to­mat­i­cally guilty. And ev­ery of­fense de­mands cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment.

The #MeToo up­roar (the “silence breakers” were re­cently named as person of the year by Time) has rooted out some dis­gust­ing be­hav­ior, and some pow­er­ful men have de­servedly lost their jobs and their rep­u­ta­tions. Men like Har­vey We­in­stein who abused their po­si­tions of in­flu­ence to ha­rass and as­sault women should be called out. The same goes for men like U.S. Rep. John Cony­ers of Detroit, who re­signed this week af­ter be­ing pum­meled with ac­cu­sa­tions of un­wanted grop­ing and sex­ual ad­vances by former fe­male staff mem­bers.

Not all of these ac­cu­sa­tions are equal, how­ever, and they shouldn’t be treated as such. Yet that’s what some prom­i­nent women are say­ing, in­clud­ing New York Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand, who started the call among sen­a­tors for Franken, a fel­low Demo­crat, to step down.

“While it’s true that his (Franken’s) be­hav­ior is not the same as the crim­i­nal con­duct al­leged against Roy Moore, or Har­vey We­in­stein, or Pres­i­dent Trump, it is still un­ques­tion­ably wrong, and should not be tol­er­ated by those of us who are priv­i­leged to work in pub­lic ser­vice,” Gill­brand wrote in a Face­book post. “...We should not have to be ex­plain­ing the gra­da­tions be­tween sex­ual as­sault, harassment and un­wel­come grop­ing. And what mes­sage do we send to our sons and daugh­ters when we ac­cept gra­da­tions of cross­ing the line?”

Gil­li­brand is no doubt har­ness­ing the #MeToo move­ment for her own po­lit­i­cal gain. But there is a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­tween rape and as­sault and a pat on the rear or a hand on a back. One Detroit me­dia per­son­al­ity has been ac­cused of sex­ual harassment for “pok­ing” a fe­male col­league on the shoul­der. An­noy­ing? Prob­a­bly. As­sault? No way.

Women who don’t draw lines be­tween such be­hav­ior are tak­ing this moment of power too far.

An­drew Harnik / AP

Sen. Al Franken shouldn’t have to re­sign over the ac­cu­sa­tions lev­eled against him, Jac­ques writes.

IN­GRID JAC­QUES

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