Gropergate! The halls of Congress under siege!
When I was a young reporter on a certain newspaper in the South, fresh on a new job, I took a fancy to a sweet and pretty young woman (that’s how we talked in those days) working on what newspapers quaintly called “the Society pages.”
One day one of the older reporters, eager to be helpful, stopped by my desk. “It’s none of my business,” he said, “but the managing editor regards your young lady as his private stock.”
Perhaps the managing editor only wanted to inspire the object of my affections to a great career in journalism. But managing editors were fearsome beasts in those days and I knew how to take a wellmeant tip. I soon moved on to Washington — I heard later that the young lady married a lawyer — and in the nation’s capital I found out (newspapermen being quick learners) that senators are not the masters from Olympus they think they are, and are in fact a lot like managing editors, accumulating and cultivating private stock.
Nevertheless, the exposure of Al Franken as just another idol with feet of clay was hard for this old guy of crushed dreams and innocent heart to take. Ghost of Strom Thurmond, say it ain’t so. Al has been a tower of rectitude and virtue, serving here in the very shadow of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, and the charges against him are difficult for a patriot to believe.
The charges, sordid as they are, have been properly aged, like old bourbon or VSOP brandy. Al is accused of kissing (and in the style of the French, no less) a fellow thespian. Al has had a checkered career, and this was on a USO tour in to entertain the troops in the Middle East in the year 2006. He even posed laying his hands on her, though she was sleeping and dressed in a flak jacket. It’s not clear that Al’s hand ever touched even the flak jacket. Flak jackets are made of tough stuff, designed to stop, well, flak, and though Al might have the reputation as the last of the red-hot lovers, my money would be on the flak jacket in a test of stopping power. Modern flak jackets could stop Strom Thurmond. Still, as any feminist would tell you, it’s the thought that counts.
Al says it was all a joke on that drafty old C-47 flying across the cold Atlantic on a night lo, those many years ago, and he understands now that it wasn’t funny. Al’s jokes have never been particularly funny, as fans of the old “Saturday Night Live” episodes will remember, but, doggone it, he tried. He was at his best in a gorilla suit, playing off a straight man named Tom Davis.
Al spent most of Thursday apologizing to the lady late in the flak jacket, one Leeann (pronounced as two words) Tweeden, who has a radio program in Los Angeles, where sexual harassment, innuendo and suggestion were first raised to high art. He issued not one, but two apologies, the second at great length just in case the first one didn’t take. He has learned well the Senate tradition of bloviation as eloquence.
Such bloviation deserves more than a brief excerpt. “The first thing I want to do is apologize to Leeann,” he said in his declaration to the world, dropping to a knee but without the traditional diamond chip for milady’s finger, “to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has ever worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women.” The only party he omitted was Norm Coleman, the man he stole the Minnesota Senate seat from. “There’s more I want to say, but the first and most important thing — and if it’s the only thing you care to hear, that’s fine — is, I’m sorry.”
There’s more, as everyone expects of a senator. “For instance, that picture. [He means photograph, not picture]. “I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture.” And so on and so on, and so forth and so on.
Miss Tweeden’s recollection is 11 years old, as all such recollections seem to be, extracted from memories properly aged in the wood. Round and round it goes, and where it stops no one knows.
There is no statute of limitations on some felonies — murder, for example — and certainly not on crimes such as harassment, stalking, a furtive grope, the winking of a male male eye at a pretty girl. Gropergate is the crime of our century. Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
Al Franken and Leeann Tweeden