Editor's Note: "This article was written while Leeann Tweeden was the only accuser against Al Franken. On the day it was scheduled to run, a second accuser came forward and I made the decision to forgo publication at that time. It is now two weeks later and there appear at this point to be perhaps six accusers, three of whom remain anonymous. The allegations, however, seem to not necessarily paint a conclusive portrait of events. The matter appears still somewhat unsettled. Accordingly and belatedly, this is the piece I held back on November 20, 2016."
Consent is the key. Consent is the cornerstone, the foundation of all sexual assault statutes in the U.S. and likely all nations. Although certainly not interpreted or applied uniformly across the wide spectrum of jurisdictions in equal measure.
What Leeann Tweeden did say was that the photograph Senator Al Franken staged 12 years earlier with him pretending to, or lightly touching her breasts as she slept and a kiss during a rehearsal of a scene, in the same time frame, in which a kiss was part of the script, were non-consensual.
What Al Franken said in part in a handwritten letter to Leeann Tweeden was, "Dear Leeann, I want to apologize to you personally. I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture. But that doesn't matter. There's no excuse. I understand why you can feel violated by that photo." Franken expresses culpability and regret. That in effect settles the matter of consent as it relates to the Tweeden allegations.
There are however two questions that these statements do not address. Why Al Franken, and why now?
On its website, Playboy magazine presents a brief bio sketch for Leeann Tweeden, who has appeared on its pages. Presumably the characterizations are Playboy's rhetorical enhancements and do not necessarily, or even accurately, represent Leeann Tweeden's true character.
Nonetheless, the Playboy bio presents as resume points associations with rather noteworthy entities that have clearly defined track records. They include Playboy itself, Hooters Restaurants, Frederick's of Hollywood, and Fox Broadcasting. Yes, there is a common thread. These organizations are all patently, demonstrably exploitive of women and women's sexuality. Fox Broadcasting has arguably the worst reputation of all, with scores of accusations of workplace sexual harassment it has had to negotiate in recent years.
Given that list of employment and professional associations, Leeann Tweeden would necessarily, without any doubt, have been subject to routine exploitation and on many occasions to varying degrees likely significant personal harassment. None of which abridges her right to withhold consent -- in any way -- or justifies Al Franken's conduct. It does not. But it does make her decision to go public with an 11-year-old grievance against a sitting U.S. senator stand out somewhat.
In a statement responding to Al Franken's apology letter, Leeann Tweeden spoke of a desire to "stand on the shoulders of these other women" in coming forward with her story. The other women she referred to were those who had shown the courage to speak out against sexual assaults committed against them and, we are left to read, which inspired her.
One such woman upon whose shoulder Leeann Tweeden's foot might rest could well be that of former Fox News anchorwoman Megyn Kelly. Kelly chronicled and helped expose not just the sexual harassment she endured at Fox but a pervasive, systemic, organization-wide pattern affecting a mind-boggling number of female colleagues. Leeann Tweeden was at Fox during the height of it, yet she utters not a word about the conditions and abuses there, and not a word in support of Kelly's assertions or those of the other women who showed the courage to come forward at Fox, and on whose shoulders she now purports to stand.
Beverly Young Nelson is yet another woman on whose shoulders Leeann Tweeden's weight might now be said to rest. Nelson accused Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore of having sexually assaulted her as a 16-year-old. Nelson felt it was necessary to dispel any implication of political motive. She was clear, asserting that both she and her husband were Republicans and Trump supporters. Leeann Tweeden, on the other hand, left those boxes blank on the form.
Leeann Tweeden is a woman who could have reasonably and legitimately named a long list of abusers. Why Al Franken, why now?
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