Jacques: Ladies, let’s not take this too far

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

I can’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,” Gillibrand 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.