Al Franken has apologized for his loathsome behavior in groping and kissing a fellow USO tour member, which may have something to do with the fact that there is a damning picture that is impossible for him to deny.
Some might be tempted to assume that this episode is not representative of the man’s character and that Franken is an otherwise decent human being.
A representative sample of Al Franken’s brand of humor
Yet there’s no denying that this incident is perfectly representative of Franken’s brand of humor.
Here’s another example of the Franken comedy approach- an excerpt from his interview with the Harvard Crimson in 1976, Franken is talking about Harvard’s Hasty Pudding revue:
Franken started to smile again, but his tone was serious, too serious. “It’s not preppies, cause I’m a preppie myself. I just don’t like homosexuals. If you ask me, they’re all homosexuals in the Pudding. Hey, I was glad when that Pudding homosexual got killed in Philadelphia.” The smile became so broad it pushed his eyes shut. He couldn’t stand it any longer. “Put that in, put that in,” Franken laughed, leaning over the desk. “I’d love to see that in The Crimson.”
Didn’t get the joke? Try this article, describing Franken’s input in a Saturday Night Live writer’s meeting.
During the meeting, writers are brainstorming about how to develop a sketch in which one of the actors plays “60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney, who finds an empty pill bottle in his desk. According to the article, Franken’s suggestion includes Rooney saying: “I give the pills to Leslie Stahl. Then when Leslie is passed out, I take her to the closet and rape her. Or ‘That’s why you never see Lesley until February. Or, ‘When she passes out. I put her in various positions and take pictures of her.’”
Still not funny? Perhaps you’re just not one of the cool kids who knows good satire when you see it. Franken’s metier involves doing saying or doing something vicious, mean-spirited, and wildly inappropriate, and then expecting the audience to accept that it’s comedy and therefore exempt from critical judgment.
Al Franken excoriates conservatives for the ‘lies’, but what about his lies?
Recall, for instance, that the comedian first foray into incisive political commentary with a 1996 tome titled Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, which, as its title suggests, is more invective than satire.
Franken is proud of writing about the “size-78 suit squeezing Rush’s some six-hundred pound frame like so much sausage casing.” That’s hilarious, apparently, because Rush is a “blimp,” and Newt Gingrich is “a big fat jerk,” and Richard Armey is a “big dick.”
The book is replete with similarly childish insults aimed at any and all of Franken’s ideological foes, although most of the time, it’s just “Rush-is-fat” jokes. Apparently, sophisticated people recognize these things as arch, witty satire and not just juvenile body shaming and third-grade playground taunts.
Franken uses a double-standard about lying to write about ‘liars’
That same level of sophistication is necessary to reconcile Franken’s contempt for liars with his repeated willingness to shamelessly lie in order to make fun of people he doesn’t like.
In preparation for his second political screed, Franken sent a letter on the official stationery of the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft asking him to contribute to “a book about abstinence programs in our public schools entitled, ‘Savin’ It!’”
Of course, there was no such book. Franken was lying in order to collect material to embarrass the Attorney General. Again, perhaps sophisticated people would have caught that from the biting tone of the original letter, but the apparently unsophisticated Shorenstein Center was among the unamused.
They demanded that he write an apology to Ashcroft and admit that he had placed the prestigious university in an “awkward and difficult position” by lying in order to get fodder for his book, unironically (at least to Franken) titled Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.
In Franken’s world, there is no double standard in lying in order to write a book about liars as long as the liars being skewered are conservative.
To Al Franken, Al Franken’s lies are ‘absolutely necessary’
You’d think he would have learned his lesson, but he decided to conduct a similar fraud on Bob Jones University, the evangelical college that has been a frequent object of ridicule for its creationist leanings and its one-time ban on interracial dating.
Franken thought it would be hysterical to go down to South Carolina and lie to the folks at Bob Jones about his son Joe being a prospective student in order to catch these religious bumpkins doing stupid things. Joe wanted no part of it.
“Leave these people alone!” Joe told his father, as recounted in Lying Liars, Chapter 31. “What did they do to you?”
That wasn’t enough to persuade Papa Franken from moving forward with the scheme. Al called Bob Jones University to arrange a tour, and the university repeatedly called back to facilitate the visit in advance. Franken recounts the details in his book:
Joe actually answered a few times, getting angrier and angrier at me because he was now being forced to lie. Something the Frankens don’t do. Unless it’s absolutely necessary. (Emphasis added.)
It is up to the individual reader if it was “absolutely necessary” for any Franken to lie to embarrass Bob Jones University. Franken still went ahead with the plan and was inevitably discovered by the faculty, who, by Franken’s own admission, were still “extremely nice” even after they recognized Franken’s attempt to humiliate them.
Franken confessed to a “subversive thrill in deceiving people” that was also accompanied by “an unsettled feeling,” because, you know, lying is wrong.
“How do lying liars do it?” he asks rhetorically, exempting himself from the category he created because, well, reasons.
Is an endnote a footnote, or is a footnote an endnote?
The reader can thus be assured that while Franken isn’t a lying liar, surely Ann Coulter is. After all, she merits two chapters in Lying Liars all to herself – “Chapter Two – Ann Coulter: Nutcase,” and “Chapter Three – You Know Who I Don’t Like? Ann Coulter.”
While there is no doubt that Coulter herself is an abrasive and divisive polemicist, it’s curious as to which of her “lies” are particularly offensive to Franken’s sensibilities.
Franken’s biggest problem with Coulter is her use of footnotes, as evidenced by his five-page section of Chapter Two subtitled “How To Lie With Footnotes.” The primary thesis of this section is that Coulter is egregiously dishonest because she claimed to have 780 footnotes in her book Slander.
Ann Coulter doesn’t have footnotes in Slander. She has zero footnotes. She does have thirty-five pages of endnotes. Footnotes are easy to reference. They’re at the bottom, or “foot,” of the page. Endnotes are much harder to reference. If you are using your “footnotes” to lie, make them endnotes.
Coulter wrote a column in which she responded thusly:
Yes, notes at the end of a book are technically “endnotes,” not “footnotes.” Franken will have to take his case up with the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and the rest of the universe – all of which referred to my 780 endnotes as “footnotes.” Also, God, for inventing the concept of “colloquial speech.”
Here’s the reason why Al Franken lies about footnotes
But there is method to Franken’s mad focus on footnote minutiae. Later in the book, he excoriates Coulter for writing in “Slander” that Newsweek’s Washington Bureau Chief Evan Thomas “is the son of Norman Thomas, a four-time Socialist candidate for president,” a claim that merits a great deal of Frankenian outrage, complete with a transcript of a conversation with Evan Thomas where both Thomas and Franken conclude there is “something seriously wrong” with Coulter.
Franken drones on and on for a page and a half about how Norman Thomas was not Evan Thomas’ father – without saying that he was Evan’s grandfather. This was one of about five inconsequential errors quickly corrected in “Slander” – and cited 1 million times by liberals as a “lie.” Confusing “father” with “grandfather” is a mistake. Franken’s deliberate implication that there was no relationship whatsoever between Norman and Evan Thomas is intentional dishonesty.
Yes, it is. And how does Franken explain it? “Of course I do say that Norman Thomas was Evan’s grandfather,” he writes. “In my endnotes.”
Remember when all hell broke loose when ______ criticized John McCain for being captured in the Vietnam War?
So when Coulter mistakenly cites false information, it’s fraud, but when Franken deliberately misleads via endnotes, it’s comedy. The lying liars are other people. They’re also the rubes who aren’t in on the joke.
A similar double standard is thick on the ground when it comes to how Franken’s statements are treated by the media at large. Remember when, during the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump said the following about John McCain?
But this whole ‘war hero’ thing — I don’t get it. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, he sat out the war. I mean, anyone can get captured! Am I wrong, but isn’t the idea to capture the other guy?
Oh, sorry. Trump did say something similar on the campaign trail, which resulted in a hailstorm of appropriate media opprobrium for his callous dismissal of McCain’s brutal torture at the hands of the Viet Cong.
But no, the preceding quote was Al Franken from Lying Liars, echoing a statement he had made in 2000 in an interview with Salon.com. “I have tremendous respect for McCain but I don’t buy the war hero thing,” he said back then. “Anybody can be captured. I thought the idea was to capture them. As far as I’m concerned, he sat out the war.”
Again, perhaps sophisticated people find that funny, although they certainly didn’t when Trump said it. To be charitable, perhaps it was because Franken wasn’t an elected official at the time.
A primer on how fraudulent liars steal Senate elections
And how did Franken become an elected official? Well, technically, he didn’t. He lost his race for the senate to incumbent Republican Norm Coleman by a 725-vote margin. But that margin was close enough that it triggered an automatic recount.
Almost instantly, technical errors materialized, all shifting the vote totals closer to Franken. In a day, Coleman’s lead was slashed from 725 votes to 204 votes.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the shenanigans:
The vanishing Coleman vote came during a week in which election officials are obliged to double-check their initial results. Minnesota is required to do these audits, and it isn’t unusual for officials to report that they transposed a number here or there. In a normal audit, these mistakes could be expected to cut both ways. Instead, nearly every “fix” has gone for Mr. Franken, in some cases under strange circumstances.
For example, there was Friday night’s announcement by Minneapolis’s director of elections that she’d forgotten to count 32 absentee ballots in her car. The Coleman campaign scrambled to get a county judge to halt the counting of these absentees, since it was impossible to prove their integrity 72 hours after the polls closed. The judge refused on grounds that she lacked jurisdiction.
Up in Two Harbors, another liberal outpost, Mr. Franken picked up an additional 246 votes. In Partridge Township, he racked up another 100. Election officials in both places claim they initially miscommunicated the numbers. Odd, because in the Two Harbors precinct, none of the other contests recorded any changes in their vote totals.
According to conservative statistician John Lott, Mr. Franken’s gains so far are 2.5 times the corrections made for Barack Obama in the state, and nearly three times the gains for Democrats across Minnesota Congressional races. Mr. Lott notes that Mr. Franken’s “new” votes equal more than all the changes for all the precincts in the entire state for the Presidential, Congressional and statehouse races combined (482 votes).
Doesn’t matter. The fix was in. Franken was eventually certified as the winner by a 312-vote margin. Later, it was demonstrated that 1,099 ineligible felons voted in the election, and 177 people were convicted of voter fraud.
Surely that should have been enough to undermine the integrity of the election results, but if Franken was troubled by this, he showed no signs of it. He insisted that the press refer to him as “Senator-elect” shortly after the election, even though it took eight months to actually seat him.
None of that history is troubling to Franken’s supporters, and prior to this latest incident, Franken was being touted as a possible presidential contender.
Perhaps his quick and forthright apology will keep those hopes alive, although voters ought to be reminded that there are plenty of reasons to despise Al Franken that have nothing to do with pictures of him groping women in their sleep.
(Photo of Al Franken in the Hart Senate Office Building in November 2016 by Lorie Shaull used with permission.)