The Greater of Two Evils: Sexual Misconduct

In November 2017, two well-known political figures were rocked with allegations of sexual misconduct. The first to face accusations, Republican candidate for junior Alabama Senator Roy Moore, was accused of predatory behavior toward several underage girls during his time as a district attorney. The other, Democratic Senator from Minnesota Al Franken, was accused of harassment and inappropriate behavior toward various women he’d interacted with at various events.

Both kinds of actions were wrong. But as I’ve described before[1], “wrong” exists on a spectrum, and just because you can use the same word to describe them doesn’t mean they’re equivalent. Even before assessing anything else about the claims, a side-by-side comparison reveals that one set of accusations has far more sinister implications than the other:

Al Franken’s accusations: Roy Moore’s accusations:
Aggressively kissed comedian Leeann Tweeden in a rehearsal for a USO skit (in which the kiss was scripted), then appears in a photograph to have groped her breasts while she is wearing body armor.[2] Kissed and groped Leigh Corman when she was 14 and he was 32; removed her and his clothes and guided her hand to grope him in the same encounter.[3]
Groped Lindsay Menz’s clothed buttocks during a pose for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010.[4] Groped Beverly Young Nelson and forcibly attempted to initiate fellatio when she was 16 and he was 30, then attempted to intimidate her with his status as District Attorney.[5]
Two women anonymously accused Franken of groping them at Democratic political events[6] Forcefully kissed 17- or 18-year-old Gena Richardson in a dark parking lot behind a mall as a 30-year-old[7]
Groped Stephanie Kemplin’s breasts while posing for a photo on a USO tour.[8] Asked out 17-year-old Kelly Harrison Thorp as a 35-year-old. When she asked him if he knew how old she was, he replied “Yeah. I go out with girls your age all the time.”[9]

 

Both sets of accusations describe immoral behavior, but I will not insult the reader by explaining why pursuing sexual encounters with underage girls as a grown man would be worse than groping and kissing fully-grown women who didn’t want it.

Now that the claims have been laid out, what follows is an examination of their veracity. Once again, there is a clear asymmetry:

Al Franken Roy Moore
Franken’s accusers approached the media, not the other way around, doing exactly what Roy Moore said “true victims” don’t do[10] (this is less to discredit Franken’s accusers than to demonstrate Moore’s hypocrisy—see left). Roy Moore’s first round of accusers did not approach the media; they were approached by a reporter who was investigating Moore’s past and found evidence of his contact with them. By Moore’s own standards, they did what true victims normally do, though he later painted them as attention-seekers.[11]
Two of Franken’s five accusers[12] were anonymous, making their claims difficult, if not impossible, to verify.[13] Roy Moore had nine noteworthy accusers through the special election on December 12, 2017, all of whom identified themselves publicly.[14]
Franken acknowledged the incident with Leeann Tweeden, though he said he didn’t remember the rehearsal (with the forced kiss) the way she did. Tweeden accepted the apology and said she believes he’s “disgusted” by his own actions.[15] Faye Gray, a 37-year veteran of the Gadsden, AL police force, said that they were told to “watch him at the ballgames and make sure that he didn’t hang around the cheerleaders” and that “The rumor was that Roy Moore likes young girls.”[16]
Moore contradicted himself, initially admitting that he knew and possibly dated Gibson and Deason, but later denying that he knew any of his accusers.[17]
Kayla McLaughlin, a classmate of Gena Richardson’s who worked at the same Sears at the time Moore allegedly approached her, corroborated Richardson’s account.[18]

 

In Franken’s case, there were fewer accusations, some of which were anonymous, and none of which were corroborated by outside evidence, unlike Moore’s. Franken also never got caught in a lie the way Moore did, and apologized for making Leeann Tweeden uncomfortable, saying that while it was inappropriate, it was unintentional—a much harder excuse to swallow in Roy Moore’s case.

This disparity goes beyond just Franken and Moore as individuals, however; the response of voters, party officials, and the accused themselves was also vastly different in both cases:

Al Franken Roy Moore
Franken immediately pushed for an ethics committee investigation[19] on himself. In his first public appearance after the accusations, Moore called the accusations “dirty politics,” and “malicious and false attacks.” He also released an ad saying the accusations were “a scheme by liberal elites and the Republican establishment.”[20]
By November 16, over two dozen Democratic Senators, including Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Dianne Feinstein, Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, Tim Kaine, and Ron Wyden, had issued statements denouncing Franken’s actions and calling for an investigation[21] Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he believed the women and pushed Moore to drop out of the race.[22] Other major GOP figures, however, including President Trump, fully endorsed his campaign[23]
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez initially did not call for Franken’s resignation, but did so by December 12. The Republican National Committee initially withdrew support for Moore’s campaign, but re-established its support in the following weeks, offering campaign funds and on-the-ground support.
Franken ultimately resigned from his Senate seat[24] Roy Moore continued his campaign, despite the gravity of the charges and the weight of the evidence described above, and persisted in disputing the results of the election weeks after losing[25]

 

A clear pattern has been established: Franken’s worst accusations were of harassment against grown women; Moore’s were of outright predation against a much greater number of underage girls. The evidence for Franken’s accusations were simply the testimony of the accusers; the evidence for Moore’s included corroboration from witnesses and local law enforcement. Franken’s party condemned his behavior and withdrew its support; Moore’s party had a mixed response at best, and its national committee ultimately supported his campaign to join the United States Senate. Neither case is black and white, but one shade of gray is definitely darker than the other.

The pattern extends beyond these two recent cases. Even in the 2016 presidential election, there were accusations of sexual misconduct directed at both sides, but in no other way were equivalent. In the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton carried the burden of defending her husband’s alleged crimes, not her own, while Donald Trump’s alleged crimes were his own. Perhaps foremost among these allegations was that of raping his first wife Ivana. Trump biographer Harry Hurt III obtained a sworn deposition by Ivana during her and Donald’s divorce proceedings in 1989. In this deposition, Ivana described how Donald “raped” her (her words) after angrily accusing a doctor she recommended for a scalp reduction of “ruining” him. Hurt described the event as follows:

The Donald flings Ivana down onto the bed. Then he pins back her arms and grabs her by the hair. The part of her head he is grabbing corresponds to the spot on his head where the scalp reduction operation has been done. The Donald starts ripping out Ivana’s hair by the handful, as if he is trying to make her feel the same kind of pain that he is feeling.

Ivana starts crying and screaming. The entire bed is being covered with strands of her golden locks. But The Donald is not finished. He rips off her clothes and unzips his pants. Then he jams his penis inside her for the first time in more than sixteen months.

Ivana is terrified. This is not lovemaking. This is not romantic sex. It is a violent assault. She later describes what The Donald is doing to her in no uncertain terms. According to the versions she repeats to some of her closest confidantes, “He raped me.”[26]

Hurt published this description in his book Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump, which was published in 1993, long before Trump’s political ambitions ever became serious. Ivana later refused to characterize the incident as rape—but has been under a gag order since the divorce, preventing her from publicly discussing anything about their marriage without Donald’s permission[27]. Many more accusations piled up over the decade and a half between that publication and the 2016 election; The New Yorker reports that by October 2016, the number had gotten as high as twenty. October 2016, of course, was the month the infamous Access Hollywood tape was released, in which Trump was caught telling Billy Bush “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

This was dismissed as merely being “locker room talk” by many Trump supporters[28]. In a vacuum, this may have been plausible, but given Trump’s documented history, one cannot simply resort to such a trivial explanation. No matter how paper-thin the excuses were, Trump still was rewarded with the office of the President, becoming the most powerful man on the planet. Meanwhile, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, and Anthony Wiener, all of whom were accused of some form of sexual harassment or assault in the mid-2010’s and were all affiliated with the Democrats in some way, were all punished for their wrongdoings—as they should have been. Spacey and Weinstein faced no legal consequences, but they were both publicly humiliated, removed from projects[29], blacklisted in their industry[30], and in Weinstein’s case, subjected to criminal inquiries[31]—not given even more prestige and power the way Trump was. Weiner, meanwhile, was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison and required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life[32]. Much like with Franken and Moore, however, the mere fact that there were Democrats getting caught in sex scandals was enough to allow the right-wing media to claim equivalency.

The pattern is clear, and that’s without bringing up how Matt Lauer of NBC (clearly a tool of the Liberal Media™) was fired immediately after a female NBC employee internally reported that Lauer had harassed her[33], while Bill O’Reilly and his employer Fox News settled sexual harassment lawsuits going all the way back to 2002, with payouts totaling $13 million[34]; it took Fox nineteen days to fire O’Reilly after the initial reports from 2017, and only after the station hemorrhaged advertisers[35].

I could also bring up Dennis Hastert, the GOP Congressman who became one of the longest-running Speakers of the House in history but admitted to having abused multiple young boys and was described by a judge as a “serial child molester.”[36]

Both sides of American politics have had their faults, their problems, their monsters—but they are not equal. Dismissing one-sided criticism of the Republicans by saying “both sides are bad” is technically correct but useless, misleading, and sometimes downright propagandistic. It allows the casual viewer to remain under the impression that anyone claiming one side is worse than the other must simply be a partisan hack, while ignoring the fact that sometimes the truth isn’t actually in the middle, contrary to the popular saying. All it does is muddy the waters—much to the delight of those who wish to recover their status by dragging others down to their level.

[1] https://nextfiveminutes.com/2018/01/23/the-greater-of-two-evils/

[2] Wang, A. B., Lee, M. Y., & Bever, L. (2017, November 16). ‘Al Franken kissed and groped me without my consent,’ Leeann Tweeden says. The senator apologized. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/11/16/al-franken-kissed-and-groped-me-without-my-consent-broadcaster-leeann-tweeden-says/?utm_term=.0dac5a4357e6

[3] McCrummen, S., Reinhard, B., & Crites, A. (2017, November 09). Woman says Roy Moore initiated sexual encounter when she was 14, he was 32. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/woman-says-roy-moore-initiated-sexual-encounter-when-she-was-14-he-was-32/2017/11/09/1f495878-c293-11e7-afe9-4f60b5a6c4a0_story.html?utm_term=.2b041c34ec5e

[4] Lee, M. (2017, November 20). Woman says Franken inappropriately touched her in 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/20/politics/al-franken-inappropriate-touch-2010/index.html

[5] Gore, L. (2017, November 13). Who is Beverly Young Nelson? Alabama woman claims Moore attacked her when she was 16. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2017/11/who_is_beverly_young_nelson_al.html

[6] Hatch, J., & Roth, Z. (2017, November 27). Two More Women Accuse Sen. Al Franken Of Inappropriate Touching. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/al-franken-two-more-women-groping_us_5a15a455e4b09650540ec295

[7] McCrummen, S., Reinhard, B., & Crites, A. (2017, November 15). Two more women describe unwanted overtures by Roy Moore at Alabama mall. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/two-more-women-describe-unwanted-overtures-by-roy-moore-at-alabama-mall/2017/11/15/2a1da432-ca24-11e7-b0cf-7689a9f2d84e_story.html?utm_term=.2e6a8f389599

[8] Al Franken: Fifth woman comes forward with accusations against senator. (2017, November 30). Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.10news.com/news/national/fifth-woman-comes-forward-with-accusations-against-al-franken

[9] Vollers, A. C. (2017, November 15). New Roy Moore accuser: ‘He didn’t pinch it; he grabbed it’. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2017/11/new_roy_moore_accuser_he_didnt.html

[10] Devaney, J. (2017, November 27). Roy Moore: Legit Accusers Don’t Seek Attention From the Media. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.newsmax.com/politics/sexual-misconduct-allegations-accusers-senate/2017/11/27/id/828379/

[11] Devaney, J. (2017, November 27). Roy Moore: Legit Accusers Don’t Seek Attention From the Media. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.newsmax.com/politics/sexual-misconduct-allegations-accusers-senate/2017/11/27/id/828379/

[12] According to a 12/6/17 Washington Post article (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/12/06/why-al-franken-is-done-for-and-roy-moore-isnt/?utm_term=.792e716a0698), there have been seven accusers in total; however, of the seven, the five described so far are the only ones on whom I’ve been able to find a significant amount of information.

[13] Hatch, J., & Roth, Z. (2017, November 27). Two More Women Accuse Sen. Al Franken Of Inappropriate Touching. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/al-franken-two-more-women-groping_us_5a15a455e4b09650540ec295

[14] See the Wikipedia page for a list and links to source articles for each accuser: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Moore_sexual_misconduct_allegations

[15] Strause, J. (2017, November 17). Leeann Tweeden Responds to Al Franken Apology, Political Backlash. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/leeann-tweeden-responds-al-franken-apology-1059537

[16] Elizalde, E. (2017, November 23). Retired Alabama cop on Roy Moore: ‘We were also told to … make sure that he didn’t hang around the cheerleaders’. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/retired-alabama-cop-on-roy-moore-we-were-also-told-to-make-sure-that-he-didnt-hang-around-the-cheerleaders/

[17] McCrummen, S. (2017, December 04). Woman shares new evidence of relationship with Roy Moore when she was 17. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/woman-shares-new-evidence-of-relationship-with-roy-moore-when-she-was-17/2017/12/04/0c3d1cde-d903-11e7-a841-2066faf731ef_story.html?utm_term=.d3c92216bdaa

[18] McCrummen, S., Reinhard, B., & Crites, A. (2017, November 15). Two more women describe unwanted overtures by Roy Moore at Alabama mall. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/two-more-women-describe-unwanted-overtures-by-roy-moore-at-alabama-mall/2017/11/15/2a1da432-ca24-11e7-b0cf-7689a9f2d84e_story.html

[19] Anapol, A. (2017, November 16). Franken releases new statement, calls for ethics investigation of himself. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/360697-franken-releases-new-statement-calls-for-ethics-investigation-of-himself

[20] News, C. (2017, November 28). At rally, Roy Moore calls sexual misconduct allegations “dirty politics”. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/roy-moore-alabama-senate-candidate-rally-denies-allegations/

[21] O’Connor, L. (2017, November 17). Senate Dems Leave No Room For Ambiguity In Denouncing Al Franken. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/democrat-senators-al-franken-allegations_us_5a0dc761e4b0c0b2f2f89dfc

[22] Robillard, K., Shepard, S., Shafer, J., Greenfield, J., Giovanni, J. D., & Diamond, D. (2017, December 03). McConnell on Moore: ‘I’m going to let the people of Alabama make the call’. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.politico.com/story/2017/12/03/mcconnell-roy-moore-alabama-276554

[23] Vazquez, M. (2017, December 04). Trump calls Roy Moore to offer his endorsement. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/04/politics/trump-moore-endorsement-twitter/index.html

[24] Naylor, B. (2017, December 07). Sen. Al Franken Announces He Will Resign ‘In The Coming Weeks’. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.npr.org/2017/12/07/568909860/sen-al-franken-to-make-announcement-amid-calls-for-him-to-resign

[25] Blinder, A. (2017, December 28). Alabama Certifies Jones Win, Brushing Aside Challenge From Roy Moore. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/us/politics/roy-moore-block-election.html

[26] Hurt, H. (1993). The lost tycoon: the rise and demise of Donald J. Trump. New York: W.W. Norton.

[27] Mak, B. Z. (2015, July 27). Ex-Wife: Donald Trump Made Me Feel ‘Violated’ During Sex. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.thedailybeast.com/ex-wife-donald-trump-made-me-feel-violated-during-sex

[28] Fahrenthold, D. A. (2016, October 08). Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-recorded-having-extremely-lewd-conversation-about-women-in-2005/2016/10/07/3b9ce776-8cb4-11e6-bf8a-3d26847eeed4_story.html?utm_term=.66a08018936d

[29] Wheatstone, R. (2017, December 11). What are the Kevin Spacey allegations and who has accused him so far? Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/4806252/kevin-spacey-allegations-sexual-assault-anthony-rapp-old-vic-investigation-latest/

[30] Harvey Weinstein sacked after sexual harassment claims. (2017, October 09). Retrieved January 21, 2018, from http://www.bbc.com/news/business-41546694

[31] Williams, J. (2017, October 30). More than 80 women have now accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault or harassment. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from http://www.newsweek.com/harvey-weinstein-accusers-sexual-assault-harassment-696485

[32] Casarez, J. (2017, November 06). Anthony Weiner reports to prison. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/06/us/weiner-reports-to-prison/index.html

[33] Matt Lauer Allegedly Harassed Colleague During Olympics: Report. (2017, November 29). Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/matt-lauer-allegedly-sexually-assaulted-colleague-during-2014-sochi-olympics-report/

[34] Steel, E., & Schmidt, M. S. (2017, April 01). Bill O’Reilly Thrives at Fox News, Even as Harassment Settlements Add Up. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/01/business/media/bill-oreilly-sexual-harassment-fox-news.html

[35] Russell, K. (2017, April 11). Bill O’Reilly’s Show Lost More Than Half Its Advertisers in a Week. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/04/11/business/oreilly-advertisers.html

[36] Meisner, J., Coen, J., & Gutowski, C. (2016, April 29). Judge calls Hastert ‘serial child molester,’ gives him 15 months in prison. Retrieved January 21, 2018, from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-dennis-hastert-sentencing-20160427-story.html

One thought on “The Greater of Two Evils: Sexual Misconduct

  1. Pingback: The Greater of Two Evils: Weaponized Investigations – THE NEXT FIVE MINUTES

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