Let's start with this morning's initial apology from a powerful man accused of sexual assault: "I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't. I shouldn't have done it."
This apology was emailed to Asher Klein, senior digital news editor at NBC owned TV stations, from Sen. Al Franken's (D-Minn.) press office. Note that it was not sent to "Leann" directly, as far as we know. Also note that her memory is being called into question and sidesteps the overall issue of sexual harassment and assault in the wake of the New York Times story about Harvey Weinstein.
Rest assured that some men in high positions are parsing Franken's apology—and Harvey Weinstein's and Kevin Spacey's and Louis C.K.'s and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore's (wait...we're still waiting for that one)—and are mentally crafting their own apologies should the worst happen. Well, the worst is happening—from the point of the accused—and no one seems to know how to articulate an apology that feels like an apology.
To back up, Leeann Tweeden, the morning news anchor on TalkRadio 790 KABC in Los Angeles, said in a Nov. 16 article on 790 KABC's site that in 2006, Franken kissed and groped her without her consent. In December 2006, Franken, who at that point was still a professional comedian and comedy writer, and Tweeden were troupers in a USO tour of the Middle East. Tweeden writes that Franken pressured her into agreeing to rehearse a kiss that was part of a skit. "I said ‘OK’ so he would stop badgering me," she writes. "We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth."
On the flight back to Los Angeles, a photo was taken of Franken putting his hands on Tweeden's breasts while grinning at the camera. That image is included in Tweeden's article.
She concludes by writing, "I want...all the other victims of sexual assault, to be able to speak out immediately, and not keep their stories—and their anger—locked up inside for years, or decades. I want the days of silence to be over forever."
Franken might have been able to tell himself (and others) this morning that, unlike Moore, who is on the other side of the political aisle, he was not out-and-out denying the sexual allegations against him. He—and others like him—should keep in mind how low that benchmark is. Empathy and open ears are better roads to rebuilding one's reputation.
Perhaps the concept of empathy crossed his mind as the day wore on, because this afternoon he issued a second statement about Tweeden's accusations, in which he wrote:
"The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women. 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.
"Over the last few months, all of us—including and especially men who respect women—have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women...While I don't remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women's experiences."
In the statement, Franken also asks that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and that he'll "gladly cooperate."
A political shot across the bow? Most certainly. It's just too bad it took him most of a business day to get there, leaving aside the fact that a brilliant, well-crafted apology won't negate the human effects of a harmful act.
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