In case anyone needed another reminder that “cancel culture” is a
paranoid fantasy that only exists only in the minds of powerful men and people who are too online, let’s go ahead and check in with Al Franken and his redemption arc. Nearly two years after the comedian turned politician resigned from the Senate in response to sexual harassment allegations, Franken has returned with a podcast, a new SiriusXM radio series covering the 2020 election, and, now, a very friendly late-night appearance. On Thursday, Franken was a guest on his pal Conan O’Brien’s show and got the kind of softball interview that any guy accused of unwanted touching and kissing would hope for.
“The Me Too movement, I think we can all agree, has brought to light a lot of offensive behavior by a lot of men and rightfully so and has been to the great good,” O’Brien said, setting up the implied “but” that would follow. “Many people think that your case... it made them feel uneasy, and there was some questions and uneasiness about your particular situation and how it was resolved.”
O’Brien then referenced a lengthy (and deeply flawed) New Yorker story published in July that revealed that seven of Franken’s colleagues who initially called for his resignation regret their decision; an eighth senator has since been added to this list. “Is it feeling to you like there’s a bit of a sea change?” O’Brien asked. “Is this a watershed moment for you?”
“I think there’s a lot of division on this issue,” Franken said. “It was very gratifying to have seven colleagues who had all apologized to me, but to be public—to get a U.S. Senator to publicly admit he or she made a mistake—that’s hard.”
Franken continued: “They just basically all said that I deserve due process. And I believe I did too.”
When asked why he resigned if he was confident in his case, Franken said he felt a “tremendous amount of pressure” to step down, and that the stink surrounding the allegations would be a hindrance for his staff and constituents.
“I don’t want to name any names,” Franken started, as if Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wasn’t the person intended to appear in our minds. “But, you know, my committee work would be at risk. I mean, basically losing that. My staff would be isolated, and I just couldn’t serve the people of Minnesota. But, you know, it really needed to have a process, but I just couldn’t stay either. It was awful. There were no good choices.”
O’Brien asked Franken if he learned anything from this situation, at which point he just barely admits that his behavior made women uncomfortable.
“When this first happened, if you had asked me—‘Have you ever made a woman feel uncomfortable by the way you put your arm around her or touched her or something like that?’—I would have said no,” Franken said. “And after all these allegations came in, I thought, well, I must be doing something wrong, right? Ever since, I’ve been a lot more mindful in my interactions with pretty much everyone.”
If this mindfulness is sincere, it was certainly hard to tell. Franken’s passive-aggressiveness is tangible. That’s really not what contrition sounds like.
“People who know me know that I’m not that guy,” Franken insisted. I’m sure there are several women who might disagree.