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Al Franken

Even if He Didn't Hurt You, That Doesn't Mean He's Innocent

Thirty-six women who worked with Al Franken on 'SNL' wrote a letter supporting him. They shouldn't have done that.

Eve Peyser

Eve Peyser

In the past week, Minnesota senator Al Franken has been accused of sexual misconduct by two women. Talk radio host Leeann Tweeden on Thursday accused the former SNL star turned politician of kissing her without her consent and groping her while she was asleep—with photographic evidence to prove the latter—and on Monday, Lindsay Menz, a 33-year-old woman now living in Texas, came forward with her story of the former comedian groping her butt while taking a picture at the 2010 Minnesota State Fair, in a move we now call "the George H.W."

Almost universally, the response to all this has been, That's terrible and Al Franken should be condemned! Some people (including me) think the Democrat should resign. Though he seems unlikely to do that, a Senate ethics investigation is underway, and Franken might eventually be censured, if not expelled. But there is one group of people willing to defend him: Franken's former SNL colleagues. On Tuesday morning, 36 women who worked with the senator during his time on SNL released the following statement:

We feel compelled to stand up for Al Franken, whom we have all had the pleasure of working with over the years on Saturday Night Live (SNL).

What Al did was stupid and foolish, and we think it was appropriate for him to apologize to Ms Tweeden, and to the public. In our experience, we know Al as a devoted and dedicated family man, a wonderful comedic performer, and an honorable public servant. That is why we are moved to quickly and directly affirm that after years of working with him, we would like to acknowledge that not one of us ever experienced any inappropriate behavior; and mention our sincere appreciation that he treated each of us with the utmost respect and regard.

We send our support and gratitude to Al and his family this Thanksgiving and holiday season.

A man not behaving inappropriately with you does not preclude him from behaving inappropriately with other women. This letter is not a testament to Franken's character, nor is it a legitimate refutation of Tweeden or Menz's claims. Rather, it's a demonstration of what it looks like to be complicit, to provide cover for someone because they were a good person in your presence.

So how should have Franken's former SNL colleagues responded to the sexual misconduct allegations? Well, they didn't have to address them at all—saying nothing is highly underrated. As Lena Dunham demonstrated during her latest PR disaster—during which she defended a Girls writer who was accused of rape, then apologized for the defense after an outcry—sometimes silence really is golden.

Franken's former co-workers could've taken a note from current SNL cast members, who addressed Franken's sexual harassment allegations on Saturday's show. On the photo of Franken groping Tweeden as she slept, Weekend Update's Colin Jost remarked, "I know this photo looks bad. But, remember, it also is bad."

"And sure, this was taken before Franken ran for public office," Jost continued. "But it was also taken after he was a sophomore in high school. It's pretty hard to be like, 'Oh, come on, he didn't know any better. He was only 55.'"

If 36 of Franken's former colleagues felt compelled to issue a more supportive statement, they could've issued something similar to what Sarah Silverman said about her longtime friend and admitted sexual predator Louis C.K. On a recent episode of her Hulu show, I Love You America, Silverman said, emphasis mine:

One of my best friends of over 25 years, Louis C.K., masturbated in front of women. He wielded his power with women in fucked up ways, sometimes to the point where they left comedy entirely. I could couch this with heartwarming stories of our friendship and what a great dad he is, but that's totally irrelevant, isn't it? It's a real mindfuck because I love Louis, and Louis did these things. Both of those statements are true. So I just keep asking myself, "Can you love someone who did bad things?" I can mull that over later, certainly, because the only people that matter are the victims... So, I hope it's OK if at once I am very angry for the women he wronged and the culture that enabled it, and sad because he's my friend.

There's a nonzero chance that any woman—any person—knows someone who has sexually abused someone else. (One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped during their lifetimes, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.) They might be generally kind to the people they don't abuse or harass. Like Franken, they might pursue laudable goals that benefit women in general. They have people who love them. Those people may still love them despite the horrible things they have done, or, like Silverman, they may feel conflicted.

As more and more alleged predators are outed, there are going to be many, many people stunned by the accusations against their friends and family. But that doesn't mean they should come out and stand publicly with the accused. As Silverman said, "The only people that matter are the victims."

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