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Sen. Franken Calls for Ethics Investigation of Himself

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said he has given people "good reason" to doubt he respects women and that he himself will ask for an ethics investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct leveled at him by a woman who had worked with him on a 2006 USO tour.

Leeann Tweeden, the news anchor for McIntyre in the Morning on KABC Radio in Los Angeles, said in a post on KABC Radio's website that Franken, who was still working in comedy before being elected to the Senate, had forced her to kiss him as part of a skit he wrote for the tour, and later groped her as she slept. She posted a photo taken of that incident, in which Franken is smiling at the camera.

Franken, familiar to broadcast and cable outlets as a strong critic of media consolidation, issued a lengthy public apology in which he said: "I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn't matter. There's no excuse." He also called for an ethics investigation into his own behavior, saying, "I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences."

The Franken apology did not assuage one women's group.

“Sexual harassment and sexual assault have no place in any workplace or anywhere in our society and certainly not in the U.S. Senate," said Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of equal rights advocacy group UltraViolet. "Senator Franken’s actions are deeply disturbing and completely unacceptable. Period.

“All men who commit these acts must be held accountable – regardless of whether they are Democrats or Republicans – no one who does this deserves to be in the Senate, House or White House," the group added. "Al Franken should resign.”

Democracy for America, a progressive PAC founded by former Democratic National Committee Chairman and presidential candidate Howard Dean, was troubled by the revelations.

"We believe Leann Tweeden and thank her for having the courage to share her story," said Mia Moore, chief of staff; Kristina Powell, finance director; Mari Schimmer, organizing director; and Annie Weinberg, electoral director, for Democracy for America. "We are profoundly disturbed and disappointed by Senator Al Franken's behavior.  While we are glad that Senator Franken has apologized, expressed remorse, and been publicly supportive of additional investigations, those responses are nowhere near enough to repair the harm he did to Ms. Tweeden and the trust he has lost within the progressive community.  

"Sexual harassment, assault, abuse, and the exploitation of women are unacceptable and have no place in our politics. Women deserve better, the progressive movement deserves better, and our country deserves better and we're committed to working with others to realizing that standard.”

Frankens full statement follows.

"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.

"I respect women. I don't respect men who don't. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.

"But I want to say something else, too. 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.

"For instance, that picture. I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn't matter. There's no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn't funny. It's completely inappropriate. It's obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what's more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it — women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.

"Coming from the world of comedy, I've told and written a lot of jokes that I once thought were funny but later came to realize were just plain offensive. But the intentions behind my actions aren't the point at all. It's the impact these jokes had on others that matters. And I'm sorry it's taken me so long to come to terms with that.

"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.

"I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate.

"And the truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories. They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them."

(Photo via Eric Austin's Flickr. Photo was taken  November 4, 2012. Photo attained using  Noncommercial 2.0  Generic. Photo was cropped to fit 16x9 aspect ratio)

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.