Last week, former model and TV host Leeann Tweeden sent a shockwave through Democratic circles with accusations that Senator Al Franken (D-MN), an avowed feminist, had sexually assaulted her in Kuwait on a 2006 USO tour.
We now know that at least some of the story is not what it appeared to be.
To be clear, the photo of Franken appearing to grab Tweeden’s breasts while she slept is real, undoctored, and inexcusable. Accusations of that Franken wrote a sketch so that he could force Tweeden to kiss him are another matter however.
In her accusation letter, Tweeden wrote:
“Senator Franken, you wrote the script. But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault. You wrote that scene that would include you kissing me and then relentlessly badgered me into ‘rehearsing’ the kiss backstage when we were alone.”
It turns out, Franken did not write the sketch for Tweeden. He had been performing the bit on USO tours for years, with at least one other actress, in which he plays a character who has written a scene in order to kiss his co-host. Here is Franken performing the sketch with Karri Turner in 2003, four years earlier:
The following year, Franken published a piece for Mother Jones in which he includes the script for the sketch that he would perform with Tweeden two years later:
AL: So, anyway, I’ve taken the liberty of writing a little audition piece to show my range. [Handing Karri the script.] I play a prosecutor sent in by the Pentagon to shake things up around the JAG office.
KARRI: You wrote this?
AL: Yeah. I’m a writer, comedian, dramatic actor. [Beat.] It’s your line.
KARRI: Oh. [Reading from script.] … Al, I’m married in the show! I have two kids—
AL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Keep reading.
KARRI: [Reading script.] Lance, I’m wearing this negligee because I want tonight to be very special. I want to give myself to you completely. Now kiss me! [Al grabs Karri and kisses her. Karri fights him off.]
KARRI: Now, wait a minute! You just wrote this so you could kiss me! If I was gonna kiss anybody, it’d be a real soldier. Like one of these brave men…or women. Who wants to help me out? You, soldier. [Karri points to soldier in front.]
The full picture of this episode remains unclear. This new information neither means Franken is an innocent party nor that Tweeden is lying. Memories are bound to fade over more than a decade.
But as information continues to come out, it’s important to remember that few situations are black and white. More than 90% of women who accuse men of sexual assault are telling the truth, and most never come forward at all. Every accuser deserves to be taken seriously and given the benefit of the doubt — Period. Rendering verdicts without all the facts, however, can often lead us astray.