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Franken shouldn’t have to apologize for his past satire or ‘bad’ words

A lot of paper and writing time has been spent talking about Al Franken and his entertainment writings. At the DFL Convention, he apologized for things he had written years ago. Everyone was “appalled” at that past language and thought it a good thing that he apologized for it. Shame on him.

Well, I say … shame on us.

Al Franken shouldn’t have to apologize for what he wrote. He has a First Amendment right to publish whatever he wishes to. The writings that have recently been criticized were never meant for the general public anyway. The fact that they are being pushed into our living rooms can be attributed to Republican opposition researchers, not Al Franken.

Franken’s satire on pornography was written for Playboy — not exactly typical coffee-table literature. Al Franken wrote it for Playboy and it was meant for Playboy readers. The fact that the general public can pass judgments on descriptions of this article (copyrighted material) is due to Republican opposition researchers, not Al Franken. The “joke” about rape which has caused so much justified ire came from one paragraph in a 13-year-old New Yorker article written about “Saturday Night Live.”

Not written by Franken

The skit in question was not written by Al Franken, but discussions about the skit, which Al Franken was part of, were thrown into the public domain. His words made it into the story because the reporter was granted full access to the normally nonpublic mechanics of making a “Saturday Night Live” show. No one would have thought to hold a press conference on it or even bothered to read it again, if it hadn’t been for Republican opposition researchers.

That’s because opposition researchers think the average voter is stupid. They think that regurgitating old, sometimes decades old, language can distract us from using our own judgment on whom we vote for. Opposition research doesn’t look at the marriage of 32 years, the wonderful family, the charity work, the radio career holding the Bush administration accountable …. No, the opposition researchers want to focus on the “bad” words of Al Franken.

Writers, especially comedians, are always testing societal norms. Often they will step over the line, and they will pay a price for it. It has happened to Al Franken; it will happen to others. But Al Franken is applying for a different job here. He is running for senator from Minnesota. Do we think Norm Coleman’s antiwar protest years at Hofstra University are relevant to who he is now? Do we expect that Coleman’s positions as a former Democrat should be what we hold him accountable for now? Of course not. They are part of his life history but not qualifications to use as criteria for the job he seeks at the present time.

So it is with Al Franken. Satirist and comedian are on his job résumé and, again, are part of his life history, but they are not the items we should use to judge his qualifications for U.S. senator. We, as Minnesota voters, need to judge these two men on their ideas and where they want to take Minnesota moving forward. Biography is certainly a part of it, but the true judgment must come on their vision of where we go from here.

Grade-school-type diversion
The way the Republicans have criticized Al Franken is almost reminiscent of the grade-school tattletale who gets caught cheating on a test, and when confronted tries to divert the attention by saying, “Did you hear the bad word Bobby said?”

Sen. Norm Coleman supported this war and supported this president, and he will support Sen. John McCain to continue those policies. When Coleman had the opportunity, as chair of the Senate Investigations Committee, to hold the government accountable for lack of body armor, to examine waste and fraud by Halliburton, and to investigage the disappearance of billions of taxpayer dollars in the corrupt practices of the Iraqi government, he decided to go after Kofi Annan and the United Nations.

Now, as he wants Minnesota to give him another term, Coleman doesn’t focus on the specifics of saying, here, examine my record, judge me by what I have done. No, he’d rather say, “Did you hear what Al Franken said?”

David Mindeman of Apple Valley is a community activist and a blogger for mnpACT!.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by myles spicer on 06/17/2008 - 12:07 pm.

    Ahmen! We have heard enough of this hypocracy from previous elections. Let’s try to focus on ISSUES for a change.

  2. Submitted by Aaron Landry on 06/17/2008 - 08:56 am.

    It has been interesting watching the media be the lapdog for this type of crap. Thanks for saying what needs to be said more often.

  3. Submitted by Mike Keliher on 06/17/2008 - 12:51 pm.

    I was eager to read this column, and while I agree with your main point, your arguments seem silly.

    First Amendment right? Of course he has that; I don’t think anyone’s suggested anything to the opposite.

    This is all the work of opposition research? Of course it is. Just like being a satirist used to be Franken’s job, digging up dirt and trying to make hay of it is an opposition researcher’s job.

    You commented about Coleman’s past, as well, and how that shouldn’t pertain to his quest for this present-day job. I disagree; it should all be considered, and certain things should be weighed more than others.

    I would have expected — or wanted to read — a cogent defense along these lines: Franken’s Playboy writings or SNL brainstorming contributions shouldn’t matter in this election because THEY ARE JOKES. Lighten up, people!

  4. Submitted by Kevin Judd on 06/17/2008 - 09:27 pm.

    Franken did not have to apologize for his comments. He was not facing prosecution, legal action, loss of income, or government strong arms. He apologized because his words have infuriated Democrats, both progressives and moderate.

    He apologized not to the Republican opposition researchers, but to the DFL convention delegates. He apologized because his nomination was in danger.

    You can take two views of the reaction among Democrats. I think there were those like (progressive) Betty McCollough and (moderate) Tim Walz who were genuinely offended by the stuff he’d written, satire or no. The cynical view is that they were mad because they wanted the Senate seat or (as with McCollough) they wanted another candidate. I lean toward the first explanation; these two are former teachers and they were genuinely offended and incensed by this writing, particularly the passages relating to youth.

    Whichever view you take, though, this was not an attack from the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (that is yet to come…….)

    You can also take two views of Franken’s apology. The more idealistic view is that he realized that there were those DFL’ers (again, not Limbaugh ditto heads) who were genuinely offended and hurt by his writing. On realizing that he was causing hurt to others, he apologized for that unintended (but real) hurt. After hearing interviews with Franken on the subject, I tend toward this view. I think Franken’s original view was similar to the author’s, that this was a Republican smoke screen. Around the time of the convention, he wisened up and realized that DFL’ers who otherwise would vote for him were genuinely mad.

    The second view of Franken’s apology was that it was nothing more than political expediency; he wasn’t really sorry, but apologized to mute some of the DFL opposition (McCollough and Walz).

  5. Submitted by Scott Johnson on 06/19/2008 - 12:19 pm.

    The real problem with the whole situation has been the response by the Franken campaign.

    Given Franken’s past accomplishments and activities, they should have been aware of issues like this popping up and have a game plan to either kill the story or limit the damage.

    Whether Franken’s apology was warranted or not, I think a campaign team on their A game and prepared would have been able to spin the situation so that it wouldn’t have been necessary.

  6. Submitted by Betty Tisel on 06/18/2008 - 06:26 pm.

    Maybe Al does not have to apologize. But if he does not, and does not apologize sincerely, he – and we – must accept the consequences.

    Making a brief apology at the DFL convention is not adequate, in my opinion. Al WILL get my vote because he is a WAY better choice than Norm Coleman. But Al has a long way to go if he wants to earn my respect.

  7. Submitted by John Olson on 06/19/2008 - 04:08 pm.

    Since the DFL leadership should have known what they were getting with Al Franken and the potential bonanza for opposition research by the Republicans, part of this is on them to get people in there who are capable of handling an “A” game. Maybe they are there already, but it is not about playing defense and trying to counterspin the opposition: it’s about discussing issues and moving forward.

    If there are more skeletons in the closet that await Al, you can bet that the Republicans are going to keep firing away and, like a fireworks display, save what they believe are the best ones for the weekend before the election.

    Advice to Al and his Pals: If there are more pieces that are going to pose a liability, get them out there NOW while everyone is out mowing their yard or walking around a lake. Wait until late October and early November for others to tell us for you and your chances may very well blow away like a bunch of autumn leaves.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 06/20/2008 - 04:17 pm.

    You’re right. Al doesn’t owe the public an apology, the Democrat party does.

    Just how low does the DFL believe the public supply of decency has gotten? At what point did they decide that a man who suggested, in jest or otherwise, that his 12 year old son studied beastiality was a fit candidate to present to the public for national office?

    Al can crawl back under his rock whenever he chooses and save his apologies for his family; he should start with one to his son.

    Meanwhile, we’ll wait to hear from the DFL.

    Thomas Swift

  9. Submitted by Gail O'Hare on 06/20/2008 - 06:59 pm.

    Thank heavens for some voices that speak to political reality. I am sick to death of people defending Franken’s right to write. Yes, obvious, so what? It is not prudery to find the humor unappealing and – more important -to worry about what this AVOIDABLE mess will do to the election. Coleman’s seat was Wellstone’s. It needs to be recovered and there’s no excuse for failing to recover it. But Franken blithely misread the electorate and the DFL, with far less excuse, failed as well.

    Let’s quit talking about how the right-wing is underestimating Minnesota’s voters. Lake Wobegon is real: it is not inhabited by self-righteous Puritans but by good people who vote.

    I’ve said this before. Right now I wouldn’t put a Franken sign next to Obama’s im my yard. He needs to regain my respect for his acumen as a potential senator.

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