It’s remarkable how thoughtful and reserved the national media become when a political scandal doesn’t fit the narrative they pound day-in and day-out.
Early on Thursday, a radio news anchor accused Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., of sexual assault, claiming that in 2006 he aggressively put his face against hers, forcing his tongue into her mouth as they were “rehearsing” a skit they planned as part of a USO Middle East tour.
Separately, the anchor, Leeann Tweeden of KABC in Los Angeles, said Franken had touched her breasts while she was sleeping, a claim backed up by a photo she produced of Franken smiling and touching her breasts while she was sleeping.
Given recent events, there couldn’t be a clearer case for the media to immediately call for his resignation and for Franken to disappear from public life.
Instead, editorial boards at the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and even the Wall Street Journal took a more pensive route.
On Friday, after having been given a full day to come up with something to say about Franken, the New York Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal all declined to publish editorials weighing in on Franken.
The Washington Post ran one but framed it as though sexual assault is a looming cloud on all of Congress under the headline, “Al Franken is just the start of Congress’s reckoning with sexual harassment.”
Rather than specifically scrutinize Franken, the paper merely said it was "glad to see members of Mr. Franken’s own party voice their support for a fair probe by the Senate Ethics Committee."
MSNBC’s primetime lineup leaned into its coverage of Franken the way you might lean into someone who has a secret and also halitosis.
Chris Matthews on “Hardball” opened his show with a quick summary of the Franken nightmare, then pivoted to the allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore for 15 minutes.
At the end of his show, wherein Matthews gives his own commentary on whatever he thinks is most important, he offered a searing indictment on — wait for it — the Trump administration lifting a ban on importing animal trophies.
The three people who travel to Africa for their yearly safaris were surely riveted.
Rachel Maddow opened her own show with one minute of Franken coverage before turning to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Then there was a segment on Moore.
At CNN, Erin Burnett began her show with Moore coverage and didn’t cover the much newer accusations against Franken until a quarter of the way through her show.
Filling in for Anderson Cooper in the next hour, John Berman didn’t get to Franken until 20 minutes in, and during the segment, he asked CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger if Franken’s own admission and apology for his behavior was enough to put his problems away.
Proving she earned her weighty title, Borger replied, “Well, he’s going to go before the ethics committee and it remains to be seen.”
Other than a segment about that sensational animal trophy ban lift, Don Lemon’s entire program was a look at, not Franken, but how President Trump has responded to the claims against Franken and — why not?! — Moore. Naturally, Lemon used the occasion to rehash the infamous Access Hollywood tape.
Compare the coverage of Franken to that of Moore, who may very well have done all the things his accusers say he did. But there is one minor difference between him and Franken: There is no photo of him smiling for a camera while touching a sleeping woman’s breasts!
It’s now cliché to say that the case confronting Moore is a matter of he said-she said, she said, she said.
But in the case of Franken, it’s worse. It’s he said-she said, plus here’s a photo of the reptile with his flippers on her breasts as she lay sleeping.
When the Moore accusations surfaced last week, the media made careful note of any Republican senator who couched their denunciations with “If the allegations are true …” a harmless phrase commonly used by people who may not know all the facts in a scandal that just broke approximately five minutes ago.
Reporters homed in nightly on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, eagerly waiting for him to dump on Moore.
On Wednesday, when Hannity said he was going to let Alabama voters decide Moore’s fate, the Associated Press ran a report bemoaning Hannity’s choice “not to pass judgment on Roy Moore.”
True, the weight of evidence is against Moore, but the media have shown a fraction of interest in the case of Franken, who, unlike Moore, was confronted by photographic proof of his sick misdeeds.
Where’s the headline about Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, CNN, and the national newspapers failing to “pass judgment on Al Franken”?