Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Ramesh Ponnuru: Al Franken's Calculated Strategy of Non-Denial

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Ramesh Ponnuru: Al Franken's Calculated Strategy of Non-Denial

Article excerpt

Sen. Al Franken has a strategy for getting out of his current mess. You can see it in action in an interview he gave last week to Esme Murphy, a reporter for CBS affiliate WCCO.

The Minnesota Democrat has been accused of groping several unwilling women and forcibly kissing another. There are two obvious responses to such accusations: Either admit them, apologize and ask for forgiveness, or deny them. Franken is refusing to do either.

You can see why he balks. If he admits it, especially in this moment of righteous anger against male sexual entitlement, pressure to resign will mount. Allies who are standing by him in the presence of doubt about what he did will desert him if that doubt dissolves to his disfavor. So he isn't going to admit anything unless there's photographic evidence.

If he denies the accusations, on the other hand, he will be at least implicitly attacking his accusers. An aggressive posture would go over badly, again especially in this moment of heightened awareness of how many women have struggled to get their accurate testimony about male misbehavior believed. Denials could even draw forth more accusations.

Like Buridan's ass, he cannot choose.

In the interview, then, Franken gives a master class in how a politician can try to wriggle out of answering a question. Unfortunately for him, Murphy gives a master class in how a journalist can try to pin a politician down.

Murphy begins by asking Franken whether he indeed groped and forced kisses on women. Franken's response is worth quoting at length:

"Some women, and any is too many, have felt that I have crossed a line and I am terribly sorry about that. They feel that in these interactions I've done something to disrespect them and that's not my intention but what I know is that intention doesn't matter. What matters is we listen to women's experience and so I've been trying to think about -- you know, I feel terrible that they have felt this way. And I've been trying to think of how this could have happened, and I know very well that I have to be much more careful and much more sensitive and ..."

Murphy interrupts: "But, senator, these women are all using very similar language to describe basically their butt cheek being cupped or grabbed. …

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