No One’s Out to Get Al Franken

So, can we finally knock it off with suggestions that Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) was the victim of a right-wing hit job?

If Franken legitimately believed that the allegations against him were either completely fictional or somewhat exaggerated, he would have immediately said so. It beggars belief that Franken, who went through legal hell in 2008-2009 to secure his US Senate seat, would allow his reputation to be destroyed by false innuendo. Franken has been calling out right-wing smear merchants for decades. Why would he suddenly shut up now, if the allegations against him didn’t hold water?

Cenk Uygur nailed it at the outset of the Franken controversy when he declared that if Leeann Tweeden–the first woman to allege inappropriate conduct on Franken’s part–is telling the truth, then her politics are irrelevant. There is something quite nasty about the implication that Leeann Tweeden is by definition untrustworthy because she has apparently been a right-wing political activist. Franken’s former Saturday Night Live colleague Victoria Jackson holds any number of offensive ultra-conservative views, but if she claimed to have been a victim of sexual harassment in the past, it would be wrong to automatically assume she was lying just because she happened to be a right-winger. “Believe the women…unless they’re wingnuts” isn’t an effective slogan.

This is not to gainsay the reality that there are right-wing operatives who wish to muddy the waters of sexual harassment. The Washington Post had to deal with such an operative this week:

A woman who falsely claimed to The Washington Post that Roy Moore, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, impregnated her as a teenager appears to work with an organization that uses deceptive tactics to secretly record conversations in an effort to embarrass its targets.

In a series of interviews over two weeks, the woman shared a dramatic story about an alleged sexual relationship with Moore in 1992 that led to an abortion when she was 15. During the interviews, she repeatedly pressed Post reporters to give their opinions on the effects that her claims could have on Moore’s candidacy if she went public.

The Post did not publish an article based on her unsubstantiated account. When Post reporters confronted her with inconsistencies in her story and an Internet posting that raised doubts about her motivations, she insisted that she was not working with any organization that targets journalists.

But on Monday morning, Post reporters saw her walking into the New York offices of Project Veritas, an organization that targets the mainstream news media and left-leaning groups. The organization sets up undercover “stings” that involve using false cover stories and covert video recordings meant to expose what the group says is media bias.

James O’Keefe, the founder of Project Veritas who was convicted of a misdemeanor in 2010 for using a fake identity to enter a federal building during a previous sting, declined to answer questions about the woman outside the Project Veritas office, a storefront in Mamaroneck, N.Y., on Monday morning shortly after the woman walked inside.

Yes, there are paid right-wing liars out there. However, that doesn’t mean Tweeden is one of them. What will we hear next from the folks who thought the allegations against Franken were a right-wing setup–that Michigan Rep. John Conyers was also set up by right-wingers who wanted to humiliate a single-payer advocate?

When I was a teenager, I used to laugh at folks I knew who were absolutely convinced that the federal government invented AIDS as part of a biological-warfare experiment. I insisted that the idea of such a conspiracy being pulled off was next to impossible, and that believing the federal government invented AIDS was as foolhardy as believing that the moon landing was faked. The conspiracy mindset is a dangerous thing. So, for the record, let’s make it clear: the government didn’t create AIDS. The moon landing wasn’t faked. Climate change is not a hoax. And Al Franken’s problems are borne of his own mistakes, mistakes for which he has apologized–not a right-wing conspiracy, vast or limited.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.