Sunday, December 10, 2017

50 Shades of Grey - sexual harassment and its consequences are not all-or-nothing

That significant number, 50, is my guess at the number of members of Congress sweating over an allegation that they looked at their staffer’s chest - or legs or face or whatever. “Did I say something wrong” our hypothetical congressman worries, and antagonizes “Did he/she take my smile the wrong way?” or “My hug was meant to be a friendly, supportive gesture. Did she take it some other way?” Or “Did he take it some other way?

If you’ve been following my posts on this stuff you should know three things. One, I despise those who use the power of their office to coerce others and then cover for sexual harassment (or worse); a cultural correction is long overdue. Two, it is ironic (Al Franken’s word) that accused members of Congress are gone while the arguably worse culprits remain in the White House and the Alabama election. Three, I think the current feeding frenzy has gone off the rails and an overcorrection is in progress.

Before proceeding, let me emphasize that I am not making a case for a false equivalence. The major political parties are not equal when it comes to their treatment of those accused of qualitatively and quantitatively worse conduct (Trump and Moore) than either Representative Trent Franks or Senator Al Franken. Masha Gessen in The New Yorker extends this difference by observing the selectivity of the #MeToo movement.

The force of the #MeToo moment leaves no room for due process, or, indeed, for Franken’s own constituents to consider their choice. … the force works selectively. … Trump and Moore are immune because the blunt irresistible force works only on the other half of the country. That half is cleaning its ranks in the face of—and in clear reaction to—genuine moral depravity on the other side.

Along similar lines, check out the discussion on Morning Joe starting at about 8:40 in this YouTube video: Here’s How Democrats Could’ve Better Handled Senator Al Franken. Co-host Mika Brzezinski worries about an automatic bias favoring accusers that prevents due process for the accused.

Blake Morlock writes his column “What the Devil won’t tell you” in the Tucson Sentinel. Yesterday afternoon (Friday, Dec. 8th) he posted Trent Franks deserved a fair shot at due process. The essential message is that Media shouldn’t be left to dole out justice in sexual harassment cases.

Franks did not get his “fair shot at due process.” Neither did Al Franken. “Due process” in both cases would have been an Ethics Committee investigation and hearings. Instead, Franks was removed from office by one person on the right - Speaker Paul Ryan. Franken was removed by his colleagues on the left who, I think, wanted to make an example of their practice of zero tolerance. Morlock makes my case.

Lest my point be too subtle, let me be clear: It’s about time that the “I-prefer-you-in-stillettos” pack got busted. And it’s way past time that the “stand-there-while-I-masturbate” fraternity gets exiled to a cultural leper colony. The day is long in coming that more pedestrian sexual harassment gets called out.

I’m not talking about setting the #MeToo movement back, but moving it forward and normalizing it. It needs to move past where it is today, when justice is dispensed by the instincts of the media pack. Thrusting a mic in a politician’s face and demanding to know when they or a colleague is going to resign is not the answer.

Morlock argues that “the line is fuzzy about what offends whom, and needed to be clarified beyond what might make someone uncomfortable. Franks’ case illustrates the need for a process because right now the media is acting the role of cop, judge, jury and executioner. It’s not good at any of that.”

We have no idea if Franks’ version is the all there is to the story, but the way to get to the bottom of this isn’t to simply demand that the accused step aside. [Scriber says ditto for Franken.][See the update at the end of this post about more on the Franks’ story.]

There seems to be a strange trading of sacrifice going on in D.C. The Democrats need a clean shot at Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore over the highly detailed accusations that he chased teen-aged girls when he was in his 30s, so they drummed U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) out of office. The Republicans can’t seem to have done nothing in the face of scandal. Moore is in a tight race. President Trump ain’t going anywhere. So Ryan tells Franks to go.

Also, Franks is an easy sacrifice. He represents the arch-conservative Phoenix suburbs of Glendale, Sun City and Surprise. The seat will most likely stay Republican …

None of this has anything to do with the facts of Franks’ case. He should be allowed to realize his fate in a more workable way but the congressional process for investigating sexual harassment isn’t taken seriously, so the media has stepped in.

… The climate has grown so super-heated that we are in zero-tolerance territory. The presence of gray equals an unacceptable degree of evil. Franken was drubbed out of office with anonymous accusers …

… zero tolerance means zero distinction and that always leads us down a bad path.

Ruth Marcus at the Washington Post asks Was Al Franken’s punishment fair? She thinks zero tolerance is fine but it’s been accompanied by a lack of calibration - an all or nothing approach to punishment. She writes “The right policy is zero tolerance. That does not answer the question about what is the right punishment, or what proof there should be before it is meted out.”

Consider: One of Franken’s colleagues, New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, is under federal indictment for allegedly taking bribes in the form of lavish gifts and using the power of his office to help a campaign donor/friend in dealings with the federal government. Menendez’s trial ended with a hung jury last month, after which the Ethics Committee announced it would resume its inquiry into his conduct.

If senators have the patience to let the ethics process proceed in the Menendez case, why not with Franken? What about weighing whether some lesser punishment than what was essentially forced resignation would better fit Franken’s circumstances?

Although it’s now moot, feminist writer Kate Harding admitted back in November that I’m a feminist. I study rape culture. And I don’t want Al Franken to resign.. She wanted the ethics investigation to run its course and other forms of penance for Franken.

When it comes to intolerance for sexual harassment vs. due process for those so accused, there are nuances piled on nuances. So, read Morlock’s column and the other essays mentioned here as a remedy for whatever damage my shortened account has done to their stories. I’ll let Morlock have the last word.

… Women have no place being harassed. The accused deserve an airing. We’ve seen what happens when the system is weighted toward the men and it’s unacceptable. Over-correcting with zero tolerance for an allegation isn’t a good answer either.

UPDATE: AZ BlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona reviews reports of what may be more to the Franks story in Creepy Trent Franks’ resignation effective immediately after more details emerge, saying that “there was more to Rep. Trent Franks sudden resignation — and I don’t believe the latest reporting is the full story either (there have been rumors circulating about him for years).” But your Scriber reminds us all, in the absence of a congressional ethics investigation, those “rumors” are the bases for Franks’ trial by media.

The Blue Meanie reports this interesting piece of history.

Before winning election to Congress, Franks founded the Arizona Family Research Institute, an organization associated with Dr. James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family.” The group later changed its name to the Center for Arizona Policy, which is now run by Cathi Herrod. Herrod hasn’t commented on Franks departure …

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