Al Franken made another appearance on his tentative image rehabilitation tour last night, this time on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. Franken, who stepped down from the Senate in 2017 after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct, found a sympathetic interviewer. O’Brien’s questions largely focused on how the former senator’s life had been negatively affected by the allegations that came out against him, and on the unfairness of his treatment by his old Senate colleagues.
O’Brien started off by making a fairly standard gesture of appreciation for the #MeToo movement — “I think we can all agree, [it] has brought to light a lot of offensive behavior by a lot of men and rightfully so and has been to the great good,” he said — before pivoting to Franken. If viewers expected to hear what Franken had learned as one of those men who’d hurt women, too bad. O’Brien was more interested exploring how the movement had hurt him.
“Many people think that your case — it made them feel uneasy, and there was some questions and uneasiness about your particular situation and how it was resolved,” O’Brian said. He brought up Jane Meyer’s recent New Yorker profile in which several of Franken’s fellow Democratic senators who had asked for his resignation at time said that they now regret it. “Is it feeling to you like there’s a bit of a sea change? Is this a watershed moment for you?” O’Brian asked.
If it is a “watershed” moment for Franken, it seems to be one that motivated him only to think of himself. Much of the interview focused on how he was gratified to hear others echo that he “deserved due process” in the form of a federal investigation, though he chose to resign before that could happen. And though he says he has grown more mindful of how he touches women in the wake of the six claims against him, he still insists that he’s “not that guy.” Reflecting on what occurred, Franken neither fully owns how he treated his accusers nor his decision to step down. Instead, he blames his colleagues for the “tremendous pressure” they put him under, and minimizes the complaints of the women who say he mistreated them. It’s as though he’s a victim of circumstance rather than someone who took actions, of his own volition, that made women feel uncomfortable and demeaned.
In closing, O’Brien gave Franken the opportunity to lament how “frustrating” it was to watch the Senate on C-SPAN from his couch. No doubt we will get to hear more about why we should feel bad for the former senator now that he has been given a slot as host of an upcoming podcast on the 2020 election.