A TV/radio host has come forward with sexual assault allegations against comedian-turned-politician Al Franken, and she’s got the pictures to prove it. In a post on radio station KABC/790 AM website today, Leeann Tweeden has come forward today to share an experience of sexual assault she had with Franken while entertaining the troops during a USO Tour in 2006, which initially included a forced kiss while rehearsing a comedy sketch Franken had written:
On the day of the show Franken and I were alone backstage going over our lines one last time. He said to me, “We need to rehearse the kiss.” I laughed and ignored him. Then he said it again. I said something like, ‘Relax Al, this isn’t SNL…we don’t need to rehearse the kiss.’ He continued to insist, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable. He repeated that actors really need to rehearse everything and that we must practice the kiss. I said ‘OK’ so he would stop badgering me. We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth. I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time. I walked away. All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth. I felt disgusted and violated.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of her experience with Franken, who groped Tweeden’s breasts while she was asleep during their 36-hour flight home to LA from Afghanistan. “It wasn’t until I was back in the US and looking through the CD of photos we were given by the photographer that I saw this one,” Tweeden wrote before sharing the photo below:
Tweeden says she kept the experience to herself for years to protect her career, but thanks to other women coming forward in recent weeks with their own sexual assault experiences – particularly Congresswoman Jackie Speier – she decided now was the time to come forward:
I had locked up those memories of helplessness and violation for a long time, but they all came rushing back to me and my hands clinched into fists like it was yesterday. I’m still angry at what Al Franken did to me. Every time I hear his voice or see his face, I am angry. I am angry that I did his stupid skit for the rest of that tour. I am angry that I didn’t call him out in front of everyone when I had the microphone in my hand every night after that. I wanted to. But I didn’t want to rock the boat. I was there to entertain the troops and make sure they forgot about where they were for a few hours. Someday, I thought to myself, I would tell my story. That day is now. Senator Franken, you wrote the script. But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault.
Franken responded to the allegations with the below statement:
I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.
“While debating whether or not to go public, I even thought to myself, so much worse has happened to so many others, maybe my story isn’t worth telling? But my story is worth telling. Not just because 2017 is not 2006, or because I am much more secure in my career now than I was then, and not because I’m still angry,” Tweeden wrote in her post today. “I’m telling my story because there may be others.”
UPDATE: Franken just released another statement, which you can read in full below:
The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women. There’s more I want to say, but the first and most important thing—and if it’s the only thing you care to hear, that’s fine—is: I’m sorry. I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed. But I want to say something else, too. Over the last few months, all of us—including and especially men who respect women—have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women. For instance, that picture. I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what’s more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it—women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me. Coming from the world of comedy, I’ve told and written a lot of jokes that I once thought were funny but later came to realize were just plain offensive. But the intentions behind my actions aren’t the point at all. It’s the impact these jokes had on others that matters. And I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come to terms with that. While I don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences. I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate. And the truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories. They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them.