Tina Dupuy: I Believe Franken’s Accusers Because He Groped Me, Too

 In U.S.
In mid-November, a Los Angeles radio host named Leeann Tweeden stepped forward to claim that Senator Al Franken had shoved his tongue down her throat under the pretext of a rehearsal for a sketch he’d written. The coup de grace was a photograph of a sleeping Tweeden and the now-senator pretending to grab her boobs for the camera.

There was an instant cognitive dissonance with Democrats on Twitter. People like Franken. Democrats need Franken. See, the accuser had been on Sean Hannity’s show. She must therefore be a right-winger. She could have been put up to this, they speculated. Roger Stone had tweeted that the “touchy” Franken was about to be exposed six hours before the story dropped. That’s fishy, they surmised. They all sounded paranoid, irrational, and conspiratorial. But that’s how we all sound these days.

I assumed Franken would step down later that day. Tweeden’s story rang true to me. I’d told myself I was the only one. I’d been groped by Franken in 2009.

It happened at a Media Matters party during the first Obama inauguration. It was a great time to be a Democrat. Not only had we just elected the first African American president of the United States, but Franken’s race had triggered a recount, leaving lefties giddy that we would soon have a supermajority in the Senate.

This was my first inauguration. I’d never been in the proverbial room where it happens. My experience with government at that point was being a ward of the court in foster care. Noting that I had an interest in politics and in grandstanding—at 14, I ran a scorched-earth campaign to make the entire group home I lived in recycle—my foster dad set up an internship for me at the district office of Representative George Miller. The summer before my senior year of high school, as an intern, I answered calls, thumbed through the congressional record and misalphabetized his constituent files. It was a great experience and, at the time, the closest I’d been to power.

D.C. was decked out and packed in for the inauguration of a young and popular new president. The town was buzzing with optimism, and one of the many events on our list was a swanky Media Matters party with Democratic notables everywhere. Then I saw Al Franken. I only bug celebrities for pictures when it’ll make my foster mom happy. She loves Franken, so I asked to get a picture with him. We posed for the shot. He immediately put his hand on my waist, grabbing a handful of flesh. I froze. Then he squeezed. At least twice.

(Tina Dupuy)

I’d been married for two years at the time; I don’t let my husband touch me like that in public because I believe it diminishes me as a professional woman. Al Franken’s familiarity was inappropriate and unwanted. It was also quick; he knew exactly what he was doing.

It shrunk me. It’s like I was no longer a person, only ornamental. It said, “You don’t matter—and I do.” He wanted to cop a feel and he demonstrated he didn’t need my permission.

* * *

Nearly 20 years ago, during Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton, I was taking night classes, waiting tables, and chasing boys who looked like Ricky Martin. At the time, the focus on Clinton’s sex life seemed to me a Republican-fueled, puritanical media frenzy. I thought it was a crusade to penalize consensual sex. Clinton was the first Baby Boomer president. He came of age during the sexual revolution and his wife was an “overbearing yuppie wife from hell”; there was a counter-culture couple in the West Wing! To family-values Republicans, the Clintons were an affront to all that was good and holy.

When Toni Morrison called Bill Clinton the first black president, she wasn’t saying he was down with the cause; she was saying he was dismissed and demeaned by the existing power structure. Clinton was born poor in a backwater state, raised by a single mother. He ate Big Macs, played the sax, and chased women. And when, Morrison wrote, “his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution,” African American men felt a kinship. “The message was clear: ‘No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved,’” Morrison wrote. “‘You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and—who knows?—maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us.’”

Gloria Steinem penned her own defense, “Feminists and the Clinton Question,” in The New York Times. “Like most feminists, most Americans become concerned about sexual behavior when someone’s will has been violated; that is, when ‘no’ hasn’t been accepted as an answer,” she wrote. In 1998, this was the final word for feminists: Yes, Bill was a womanizer, but, relax, the ladies liked it.

I ignored the very idea that Bill Clinton raped Juanita Broaddrick. I put it in the same category as Bill Ayers, the New Black Panther Party, and Benghazi: A shorthand swipe Republicans lob on cable TV. Besides, I liked Bill Clinton. I had a single mother too.  I also liked Hillary. As first lady, she made old men furious for not “knowing her place.” The Clintons were an inspiration to me.

Then Tweeden tweeted #metoo.

The detail in Tweeden’s story that keeps rolling over in my mind was after the forced kiss, while they were still on tour, Franken would toss out, “petty insults, including drawing devil horns on at least one of the headshots I was autographing for the troops.” That report fits with the classic pattern of sexual harassment. Ribbing Tweeden to let her know she wasn’t being accommodating enough—nice enough—to him. Boundaries and rebuffing turn beautiful women into bitches.

In the days that followed Tweeden’s account, Lindsay Menz told CNN that Franken had groped her when she asked him to pose for a photo in 2010 at the Minnesota State Fair. “As my husband took the picture, he put his hand full-fledged on my rear,” Menz said. “It was wrapped tightly around my butt cheek.” Another woman told HuffPost that she had posed for a picture with Franken in 2007, at a Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus event. “He grabbed my buttocks during a photo op,” she said. A third said she introduced herself to Franken at a 2007 event. “I shook his hand, and he put his arm around my waist and held it there,” she told HuffPost. “Then he moved it lower and cupped my butt.” Stephanie Kemplin, an army veteran, posed for a photo with Franken while he was on a USO tour in 2003. “When he put his arm around me, he groped my right breast,” she told CNN. “He kept his hand all the way over on my breast.” And on Wednesday, a former Democratic aide told Politico Franken had tried to forcibly kiss her when she appeared on his radio show in 2006.

“He’s not a sexual predator,” protested Randi Rhodes, the left-wing radio host, hours after Tweeden’s story broke. “This has got to be because he bested Jeff Sessions,” Franken’s former Air America co-worker offered. Rhodes said she’d never witnessed anything like what Tweeden had described. Then she weirdly added, “Al Franken is a lip kisser.” And, “He does kiss on the lips instead of the cheek.”

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