Bill Maher, Al Franken, and all the wrong lessons of #MeToo
In the age of the #MeToo movement, there’s one particular tendency that I’m especially sick of. Way too many observers have a tendency to believe or disbelieve sexual misconduct accusations that’s entirely situational: I don’t like that guy, so he’s guilty. I’m a fan of that guy, so there’s no way he did it – or if he did, I don’t care.
It would be much simpler and things would line up far neater if everyone publicly accused of sexual harassment or misconduct was someone we hated or distrusted in the first place.
Unfortunately, real life is more complicated than that, and no matter who you’re a fan or supporter of, you’ve probably been disappointed to discover bad acts by someone you previously admired. That’s a part of life, sadly. And of course, the pain of a disappointed fan is nothing compared to that of those who have actually suffered sexual misconduct.
Not everyone is ready to admit that, however.
Not for the Greater Good
On his “Real Time” show on HBO last Friday night, Bill Maher used his “New Rules” segment to defend his friend, former guest, and fellow comedian Al Franken. Maher also called for Franken’s return to public life, just eight months after Franken’s resignation from the Senate. Franken stepped down from his seat in January, after he was accused by eight different women of varying degrees of sexual harassment.
In the segment, Maher defended Franken, calling the picture of him groping one sleeping accuser “a joke,” and minimizing the other accusations as “mostly hand-drifting while taking pictures.” He went on to argue that it’s time for Franken to make a comeback – by, he implied, running for president in 2020 against Donald Trump.
“We can have #MeToo and Al Franken,” Maher concluded. “They’re not mutually exclusive. It’s time to get Al off the bench…
Maher made things worse when a panelist on the show, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, interrupted to say “for the record, there was a lot of ass-grabbing too.” Maher responded by dismissively telling Goldberg that “it quite isn’t your place,” I guess, for a woman to interrupt a man’s monologue minimizing the importance of sexual harassment.
“We can have #MeToo and Al Franken,” Maher concluded. “They’re not mutually exclusive. It’s time to get Al off the bench so he can come back to doing what he does better than any other Democrat: taking down right-wing blowhards. I want to see Al Franken debate Donald Trump, and you know what? So do you.”
I was a fan of Al Franken for a long time. I enjoyed his Saturday Night Live work, I read several of his books, and I thought he was a fantastic Senator. I’ve even met him a handful of times, as he and I happen to both come from the same town in Minnesota. There was a time not too long ago when I would have been thrilled at the idea of Franken running for president.
…Maher’s idea that all of the women who accused Franken of harassment are liars and/or agents of his political enemies, by the way, happens to be Donald Trump’s position about his accusers too.
If the Democratic Party really wants to lose to Donald Trump, a great strategy would be to nominate another guy who’s been accused multiple times of sexual harassment. And the idea that the best way to defeat Trump is with a comedian is the kind of thing that only a comedian would believe.
Part of taking the #MeToo movement seriously is acknowledging that sometimes people you like, and people you support, are going to be accused of sexual misconduct, and those accusations may well be true. And if they are, the implications of what happens to their unreleased movie, the football team they coach, the TV network they’re in charge of, or the Senate seat they hold is far from the most paramount concern.
Maher is making three post-#MeToo arguments that are as tiresome as they are distressingly common.
The third is that yeah, sure I support #MeToo, and I believe women. But come on, this particular guy is my friend, and he’s so important as a politician/activist/coach that it’s important to the greater good that we let all that slide.
…“not as bad as Harvey Weinstein” is not a defense that flatters anybody.
If you believe women and support #MeToo only up to the moment that there’s an accusation against someone you’re a friend of or a fan of, then guess what – you don’t really believe women, and you don’t really support #MeToo.