ABSURDARAMA!

Tales of the Absurd in this Mad, Mad World

Sexual harrassment hysteria and mob justice: Garrison Keillor and Al Franken denied due process

Amid the current hysteria over allegations of sexual abuse of women by men, Garrison Keillor, the long-time host of Prairie Home Companion and until this week of The Writer’s Almanac, had the temerity to write the following in regard to allegations against Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota):

The greatest absurdity of our time is You Know Whom, which goes without saying but I will anyway. What his election showed is that a considerable number of people, in order to demonstrate their frustration with the world as it is, are willing to drive their car, with their children in the back seat, over a cliff, smash the radiator, bust an axle and walk away feeling good about themselves.

And then there is Sen. Al Franken. He did USO tours overseas when he was in the comedy biz. He did it from deep in his heart, out of patriotism, and the show he did was broad comedy of a sort that goes back to the Middle Ages. Shakespeare used those jokes now and then, and so did Bob Hope and Joey Heatherton when they entertained the troops. If you thought that Al stood outdoors at bases in Iraq and Afghanistan and told stories about small-town life in the Midwest, you were wrong. On the flight home, in a spirit of low comedy, Al ogled Miss Tweeden and pretended to grab her and a picture was taken. Eleven years later, a talk show host in LA, she goes public, and there is talk of resignation. This is pure absurdity, and the atrocity it leads to is a code of public deadliness. No kidding.

–Garrison Keillor (Op-ed) “Al Franken should resign? That’s absurd,” Washington Post, November 28, 2017.

Following this expression of his opinion, in an op-ed column, Minnesota Public Radio cut all ties with Keillor, and even blocked access to the archives of both Prairie Home Companion and The Writer’s Almanac. I, Absurdo, the author of this article, have been an avid listener to The Writer’s Almanac, which provided listeners with a five-minute dose of culture and a poem every morning, a rare event indeed in the vast cultural wasteland of American television and and radio. MPR’s statement sought to fudge the point that judgment was apparently passed before an impartial investigation into the allegations had been carried out.

The Washington Post, whose motto is “Democracy Dies in Darkness”, entered into the darkest heart of darkness on November 30, when Fred Hiatt, the Editorial Page Editor, wrote that the Post had ended its Op-ed agreement with Keillor because,

Knowing he was under investigation for his workplace behavior, he should not have written a column on that subject; or, if he was going to write, he should have told his editors and readers that he was under investigation. Instead, he wrote a column defending Sen. Al Franken without any disclosure of his own situation.

In other words, Hiatt asserted that if you are an opinion writer for the Post, if you believe you are the subject of false allegations and want to write in the defense of someone else who you believe may be falsely accused, or simply comment on the absurdity of his or her situation, you are ethically prevented from doing so unless you broadcast to the world the details or a summary of the allegations you believe are false or taken out of context of which you are accused.

Hiatt says nothing about what may be his conflicts of interest, of whose intervention produced such swift and intemperate action on his part. Could someone from the Bezos family have intervened? What process led to Hiatt’s decision? Why did he have to act so swiftly, apparently without giving Keillor an opportunity to defend himself? Moreover, is the Washington Post really going to impose its new restriction of the freedom of speech of opinion writers on all of its writers? Who will act as the police?

Hiatt’s position is absurd, and the darkness at the Post will contribute to the death of democracy in the United States until his position is reversed, and light is thrown upon the entire process of decision which led to throttling such an eloquent cultural voice and critic of Donald Trump.

Now, the raging hysteria over sexual harrassment of women by men has engulfed Democratic senators who are calling upon Franken to resign. He may do so on Thursday, December 7.

Yet he should not, for he is uniquely situated to act to bring the current wave of hysteria to a halt. He has a unique opportunity to give a civics lesson to Democrats, Republicans, and the nation as a whole. To do so will require great courage, a new profile in courage, to stand against the winds of outrage that threaten to blow him down.

If we believe in due process, Franken should have the right to know the acts of which he is accused, and the identity of his accuser. He should have the right to confront his accuser, and to cross-examine his accuser in order to allow an impartial decision-maker to arrive at the truth.

Moreover, does any proposed punishment fit the offense, or crime if there was one? A fundamental tenet of our legal system is that no one shall be punished for actions that did not constitute a crime prior to their occurrence (nulla poena sine legge–”No penalty without a law”).

The Constitution provides for the election of a U.S. senator to a six-year term of office. It does not provide that he may be hounded from office by other senators caught up in a wave of hysteria without the benefit of a fair hearing and due process of law. Indeed, the Constitution confers the right on the citizens of Minnesota to elect their Senator, and no extra-constitutional procedure not based on due process should be allowed to replace their opinions expressed at the ballot box.

What should happen is that Franken should not resign because of the these unproven allegations. Rather, they should be investigated instead of being taken as true and at face value. Memories are colored by emotion and time. Both sides and the context in which alleged behavior took place should be taken into account. Serious consideration must be given to the nature of the alleged behavior, and if Franken is found to be responsible, with inadmissible intent, then he should definitely be held accountable. That can happen through an investigation and recommendation by the Senate Ethics Committee, or a special committee can be established for that purpose.

Franken should stand his ground pending an investigation in order to break the fury of the hysteria that is whipping through the country. Why the rush to judgment, if not to maintain the hysteria of the mob?

Why have the Democrats formed a circular firing squad over this issue?

Donald Trump and Steve Bannon will be laughing all the way to the polls. Trump brags of kissing women without their permission and grabbing their p____y, but suffers no consequences. Roy Moore is running neck and neck with the Democrat in the Senate race in Alabama, and may indeed win. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders fall by the wayside. No one asks who might be orchestrating the hysteria, which seems to weaken trust in the media while taking down leading critics of Trump. Could the Russians be whipping up emotions on the two sides? Who is orchestrating these campaigns? What role is social media playing?

The pay-off for Trump and Bannon is twofold. Not only do they see the media and the Democrats weakened, but by opposing the hysteria of the Democrats they play to their base in opposing what they characterize as extreme political correctness on the other side.

The arguments set forth above represent a simple call to reason. Men who are found, after a fair process of inquiry, to be guilty of alleged behavior which is illegal or offensive, should be held to account. But the “crimes” or offensive behavior they have committed must be articulated, and if they are punished the punishment should fit the crime or the offense.

That is, after all, why we have a legal system and norms requiring a fair process of inquiry, and judgment by an impartial decision-maker. This is simply due process and the rule of law. We would be fooling ourselves if we thought the legal system can be bypassed on this single issue, and could not be bypassed by Trump and his supporters on another.

See A Man for All Seasons (1966):

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
–Attributed to Sir Thomas Moore, in the film A Man for All Seasons (1966)

Let’s take time to sort all of this out. To do so, let us stop the mob at the jailhouse door, and avoid the excesses of mob justice such as those that were committed in the French Revolution, during the Red Scare in 1919-1920, by the Klu Klux Klan in the South, and during the McCarthy period in the early 1950’s.

Absurdo

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