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The Latest Al Franken Scandal Fails to Stick

Hilary Weaver
A 2000 photo shoot with Arianna Huffington fails to get traction, as the women of *Saturday Night Live* come to his defense.

Photo: Getty.

In the week since broadcaster and model Leeann Tweeden alleged that Al Franken had “forcibly” kissed and “groped” her without consent during a U.S.O. tour in 2006, the Minnesota senator has apologized and called for an ethics investigation into himself, but has not resigned. Even as sexual assault scandals continue to upend Hollywood, television news, and the Alabama Senate race, the accusations against Franken have not yet been enough to end his career. A new set of old photos, released Monday, further demonstrated that surprised resilience.

On Monday evening Page Six published photos from a 2000 photo shoot in which Franken and Arianna Huffington, recreating a Politically Incorrect sketch they had done together four years earlier, clowned around. These images showed Franken pretending to grope Huffington’s breasts and backside. The photos were undeniably reminiscent of the photo Tweeden shared, with one major exception: Huffington came immediately and forcefully to Franken’s defense. “The notion that there was anything inappropriate in this photo shoot is truly absurd,” she told the Post. “Al and I did a comedic sketch for Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect called ‘Strange Bedfellows,’ in which the whole point, as the name makes clear, was that we were doing political commentary from bed. This shoot was looking back at the sketch, and we were obviously hamming it up for comedic effect.”

Huffington was not Franken’s only high-profile defender. In a statement seemingly unrelated to Huffington’s comment, a group of women who worked at Saturday Night Live at the same time as Franken defended his character, while acknowledging that what he did with Tweeden was “stupid and foolish”:

The current iteration of Saturday Night Live wasn’t afraid to call him out either; on the most recent episode “Weekend Update” hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che looped Franken in with the other men recently accused of sexual assault, including “sex monster” Louis C.K.“Now, when I look at this photo, this photo looks bad,” Jost began, referring to the photo of Franken groping Tweeden. He followed up with a grave punch line: “But remember, it also is bad.”

But whereas multiple Republican politicians have demanded that Roy Moore drop out of the race, and efforts continue to impeach Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, the allegations against Franken have not been enough to deny him access to high-profile defenders. As Masha Gessen wrote in The New Yorker, “Should Al Franken resign” is the wrong question. And one that, if his scandal continues to lose steam, may be asked less often.

This story originally appeared on Vanity Fair.

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