Calls for Senator Al Franken (D-MN) to resign spread across social media after a journalist shared a photo and her story of being sexually assaulted by the former comedian on a USO tour in 2006 before Franken was elected to office.
As the story goes, Franken forcefully kissed broadcast personality Leeann Tweeden during a rehearsal of a skit the pair was set to perform before troops. Later, Tweeden found a photo of Franken groping her breasts for the camera while she slept on a flight.
"I'm still angry at what Al Franken did to me," she wrote.
Shortly after Tweeden's post went live, Franken offered a terse apology:
""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."
A common instant reaction to being accused of wrongdoing, especially an action that violates or demeans another person, is to dismiss or minimize the infraction. We saw almost the exact same response from Kevin Spacey just last month.
It's telling that Franken's initial reaction uses the word "but" twice while still claiming to offer "sincerest apologies." These two things just don't go together.
Al Franken is a fantastic senator and advocate for the average American. And he needs to resign.-- Travon Free (@Travon) November 16, 2017
Franken is attempting to have it both ways here by meeting his perceived social obligation to offer an apology, but also questioning whether his violations of another person were really so bad, right?
This is the response of the ego attempting to protect itself from criticism and crucial self-reflection. "I don't remember that" and "It was just a joke" have to be two of the most common justifications for past bad behavior. It's worse than a bad reflex. It's just lazy, adding to Franken's past demeaning actions, as if Tweeden isn't even worth dismissing in an original way.
To be fair, it's an impulse that can probably be traced to primeval instincts towards self preservation at all costs. But in a society that we like to think of as civilized, it's exactly the wrong response.
To truly offer "sincerest apologies," the first step is not to listen to the ego, but instead to listen to and empathize with the victim. This is something most of our parents and teachers try to teach us from a young age when we first realize we have the power to inflict hurt on others, but not all of us take to the lesson so well.
In fact, empathy is a key part of what's now called emotional intelligence or "EQ." A little EQ probably could have saved Franken his current headache had he employed it when he was considering violating Tweeden over a decade ago.
To his credit, Franken quickly took the hint and has since released a longer, much more empathetic apology that hits more of the right notes. Is it his "sincerest apology," though? It's a little tougher to make that case after seeing his initial response.