Anchor for “McIntyre in the Morning” Leeann Tweeden tells her story
A Filipina-American model turned radio newscaster on Wednesday, November 15, said that in 2006, she, without her consent, was kissed and groped by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who joins a growing list of men accused of inappropriate sexual misconduct against women.
Morning newscaster on the Los Angeles-based KABC, Leeann Tweeden, who is half Filipina from her mother’s side, described her experience in a piece titled, “Senator Al Franken Kissed and Groped Me Without My Consent, And There’s Nothing Funny About It.”
She details a time in December 2006 when she — then a model — was on her ninth tour with the United Services Organization (USO) to entertain the troops in Afghanistan. Franken, who was still a working comic and not yet a senator, was the troupe’s headliner.
Franken, a former “Saturday Night Live” writer and performer, “had written some skits for the show and brought props and costumes to go along with them,” Tweeden wrote. “Like many USO shows before and since, the skits were full of sexual innuendo geared toward a young, male audience.”
She continued, “As a TV host and sports broadcaster, as well as a model familiar to the audience from the covers of FHM, Maxim and Playboy, I was only expecting to emcee and introduce the acts, but Franken said he had written a part for me that he thought would be funny, and I agreed to play along.”
The skit Franken wrote for Tweeden required his character to come at the then-model for a kiss, but Tweeden suggested she turn her head at the last minute “to get more laughs from the crowd.”
Before the show, they rehearsed the skit alone backstage where Franken insisted they rehearse the kiss. She ignored him, but he kept insisting to which she told him, “‘Relax Al, this isn’t SNL…we don’t need to rehearse the kiss.”
He persisted they rehearse everything, making her uncomfortable. She reluctantly agreed, and when it came in time for the kiss, he “put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth,” Tweeden wrote.
Soon after this incident, Tweeden avoided Franken for the rest of the tour. She said that he attacked her with petty insults, “including drawing devil horns on at least one of the headshots I was autographing for the troops.”
In another instance on the 36-hour flight back to Los Angeles, Tweeden, wearing a helmet and flak jacket bearing her name, fell asleep on the C-17 cargo plane where Franken groped her breasts for a photo without her consent.
“I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated,” Tweeden said upon discovering the lewd photo. “How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?”
At the time, Tweeden only told a few people, including her husband. For years, she wanted to tell her story but was worried that it may affect her career.
What made her change her mind was when California Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo) was a guest for “McIntyre in the Morning” a few weeks ago when she recounted when she was sexually assaulted as a congressional aide in an experience similar to Tweeden’s.
Tweeden now felt compelled to tell her story, saying, “I had locked up those memories of helplessness and violation for a long time, but they all came rushing back to me and my hands clinched into fists like it was yesterday.”
One day after the news broke on KABC, Franken told reporters, “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.”
On Friday, November 17, he issued a statement where he said, “The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women. There’s more I want to say, but the first and most important thing—and if it’s the only thing you care to hear, that’s fine—is: I’m sorry.”
Franken, who expressed shame over his behavior, added that if an ethics investigation were to go forth on his conduct, he “will gladly cooperate.”
U.S. President Donald Trump even took to Twitter to weigh in on the issue, saying “The Al Frankenstein picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words.”
“And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women. Lesley Stahl tape?” the president said in another tweet.
Tweeden has since said that she only came forward her with her story to shed a light on the rampant sexual misconduct that permeates many professional environments.
“I wasn’t calling for his resignation, I wasn’t calling for his career to end,” Tweeden said Friday morning on “The View.” “I didn’t want any of that. I just wanted to shine the light and stand on the shoulders of these other women to go, ‘This is not right, this is not what should be happening in our society.’”
Since the story of the downfall of Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein (who was accused by several hundred women of sexual misconduct and rape) in October, many have come out and told their own stories of sexual assault and harassment by many men in power.