On Tuesday, the liberal hosts of CBS Mornings welcomed on disgraced former Democratic Senator Al Franken and touted how the past Saturday Night Live performer was returning to comedy after his political career collapsed amid numerous sexual harassment allegations in 2017. Rather than grill the ex-lawmaker on his treatment of women, the anchors instead tried to sympathetically paint Franken as a victim of “cancel culture.”
“We’re going to begin with former Democratic Senator Al Franken, a familiar face. He is back on stage, on tour as a comedian, nearly four years after resigning from office,” co-host Tony Dokoupil proclaimed at the top of the nearly 10-minute fawning segment. During a brief report prior to a softball chat with Franken, Dokoupil recounted the scandal:
The host added: “Now, after saying he regrets his resignation, Franken is returning to the stage with a new stand-up comedy show.”
Fellow co-host Gayle King treated Franken like he was the victim: “But a lot has happened to you, though, Senator….just what you went through personally. The way you left the Senate, under the circumstances that you did, you must have had to take time to reflect and figure out what am I gonna do, how am I going to do?” Franken replied: “Yeah, it was a bit of a shock when that happened.”
When the Democrat announced his impending resignation in December of 2017, CBS mourned: “The end to a potentially storied career.”
On Tuesday, King highlighted: “But some of your former colleagues have now said they regret their decision to call for your resignation….Have they reached out to you? Have you had any conversation with them? And how do you feel where you hear they now regret it, are you like, ‘Yeah, thanks’?” Dokoupil chimed in: “For nothing.”
Franken agreed with the spin that he was railroaded: “Well, there’s a little of that….And they all know that I deserved due process and didn’t get it. And yeah, when I’ve talked to them, they’ve been very apologetic.”
Co-host Nate Burleson then fretted that the left-wing politician had been “cancelled” by his colleagues: “I want to get your thoughts on cancel culture. Do you believe that you were canceled?”
King, a Democratic Party donor, urged Franken to consider running for office again: “Is there any part of you that wants to get back into politics?…Are you thinking about getting back into politics in any way?” In response, Franken confessed: “I’m not right now giving it any active, you know, thought about doing that. But, you know, I’m open.” King followed up: “Are you open to it?” Franken confirmed: “I’m open to it, yeah.”
King fretted: “Are you worried about where we are as a country, though? Where we’re heading, yeah?” Franken ominously warned: “Yes. Yes. You and I discussed this, I think it is a very dangerous time.” After he predictably attacked Republicans over false 2020 election claims, King again eagerly pressed Franken to reenter politics: “That’s another reason for you to join the conversation in an official way, Senator Franken.”
This desperate attempt to rehabilitate Franken is not that surprising coming from King, who whined in 2018 that she was “sick” of having to cover sexual harassment and abuse allegations against her “friend” and former co-host Charlie Rose. That CBS scandal unfolded at nearly the exact same time accusers came forward against Franken.
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8:02 AM ET
TONY DOKOUPIL: We’ve got Somebody on the show in this hour who may take a few shots. Not the alcoholic kind, the comedy kind. We’re going to begin with former Democratic Senator Al Franken, a familiar face. He is back on stage, on tour as a comedian, nearly four years after resigning from office and being told he could no longer be funny while he was a senator. We’re gonna talk with him in just a moment. But first, let’s take a look back at his career.
AL FRANKEN [SNL]: I believe we’re entering what I like to call the Al Franken decade.
DOKOUPIL: Long before he entered politics, Al Franken was famous for Saturday Night Live, where for 15 years he worked as a writer and original cast member.
FRANKEN: Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.
DOKOUPIL: After leaving the show in 1995, he turned his talents to skewering what he saw as right-wing hypocrisy, writing five books and hosting a progressive radio program.
FRANKEN: I’m not a professional politician, I know I’m going to make some mistakes. And this is going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
DOKOUPIL: But in 2007, he announced his plans to get serious with a run for Senate in Minnesota.
FRANKEN: I am so excited to finally be able to get to work for the people of Minnesota.
DOKOUPIL: The comedian by trade became known as a serious, policy-focused senator.
FRANKEN: Republicans behind the closed door!
DOKOUPIL: But in 2017, in the early days of the Me Too movement, eight people accused of Franken of inappropriate behavior. The first, Leeann Tweeden, said Franken had forcibly kissed her during a comedy show in 2006. Franken apologized, though without admitting wrongdoing.
SEN. KRISTEN GILLIBRAND [D-NY]: I do not feel that he should continue to serve.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS [D-CA]: I think it is probably in the best interest of a lot of people that he resigns.
DOKOUPIL: And within weeks, three dozen of his Democratic colleagues had called on him to step down. He did, on January 2, 2018.
FRANKEN: I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator, nothing has brought dishonor on this institution.
DOKOUPIL: Now, after saying he regrets his resignation, Franken is returning to the stage with a new stand-up comedy show. It’s called The Only Former U.S. Senator Currently on Tour Tour, in which he takes aim at his former congressional colleagues.
And Al Franken joins us now. Senator, welcome.
GAYLE KING: Yay, welcome.
FRANKEN: Thank you, thank you.
DOKOUPIL: So we just said you’re on tour. You’re The Only U.S. Senator on Tour Tour.
FRANKEN: The Only Former U.S. Senator Currently on Tour Tour.
DOKOUPIL: Very good.
FRANKEN: As far as I know.
DOKOUPIL: And you apparently take shots at some of your colleagues. Tell us about the show, what kind of shots, what do you get into?
FRANKEN: Well, Ted Cruz doesn’t come off well. I – as I say in the show – that I probably like Ted Cruz more than most of my colleagues like Ted Cruz and I hate Ted Cruz.
DOKOUPIL: Is the humor bipartisan?
FRANKEN: Slightly. It’s mainly – you know, I’m a Democrat, but yeah, I do talk about some of my former Democratic colleagues as well, yeah.
DOKOUPIL: Why did you want to come back on stage now?
KING: And was it hard to come back on stage?
KING: It was not?
FRANKEN: I was in comedy since I was a little kid. I did comedy in school. So that was my career. And I’ve always kind of, at SNL, combined politics and comedy. I wrote a lot of the political satire on the show. I tried not to be funny while I was in the Senate. I was told don’t be funny when I first got there. Remember, I won – I clobbered Norm Coleman by 312 votes, so.
DOKOUPIL: Resounding victory. Landslide.
FRANKEN: Yes, yes. And so I put my head down and did my job. But I love touring. This weekend I’m going to be in Kansas City, and then Chicago, and St. Louis. A 15-city tour. And it’s just I love – I love making audiences laugh.
KING: But a lot has happened to you, though, Senator. You know, to get back on the road – to be back in the public eye, that’s what I mean. I know you’ve got the comedy chops, I know that. But just what you went through personally. The way you left the Senate, under the circumstances that you did, you must have had to take time to reflect and figure out what am I gonna do, how am I going to do?
FRANKEN: Yeah, it was a bit of a shock when that happened.
FRANKEN: And we talked a little bit about that. But, you know, this is me kind of going back to my roots. And I really admire great stand-ups. I have this podcast, and normally I do public policy and I talk to, you know, people like Norm Ornstein or Mark Elias on election law or something like that. But I just had on Jim Gaffigan because I like to have comedians.
KING: Yeah, yeah, we like him.
FRANKEN: Sarah Silverman and those people. So I’ve always – I always have loved comedy and I’ve loved satire. I think there’s a role for satire since Jonathan Swift.
KING: And you’re good at it. But some of your former colleagues have now said they regret their decision to call for your resignation.
DOKOUPIL: Nine of them, in fact.
KING: Nine of them, that is the number. Have they reached out to you? Have you had any conversation with them? And how do you feel where you hear they now regret it, are you like, “Yeah, thanks”?
DOKOUPIL: For nothing.
FRANKEN: Well, there’s a little of that. But I’m also – I’m a forgiving person and I’m grateful. You know, you don’t usually hear nine former senators say they are wrong about something. And they all know that I deserved due process and didn’t get it. And yeah, when I’ve talked to them, they’ve been very apologetic. But that was four years ago now and I’m really enjoying what I’m doing now.
NATE BURLESON: I want to get your thoughts on cancel culture. Do you believe that you were canceled?
FRANKEN: I don’t know what the vocabulary is. I believe that it was just a point in time where everything came together. And I think that the nine have expressed exactly what I feel, is that what you should do, especially in the United States Senate, you should have an ethics investigation. And that’s what I asked for and didn’t get.
BURLESON: Right. Now I’m a big fan of comedy and I’ve always felt like it’s the truest form of free speech. Dave Chapelle has recently come under some type of criticism for his stand-up. Do you believe that stand-up comedy, or just comedy in general, should be free from that type of cancel culture criticism?
FRANKEN: Well, I haven’t seen – I’m a big fan of Chapelle’s – I have not seen that special. There were a number of specials that kind of were building on each other and I haven’t seen them. Look, satire has a very important place. It’s meant to be provocative. It’s meant to start discussions and stuff. So we’re talking Lenny Bruce and Dick Gregory…
BURLESON: George Carlin.
FRANKEN: …and George Carlin and Richard Prior, and Chappelle is one of them. I don’t – you know, it’s hard – you offend very often, it’s hard to figure out where exactly the line is. And different people have different ideas of where that line is, right? So I think we need to be careful that we understand what the role of satire is. And I it’s an important role and it’s what I’m doing out on the road now. That’s kind of why I’m doing it.
KING: Is there any part of you that wants to get back into politics? You once said, “We all do better when we all do better.”
FRANKEN: I once said it, I was quoting Paul Wellstone.
FRANKEN: And that’s the reason I ran for the Senate in the first place. He was a friend of mine. And I really believe that very much. I talk about that when I do my show. It’s kind of the climax of my show in a way. Which is – that’s why I’m a Democrat.
KING: Are you thinking about getting back in it?
KING: Are you thinking about getting back into politics in any way?
FRANKEN: I’m not right now giving it any active, you know, thought about doing that. But, you know, I’m open.
KING: Are you open to it?
FRANKEN: I’m open to it, yeah.
DOKOUPIL: In Minnesota or New York?
FRANKEN: I’d say – where are you living now, you’re here?
BURLESON: I’m here, I’m in New York.
FRANKEN: New York, okay. But you played in Seattle.
BURLESON: I played in Seattle and in Minnesota.
FRANKEN: I think Washington is a good state to run in. [Laughter]
KING: Are you worried about where we are as a country, though? Where we’re heading, yeah?
FRANKEN: Yes. Yes. You and I discussed this, I think it is a very dangerous time. And we were talking about just my former Republican colleagues, many of whom I was very friendly with, who know that the election wasn’t stolen but won’t say it. And I’ll say to them, “Come on, this is a very dangerous point in our time. You have to say the election wasn’t stolen. Chris Christie, I think, has got a book out and he’s just saying, “Look, the election wasn’t stolen.” And it wasn’t. And – but two-thirds of Republicans believe it. But my Republican colleagues, former Republican colleagues, who know the election wasn’t stolen, finally I will text them back and forth and finally they’ll go, “Okay, I can’t say that because I’ll be labeled a never-Trumper and I won’t ever get the nomination.”
KING: That’s another reason for you to join the conversation in an official way, Senator Franken. Very good to see you.
BURLESON: It’s good to see you.
DOKOUPIL: Please come on back, we have so much we could have gotten into.
BURLESON: Yeah, no doubt about it.
FRANKEN: Well, have me back tomorrow. [Laughter]
DOKOUPIL: You live uptown.
KING: Thank you, Al Franken.