Franken's porn story has party in a lather

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ and CONRAD WILSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 2, 2008 - 2:52 PM

A 2000 Playboy article may be a problem for the candidate and the DFL, some Democrats say.

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U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken

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WASHINGTON - A week before Minnesota DFLers endorse a U.S. Senate candidate, behind-the-scenes rumblings about a satirical Playboy magazine article written by candidate Al Franken eight years ago have broken into the open.

Among those weighing in are Democrat Jim Oberstar, dean of the Minnesota delegation in the U.S. House, and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

On Thursday, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., called the sexually explicit article offensive and potentially damaging to Franken and other Democratic candidates in Minnesota.

The Franken campaign and backers of the candidate said the work was merely satire and faulted McCollum for dividing the party.

"As a woman, a mother, a former teacher, and an elected official, I find this material completely unacceptable," McCollum said of Franken's piece, published in 2000 under the headline "Porn-O-Rama!"

"I can tell you it's not playing comfortably in St. Paul, and I can't imagine this politically radioactive material is doing very well in suburban and rural districts," McCollum said.

Minnesota Reps. Tim Walz and Keith Ellison expressed similar concerns in interviews Thursday with the Associated Press. Ellison said the Franken article made him "uncomfortable," citing passages on oral sex and bestiality. Walz called the piece "pretty inappropriate."

McCollum supported Franken rival Mike Ciresi, who dropped out of the race in March. She said she has not talked to Ciresi about the Playboy article, nor has she encouraged him to reenter the race, although others have.

Ciresi was not available for comment Thursday.

McCollum said Franken's piece came up at a weekly meeting of Minnesota Democrats in Congress on May 21. "The overwhelming majority of us thought it was a serious political problem," she said. "Others thought it was a problem but that it would blow over."

Oberstar, one of those who attended the meeting, said that "some concerns were raised" but that he concluded the matter "is best left to the delegates to sort out at the convention."

The concerns coming out of the meeting came to the attention of Schumer, who talked to Oberstar about them.

Schumer spokesman Matthew Miller declined to discuss the conversation, other than to say, "We support Al Franken and we believe he will beat Norm Coleman in November."

Franken, a former "Saturday Night Live" star, wrote the piece for the January 2000 edition of Playboy, describing a virtual reality sex laboratory involving researchers and "sexbots" (sex robots) at the fictional Minnesota Institute of Titology, or MIT.

"I could describe the incredible sex the three of us had, but this is a piece of journalism about the future of pornography and not one of those cheesy letters from a horny reader," Franken wrote.

McCollum said the piece, in which sex acts are explicitly described, is tantamount to pornography, noting that the Star Tribune would not publish it in its entirety.

Franken campaign spokesman Andy Barr fired back at McCollum Thursday, saying "it's unfortunate that she's trying to create divisions in our party rather than working with other DFLers to take on [Coleman]."

Some Franken supporters took a similar line. "I know that Representative McCollum was a co-chair of Mike Ciresi's campaign, but at a time when Minnesotans are hurting, it's extremely disappointing that she would rather destroy party unity than focus on beating Norm Coleman," said Javier Morillo, president of Service Employees International Union Local 26.

Franken's backers have deflected similar criticism of his past writing, saying that Minnesota voters understand that he was a satirist.

"Al Franken being a satirist isn't something that just emerged," said state Sen. Mee Moua, DFL-St. Paul.

Countered McCollum: "This isn't satire. It's a serious political problem."

Franken's chief rival for the DFL endorsement, University of St. Thomas professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, has stayed out of the fray. "We are spending every moment and every resource connecting with DFL delegates," said Chris McNellis, Nelson-Pallmeyer's campaign spokesperson.

kdiaz@startribune.com • 202-408-2753 cjwilson@startribune.com • 202-408-2723

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