Minnesota Republicans today stepped up a campaign to portray Al Franken as disrespectful toward women, circulating 13-year-old quotes from the Democratic Senate candidate joking about rape while writing a skit for "Saturday Night Live."
While Franken has tried to draw a sharp line between his comedic endeavors and his bid to become a U.S. senator, he's taking heat from across the political spectrum over old material. Several Democratic members of Congress criticized Franken over a racy fantasy article he wrote eight years ago for Playboy magazine.
Franken's campaign, just a day before the start of the state Democratic endorsing convention, has defended the Playboy piece as satire and has distributed a statement from an official with the Minnesota chapter of the National Organization for Women.
Franken told the Associated Press that the article containing the rape comments "doesn't sound like me."
In the 1995 New York magazine profile of "Saturday Night Live," Franken is described among a group of show writers sounding out a possible parody of Andy Rooney centered on a sedative pill bottle found in the "60 Minutes" essayist's desk. Franken and fellow writers Norm MacDonald and Jim Downey kick around fictional Rooney responses to the discovery of the bottle.
The article quotes Franken putting an edgy twist on the discussion, saying in a Rooney voice: "And 'I give the pills to Lesley Stahl. Then when Lesley's passed out, I take her to the closet and rape her.' Or 'That's why you never see Lesley until February.' Or, 'When she passes out I put her in various positions and take pictures of her."
MacDonald takes it a step further, suggesting that the Rooney rape comment be directed at other "60 Minutes" icons Mike Wallace and Ed Bradley. Franken chimes in, again in a Rooney voice: "What about 'I drag Mike into my office and rape him. Right here! I guess that makes me bad.'"
The skit never saw air after the final product got weak laughs in dress rehearsal, the magazine article said.
'Rape is not a punch line'
Nonetheless, Republican state Rep. Laura Brod said the quotes combined with the Playboy piece shows "a pattern of behavior which is not suitable for a U .S. senator."
"Rape, a joke. Just think about it. Rape is not a punch line and it certainly is not funny," Brod said, adding, "To thousands of women in this nation who are raped and sexually assaulted, the prospect that a man making a living joking about these things would be a U.S. senator is absolutely horrifying."
It could come into play this weekend when Democrats decide whom to endorse as a challenger to Republican Sen. Norm Coleman. Franken is considered the front-runner in a Democratic race that also features college professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer and frequent candidates Darryl Stanton and Dick Franson.
Republican Party spokesman Mark Drake acknowledged that the article has been in party hands for some time, but was held back until now. He wouldn't say what other material the party has in the pipeline.
Franken criticized article at time
Franken said he wanted to read the New York magazine article before commenting further. In a letter to the magazine published a month later, Franken criticized the writer for a portrayal of female show staffers that Franken found demeaning; he made no mention of the quotes attributed to him.
Franken's campaign spokeswoman, Jess McIntosh, responded to distribution of the article by going after Coleman.
"Norm Coleman voted against funding for the Violence Against Women Act," she said. "He ought to be ashamed."
In response to concerns raised by women over the Playboy article, the Franken campaign distributed a statement in his defense from Shannon Drury, president of Minnesota's chapter of the National Organization for Women.
"Now its content is being used as an excuse to label him a misogynist. Nothing could be further from the truth," Drury wrote Tuesday. "In fact, Al Franken will be a senator who will work tirelessly in support of women's issues. After meeting with Al personally, I find his honesty and openness refreshing, his intelligence and perseverance inspiring."
Associated Press writer Patrick Condon contributed to this report.