Editorials

Boycott Al Franken in Seattle, if you wish. But elected officials were dead wrong to try to cancel his Friday show

Comedian, author and former U.S. Sen. Al Franken will be on stage in Seattle Friday night, barring an eleventh-hour victory by the torch-and-pitchfork crowd.

Proponents of free speech and opponents of government-sponsored silencing of it should rejoice. No, Franken’s talk at the Paramount Theater won’t go down as one of history’s greatest defenses of the First Amendment, but it’s still worth putting on the record.

Two King County Council members joined the 21st century cancel-culture frenzy this week by calling for Seattle Theatre Group to pull the plug on Franken’s show. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Joe McDermott signed an open letter saying STG shouldn’t host “an event that supports the comeback tour of a powerful man credibly accused of a growing number of sexual harassment and groping incidents.”

To its credit, STG resisted the pressure.

This is different than what happened five years ago in Tacoma, when a Bill Cosby performance was canceled. The Broadway Center acted on its own, without elected officials meddling, in the middle of a storm of serious sex crime allegations against Cosby that would ultimately send him to prison.

STG knows exactly what they’re getting with the flawed but brilliant Franken, and they’re willing to accept the consequences.

It seems Kohl-Welles and McDermott believe Franken should never be able to earn a living again. And evidently they’re OK denying Puget Sound residents the freedom of choice to be informed and entertained by Franken as he makes that living.

This is censorship, plain and simple, and it’s decidedly not what we elect public officials to do.

Long before he became a senator and even longer before he was pressed to resign under a cloud of boorish behavior in 2017, Franken was well known for a recurring character on Saturday Night Live. He played a milquetoast self-help guru named Stuart Smalley, always ready to share the world’s corniest inspirational catchphrase:

“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me!”

These days, some zealots won’t rest until all society believes the exact opposite about Franken.

That he is NOT good enough, he is NOT smart enough and that, doggone it, nobody should be allowed to like him, forever and ever, amen.

It calls to mind another classic SNL character. Remember the church lady?

Never mind that Franken has valuable insights to relate about the Washington D.C. circus (featuring ringmasters from both parties), plus health care and education reform, and the origins of the Russia investigation.

Never mind that he might actually be introspective and remorseful about his unwelcome conduct with women. Or that he might share important reflections (though many folks don’t want to hear them) about due process and proportional justice.

A question for Kohl-Welles and McDermott: Will you urge local event venues to cancel any future appearances by President Trump? Did you do that when former President Clinton brought his book tour to McCaw Hall last year? Will you do it when Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden makes his inevitable campaign stops in Seattle?

Granted, part of what motivated the two council members to whip out their blacklist is a fresh allegation against Franken. A former aide to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, said in a magazine story this week that Franken groped her rear end at a political event in 2006. Franken wasn’t in politics at the time but was mulling a run for Senate.

Ticket holders for Franken’s appearance can respond any number of ways. They can show up, listen and make their own judgment. They can decide not to attend. They can get a refund, thanks to a gracious decision by STG. They and other local residents can even gather outside the Paramount and protest the theater group for booking Franken.

There are plenty of legitimate ways to vote with your feet and carry the banner of the MeToo movement.

Government leaders should know better than to play cancel-culture hall monitor. They should be good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people should tell them they don’t like it.

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