Expect this to be a big political news week with a political story that has just been broken by The Politico, an online publication that’ll be hard for partisans to dismiss as part of the “liberal news media.” Major candidates get major scrutinty and so it has begun for poll-soaring Herman Cain who The Politico reports was accused by two women who worked at his company for sexual harrassment:
During Herman Cain’s tenure as the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, at least two female employees complained to colleagues and senior association officials about inappropriate behavior by Cain, ultimately leaving their jobs at the trade group, multiple sources confirm to POLITICO.
Note that The Politico sites at least two sources which means they produced their story using the same standards editors on newspapers for which I worked demanded: you get several sources. This isn’t a story written like most blog posts, copy and paste, or in some cases just a blogger taking one fact and running with it. The Politico used the careful journalistic technique of finding several sources to confirm serious assertions or allegations:
The women complained of sexually suggestive behavior by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable, the sources said, and they signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts to leave the association. The agreements also included language that bars the women from talking about their departures.
In a series of comments over the past 10 days, Cain and his campaign repeatedly declined to respond directly about whether he ever faced allegations of sexual harassment at the restaurant association. They have also declined to address questions about specific reporting confirming that there were financial settlements in two cases in which women leveled complaints.
Declining comment on a story such as this is like inviting the press to drop everything and pursue it. News subjects that have nothing to hide rarely decline comment.
POLITICO has confirmed the identities of the two female restaurant association employees who complained about Cain but, for privacy concerns, is not publishing their names.
Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon told POLITICO the candidate indicated to campaign officials that he was “vaguely familiar” with the charges and that the restaurant association’s general counsel had resolved the matter.
The latest statement came from Cain himself. In a tense sidewalk encounter Sunday morning outside the Washington bureau of CBS News — where the Republican contender had just completed an interview on “Face the Nation” — Cain evaded a series of questions about sexual harassment allegations.
Cain said he has “had thousands of people working for me” at different businesses over the years and could not comment “until I see some facts or some concrete evidence.” His campaign staff was given the name of one woman who complained last week, and it was repeated to Cain on Sunday. He responded, “I am not going to comment on that.”
He was then asked, “Have you ever been accused, sir, in your life of harassment by a woman?”
He breathed audibly, glared at the reporter and stayed silent for several seconds. After the question was repeated three times, he responded by asking the reporter, “Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?”
Cain’s camp is now officially responding by saying its a case of the media being the stereotype of the liberal news media, just trying to get something — a defense line that will likely cause those who already support him to rally to his defense and perhaps get him some more followers who are talk radio and ideological cable show fans. Read the AP report HERE.
This is sure to be a big media story. The question is whether it has “legs” and rages on for a few days — and whether the increased scrutiny Cain comes under producers more unwanted news stories.
What may be different here is that Cain has a high likability factor that should continue to serve him well within the GOP. Even so, will if the scandal cuts Cain down a notch who benefits? Rick Perry? Or Newt Gingrich if Perry is proving to be a well-funded candidate who like Mitt Romney simply cannot close his deal.
But now that The Politico story is out, look for media scrutiny of Cain to intensify.
UPDATE 1: That didn’t take long. The Politico is being in effect charged with being part of that mean, old liberal media (it’s not usually suggested its that when it goes after a different part or ideology, then it’s doing its job, you see) and of course racist.
—The Politico is acting like a typical news source. They are very carefully scrutinizing and going over each possible facet of a political front-runner. Their staff isn’t getting emailed or faxed political instructions from Barack Obama, the Democratic Party or even Cain’s opponents. The editors and reporters are doing their job as journalism schools would teach journalists to do.
—If Cain is a skilled politician he can handle this 1990s based story with skill and move on. This DOES NOT have to be a huge scandal that impacts Cain within the GOP or outside of it. It could be argued it’s no real scandal but a mini-scandal — except the way our 24/7 new/old media now work, this will be a major topic and has to be addressed, not ignore. It can be defused.
—Some of Cain’s Democratic foes and Republicans will take this story and run with it and use it as a political tool. Since most weblogs now are appendages of political parties in many ways the blogs will have fun with it, with people raging on each side, playing offense and defense lawyer and of course going after the media.
—Congratulations, The Politico. When you first came out some websites suggested you’d be an ideological site on the right and mostly opinion or Fox-style opinion reporting. Now you are being accused of being part of the mean old media rubbing its hands with glee as it tries to take a Republican candidate down — trying to take a black man down. You have arrived! (But don’t worry: when you do a piece that hurts a top Democrat your current critics will praise your professionalism, total objectivity and hold you up as a role model of unbiased, unfettered journalistic independence and professionalism).
UPDATE 2: The Politico reports that Cain has responded by attacking The Politico, not addressing the 1990s allegations. This will play well to the party’s conservative base, talk show hosts and conservative bloggers since it’s going after “the media.” It will also keep stories about Cain alive and encourage other news outlets to look at every facet of his life very carefully, figuring that there could be something hidden. It’s like inviting the media — a la Gary Hart.
The best strategy is to defuse the charges head on with specifics and answer each question or allegation. Then it’ll fade.
Herman Cain’s campaign issued a lengthy statement Sunday night attacking – but not directly denying — POLITICO’s report that at least two women had accused the GOP presidential candidate of inappropriate behavior during his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association.
And in a phone interview with Fox News, Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon repeatedly evaded questions about whether the trade group made payments to two female employees who expressed discomfort with Cain’s actions.
“All I’m telling you right now is, this is something the establishment is trying to attack Mr. Cain on,” Gordon said. Pressed by host Geraldo Rivera as to whether there had been any cash settlements, Gordon said: “You’d have to get that from the National Restaurant Association.”
Gordon told the Associated Press Sunday evening that the campaign was flat-out denying POLITICO’s story. But the campaign has not responded to the substance of the report in any detail.
Earlier Sunday, Cain repeatedly declined to answer several direct questions from POLITICO about the allegations, and the campaign’s first statement on the story did not include a denial.
“Fearing the message of Herman Cain who is shaking up the political landscape in Washington, Inside the Beltway media have begun to launch unsubstantiated personal attacks on Cain,” Cain’s campaign said in a statement. “Dredging up thinly sourced allegations stemming from Mr. Cain’s tenure as the Chief Executive Officer at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, political trade press are now casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts.”
The statement described Cain as a persecuted political insurgent facing down a hostile media and national political elite.
“Since Washington establishment critics haven’t had much luck in attacking Mr. Cain’s ideas to fix a bad economy and create jobs, they are trying to attack him in any way they can,” the campaign said. “Sadly, we’ve seen this movie played out before – a prominent Conservative targeted by liberals simply because they disagree with his politics. Mr. Cain — and all Americans, deserve better.”
Cain will certainly be asked to address the allegations against him more specifically in the coming days. He has two public events in Washington Monday: a 9 a.m. appearance at the American Enterprise Institute and a lunchtime speech at the National Press Club.
ALSO WORTH NOTING: In a case such as this an organization might feel it’s better to settle due to the time and other factors that could cause a more expensive loss in court. Settling would NOT prove guilt in this case.
The bottom line is that this can be defused unless the Cain camp sees some interest in keeping it alive so he becomes a kind of political victim, which will win him more support as conservatives who are angry and think the media gets around and makes a list of which Republicans to bring down flock to him in solidarity and political reactive ire.