Politico’s rush to cane Herman Cain

By Jack Shafer
October 31, 2011

Let’s assume that Herman Cain misbehaved, in the manner that is聽alleged in Politico, during his time as the head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s.

Such an assumption is hard to make鈥攏ot because the allegations are unbelievable, or because Cain vehemently denied the charges today at a National Press Club lunch (“I was falsely accused”), but because Politico wrapped the allegations in journalistic gauze that frays and dissolves as you unwind it.

What are the allegations? To review, Politico reports that:

路At least two of Cain’s female employees complained about his behavior, which included “conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature.”

路These conversation took place at “hotels during conferences,” at “association events,” and at “the association’s offices.”

路Cain also allegedly made “physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship.”

路A source says one of the women “suffered what the source described as ‘an unwanted sexual advance’ from Cain at a hotel.”

路A source “closely familiar with Cain’s tenure in Washington confirmed” that the claims “disturbed members of the board who became aware of it.”

路This source tells Politico that “sealed settlements [were] reached in the plural” and are said to include payouts “in the five-figure range.”

路Cain allegedly told a campaign staffer this year that claims of sexual harassment could surface.

Granted, we’re talking about a first-day story. Politico may be holding the salient facts in reserve for its follow-ups so it can build its case against Cain a day at a time. If and when they publish them I may change my tune. But right now the subject is today’s story. Until Cain’s accusers speak forthrightly on the record, until Politico shares the underlying “documentation describing the allegations” that it claims to possess, readers have the right to gripe about the charges against Cain being as clear as dappled light on fog.

Before we drag Cain to The Hague’s highest HR court for trial, I’d like to know exactly what Cain said to the women. Did he sexually proposition them? Did he boast about his virility in a vulgar manner in their presence? Did he ask women who worked for him intrusive questions about their sex lives? I’m prepared鈥攅specially after Cain’s kooky National Press Club appearance today, at which he sang a bit of 鈥淗e Looked Beyond My Faults鈥濃攖o believe the worst about him. As we’ve seen during his presidential campaign, he’s impulsive, he’s an egomaniac, he loves to entertain, and he lives to provoke. Add a wandering eye and lascivious impulses to that bundle and you’ve got the makings of a classic sexual harasser.

But that’s all conjecture. Just because he’s a little bit crazy doesn’t make him a sexual harasser, nor do the vague charges made against him. (I’m very curious about what sort of “documentation” in Politico鈥檚 possession describes the decade-old charges against Cain. Transcripts? Internal HR filings? A letter of accusation? A tape-recording? A letter from the lawyers for the accusers petitioning for a cash settlement from the National Restaurant Association?)

If members of the National Restaurant Association board were disturbed by the claims against Cain, surely they were upset by something more detailed than the hazy allegations Politico presents. Likewise, I’d like to know what sort of physical gestures Cain made around his female employees that were not overtly sexual but still made women uncomfortable. If we’re going to judge Cain’s conduct, surely his gestures can be sketched in full by Politico. Why the reluctance? We’re big boys and girls, Politico. We can handle it.

In criticizing the story’s shortcomings, I mean no comfort to sexual harassers. Sexual harassment in the workplace is bad, and not just because it harms women. It injures everybody by arbitrarily discouraging half of the working-age population from contributing their skills and energies to schools, offices, factories, laboratories, and other places of labor. Subtract women from the workplace and you subtract half of all of the creative and industrious workers, damaging the value of goods and services. In the long run, even the men who sexually harass women suffer from their actions, although I doubt that insight will move them to correct their course.

Sometimes the headline of a piece reveals its inadequacies, which seems to be the case with Politico‘s “Exclusive: Two women accused Herman Cain of inappropriate behavior.” If the art of journalism is located in the specifics, the Politico piece deserves just one star.

******

What tunes should be on the Herman Cain playlist? Send nominations to Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com. My Twitter feed streams instrumentals only. Sign up for email notifications of new Shafer columns (and other occasional announcements). Subscribe to this RSS feed for new Shafer columns and subscribe to this hand-built RSS feed for notification of column corrections.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, October 31, 2011.聽 REUTERS/Jason Reed

7 comments

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INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY. Until then, I’ll believe that Mr. Cain is the victim here: Politico’s as-yet-unsubstantiated allegations appear designed to create an emotional response so as to militate against Mr. Cain’s progress in the elections (or at least, distract from the political message he is trying to promulgate, which, as an entirely separate matter, is quite crazy and reckless).

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

In politics it doesn鈥檛 matter if the allegations are true. What matters is whether the allegations are destabilizing enough to cost the accused votes. To those on their self-righteous soap box I politely ask, would you have voted for Clinton had you known about his escapades before he became President? I suspect the vast majority of Herman Caine bashers would have which makes your judgement rather irrelevant.

Posted by GLK | Report as abusive

Shafer, your basic premise is wrong. Politico did not RUSH to publish this article at all. In fact, it approached the Cain campaign 10 days ago and asked for comment and re-approached them several times. The fact that Cain and his advisers did not even bother to get their story straight before embarrassing themselves, show how unfit this comedian is to be President. If an other proof were required, when asked about his expertise on foreign policy, he invoked his learning curve for making pizza! And you say Politico was unfair to this nitwit??!!!

Posted by Bernborough | Report as abusive

Give me a break…politics is a full-contact sport, people. Furthermore, all Politico is doing is pulling the skeletons out of the closet. Compared to Breitbart and O’Keefe, they’re playing pretty nice.

Posted by Art_In_Seattle | Report as abusive

The oft forgotten second part of your quote: Innocent until proven guilty IN A COURT OF LAW. Seem that paying “hush-money” and with a non-disclosure ties the hands of the accusers, though I think the public will see clear to allow it in the end. Your statement implies that if you can afford to pay someone off, you will never face the prospect of facing justice: You can never BE proven guilty in a court of law. My question is, given that the Cain campaign was notified 10 days prior to the publishing of the story, why were they unprepared to deal with it? Why did his story seem to change of the course of the day?

Posted by rmnbike | Report as abusive

Funny… I agree with the first three posts, although they might not all agree with each other. He is innocent until proven guilty. Timing of allegations is critical and are usually made in order to affect votes. Politics is a full contact sport and Breitbart and O’Keefe currently qualify for varsity.

Posted by RynoM | Report as abusive

The problem with these allegations are not the timing, they are not the opportunity for Mr. Cain to respond. The problem is blackmail from which Mr. Cain is guilty until proven guilty.

If there were information available to resolve these claims at the time then they would have been resolved. Instead it is She said and he can’t respond. The NRA settled with two women so they didn’t have to deal with any future problems.

However, extortion is never a good idea. Now these women have the cash and they are still willing to make their claims against this individual. He has nothing with which to defend himself any more than he did 15 years ago. They get the cash and he gets destroyed all with no proof that he knowingly ever did anything improper.

There is nothing Mr. Cain can do. He can’t get a fair hearing so what is he to say? People now say that he has to answer about the allegations and yet he can’t speak about something he feels never happened.

This is a witch hunt. If you drown then you are obviously a witch. If you escape then you are obviously a witch. I think Politico, and these women, are guilty of slander but as a public person Herman Cain has no protection.

Is this the new political landscape? Issue a claim that cannot be refuted or substantiated and the political hopeful is guilty until proven guilty. Unless you are the darling of the media, then you get a pass.

Posted by Arthur_500 | Report as abusive