As I wrote earlier this week, I don’t particularly like to dedicate much time or attention to the Herman Cain sexual harassment story: The networks and Politico have given it enough. More eyeballs need to be on Barack Obama, who continues to spout obnoxious justifications of his jobs bill and who didn’t do much to demonstrate strong leadership at G-20. (“What the world looks for in moments such as this is action,” he said at its conclusion. Wow! So specific! Why no action, then?)

Nevertheless, this proposition from Rush Limbaugh is too irresistibly interesting and provocative to not write about:

“If we had a Republican Larry Flynt — this guy, I would urge him to wave around $50,000 for proof of sexual harassment at Politico,” Limbaugh said. “I mean, that’s what Larry Flynt does. He waves around $100,000, $50,000 for proof of sex with a Republican. So if we had a Republican Larry Flynt — you want strategy Mr. Gregory? I got one. We have our Larry Flynt offer $50,000 for any news, any proof, quote, unquote ‘proof’ of sexual harassment at the Politco office. And we can win it because the rules have been established by Politico. The truth is whatever the accuser says.

“So we wave around $50,000, we get some woman to come forward and say, ‘Yes, I got harassed at the Politico offices,’ and it’s over because she says so,” Limbaugh said. “We’re supposed to automatically believe — you see how this could work? Our ‘Larry Flynt’ waves $50,000 around for proof of sexual harassment by anyone at Politico then a woman says, ‘It happened. Give me the money.’ What happened? ‘Well, I was in there once and David Gregory or David Gergen,’ pick a name, ‘hit on me’ or ‘made me feel nervous.’”

Plenty of pundits have pointed out just how sloppy the journalism behind the initial Politico report appears to have been — and critics have also called into question Politico’s willingness to stoke the controversy by not merely allowing speculation about its sources to arise — but by reporting accusations that this or that camp is behind the report, along with denials from both Rick Perry’s campaign and Mitt Romney’s camp. Here’s Andrew McCarthy, eloquently expounding that theme:

But we’ve learned the most about Politico. Look, for example, at thisPolitico this morning had a post about how, after Cain blamed Perry for being the source of the sexual-harassment story, Perry promptly turned around and floated Romney as the likely source. Yes, congratulations GOP on the circular firing squad — but that’s not the point. The point is:Politico knows who the source is.

This isn’t a game-show where the host has the answer on his little card and his job is to have the contestants keep guessing until someone stumbles into the right answer. This is supposed to be news coverage — professional journalism about a serious matter with a goal of edifying the reader about what actually happened.

Politico has now framed discovery of the identity of the source as is a noteworthy story. Yet,Politico knows that if the identity of the source is a story, it is only because Politico itself is being coy. Politico has reported that Perry may be the source and that Romney may be the source. Yet, Politico knows precisely whether the Perry campaign or the Romney campaign (or both . . . or neither) is the source. It is thus almost certainly true that at least some of the conflicting allegations Politico is airing are known by Politico to be false. In fact, both the Perry and Romney camps have denied involvement — if it so happens that one of those camps is the source, then Politico knows the denial is a lie, yet it published the denial anyway. That would amount to colluding with its source in order to tarnish Cain while fraudulently portraying its source as above the fray.

Given that Politico knows the source of the story, the paper could either (a) completely respect the anonymity of the sources and stay silent on the speculation or (b) report the truth when a false accusation is made. (I.e. “Cain has accused the Perry camp, but no member of Perry’s campaign was among the sources for our story.”) If they insist on using anonymous sources in the first place, I’d say (a) would be the most respectable route, but that’s just me.

In glorious Rush fashion, though, Limbaugh doesn’t even go in this direction. He just says, “Fine. That’s how you wanna play? That’s how we’ll play.”

It’s just Rush rhetoric, I know: No Republican Larry Flynt exists and, if he did, conservatives who care about the truth would feel sick to their stomachs about it. But it fantastically makes this point: We don’t have to play their game at all. Let them rile themselves up; we still have the choice to stay focused on real stories and substantive issues — and that’s what we’ll do.