Early Thoughts on the Herman Cain Sexual Harassment Story
posted at 8:46 am on October 31, 2011 by Jazz Shaw
What better day than Halloween – famous for ghosts, ghouls and goblins – to deal with skeletons. And this week we’re going to find out if Herman Cain has any real skeletons in his closet. By this time I’m sure you’ve already seen the damning headline which Politico launched on Sunday night. Rather than reprinting all of the details here we can best summarize it with the lede.
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. 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.
When this news first broke and we began immediately dissecting it on Twitter, I was mostly cautioning everyone among both Cain’s supporters and detractors to slow walk this one. Stories such as this, ripe with the juiciest buzzwords, are serious poison pills which can leave pundits looking very silly when they finish blowing up. One of the main problems is that the story, while apparently fairly well sourced and researched over a period of time, fails to deliver some of the bedrock facts which would help nail this down one way or the other. Of course, while I wish the reporters from Politico had showed us a little more leg, so to speak, I can also understand how the sources could leave them tongue tied in key areas.
Some things to consider before you jump too quickly into this maelstrom center on the types of accusations being levied. As Da Techguy points out, when you are a successful businessman in a position of power with a lot of money in play, you can attract lawsuits. It’s just a fact of life. I’m not in any way implying the two women in question were disingenuous in their accusations – we simply don’t have enough details to say either way at this point. But such things do happen in the real world, and sometimes large organizations will pay somebody off to just make a problem go away and avoid a prolonged freak show. The payments in question here are apparently in the “five figure” range, so that would be a cheap parachute to grab, IF that’s what happened.
There are also many levels of “sexual harassment” which fall well short of sexual assault. (Which has not even been alleged here, we should point out.) Again, we’re lacking the details of what is alleged to have been done. While not excusing anything, there’s a bit of a difference between grabbing someone’s private areas and, for example, a wink and a nod at an inappropriate moment which somebody might interpret as being more suggestive than it was intended. Politico doesn’t give us enough specifics to see where the alleged activity falls on that scale, so it’s too soon to say one way or the other.
But even with all of that said, this looks pretty bad, and Cain’s supporters may want to be careful in how exuberant they are in his defense. The responses we saw both last night and this morning make it look as if there is either some serious fire under all of this smoke or the Cain campaign is incompetent beyond description. It is now confirmed that Politico was working on this story and in contact with Cain’s people for ten days before they went to press. In all that time, surely somebody must have sat down with the candidate and said, “Look… the storm is coming. This is going to go public. We have to be ready with an answer.”
The answer they wound up going with was nothing short of disastrous, taking the form of an attempt at blaming the liberal media for reporting on it rather than denying or clarifying the story in a less damaging light. Cain’s campaign spokesperson called in to Geraldo and flatly refused to answer the “did this or did this not happen” question, saying instead that the media should contact the restaurant association. The question was put to Herman Cain himself, who glared silently at the camera for an uncomfortable period before saying, “… have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?”
If there’s a worse answer out there, I’m hard pressed to think what it might be, other than grabbing the reporter by the crotch and running away. With a week and a half to prepare, they had to be able to deliver better than this, and thus far it’s all been fumbles coming out of the gate.
I’m seeing some other defenses and postures coming from Cain supporters this morning which should really be avoided. The first is the knee-jerk reaction to say, “But… but… BILL CLINTON!” Yes, we all know what nasty business Bubba got up to. But if the past several years have taught us anything, it’s that liberals have beclowned themselves to the point of Bad Joke Status by responding to every criticism of President Obama with, “But.. but… BUSH!” Pointing out someone else who did something worse doesn’t alter what your guy has done.
The second – and probably worse – line I’m seeing is an attempt to conflate this situation with that of Clarence Thomas. Aside from both cases involving a prominent black man they have little to nothing in common. Anita Hill emerged from obscurity years after the fact to level undocumented charges which couldn’t be effectively substantiated only when Thomas was on the verge of ascending to the highest court in the land. The two women in question here apparently brought forth their complaints in a timely fashion and sought a resolution. They then seem to have remained silent on this and were not the ones who brought up the charges we’re seeing this week. This gives them a lot more credibility than Anita Hill.
So who did leak this particular story? I’ve already received a number of e-mails from correspondents suggesting a variety of theories. One popular one is that the Cain campaign leaked it themselves to “rip the band aid off quickly” and get this out of the way well in advance of the general election. While that can be an effective strategy for candidates, I call baloney on it in this case. If this had come from the Cain campaign they would have been far better prepared with a response as opposed to the train wreck currently unfolding in the press.
Was it either Romney or Perry? Possible, I suppose, and if that’s the case Politico’s reporters would never out their original tipster. But somebody else might let it slip, so it would be a hugely risky move.
The best bet – and this is only a guess, mind you – is that somebody connected to the National Restaurant Association in some fashion who has an ax to grind with Cain decided to whisper in Politco’s ear. Or perhaps just somebody familiar with the case from the 90’s who wanted to feel important and be the hero for some reporters and make a big splash. Hard to say, really.
But, to wrap this up, from what we’ve seen thus far I think Politico has the goods on this one and they’ve got more that they’re not letting out of the bag yet. (If they ever plan to do so at all.) There are too many people weighing in on the story for this to be complete fiction at this point, so Cain’s defenders should be cautious about trying to lay this entirely at the feet of the liberal media. The question at this point is whether this will merely be a thorn in Cain’s side or a gaping breach in the hull of his campaign’s ship. We should know soon enough… probably after a week or ten days gives the story enough time to soak in nationally and then get a few new rounds of polling completed.
NOTE: See also Ed Morrissey’s analysis of this breaking story this morning.