The rule in politics is to get the damaging news out early and be done with it, and it's one Herman Cain and his team are learning the hard way.
While GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain denies claims that he sexually harassed two women during his time as president of the National Restaurant Association, the manner in which he has responded to questions about the incidents have made for a communications disaster that could spell his demise as a frontrunner, according to crisis communications experts.
At a luncheon at the National Press Club Monday,Cain denied any knowledge or involvement in a settlement the association made with one of the women. Later, appearing on Fox News Channel with Greta Van Susteren, he acknowledged being aware of the settlement. "The charge was filed. They did investigate. It was found to be baseless. And yes, there was some sort of settlement or termination," Cain said.
Crisis communication strategists are shaking their heads saying that whether Cain is telling the whole story now is insignificant.
"I'll put it this way," says Lanny Davis, former legal counsel to President Bill Clinton, "if I had to suggest to Mr. Cain, here is how to deal with this in the worst possible way like Nixon and Watergate, Exxon and Valdez, BP and Louisiana, Mr. Cain, you have exceeded all three. You have done the very worst management of a political media crisis in history."
Davis says Cain diminished his chances for recovery when he lost his cool with a Politico reporter outside of CBS Sunday after his appearance on Face the Nation. When the reporter asked Cain if he'd ever been accused of sexual harassment, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO responded evasively, finally shooting back, "Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?"
Davis says if Cain were his client he would have advised the GOP contender to hold a press conference immediately, release any and all settlement papers and apologize to the women who felt they had been harassed. "It's not a complicated strategy, but one that people who are in serious trouble rarely opt for," he says.
Gene Grabowski, senior vice president of Levick Strategic Communications, agrees Cain blew his chance at the White House when he lost his temper. Now, Grabowski says Cain should focus on salvaging his reputation before he loses his lucrative public speaking career.
Another fatal error Grabowski points to is Cain's lack of transparency and reasonable explanation immediately following the allegations.
"If we have learned anything from people like Nixon," Grabowski says, "it is that the cover up is always worse than the crime. The American Public has an almost unlimited capacity for human foibles, but lying they will not tolerate."
Of course, there are exceptions--notably former president Bill Clinton, who survived the Monica Lewinsky scandal. "Look we have all seen Bill Clinton. We all know Clinton. Herman Cain is no Bill Clinton," Grabowski says.