If anyone needed proof that Herman Cain had become a legitimate contender for the 2012 presidential nomination, the story that broke over the weekend in Politico--that he had been accused of sexual harassment when he headed the National Restaurant Association--is it.
It’s the politics of personal destruction all over again. Someone who would rather not see Cain as the GOP nominee—or who just wants to keep the GOP field in disarray—has injected a highly volatile, potentially campaign and career-ending allegation into the race that has already forced the arguable Republican front-runner onto the defensive.
The campaign is firing back and, surprisingly, may be able to withstand the charge in today’s changing political climate.
Cain chief of staff Mark Block told NBC Monday that "Herman Cain has never sexually harassed anybody, period. End of story. The only people who spoke publicly about the story in that article are the ones that were in the best position to know."
"They were the chair, vice chair and immediate past chair of the National Restaurant Association during Herman Cain's tenure," Block went on. "Yet all three—and all three said that he was a man of total integrity. Every negative word and accusation in the article is sourced to a series of unnamed or anonymous sources, and this is questionable at best. I am not personally aware of any cash settlement relating to sexual harassment charges to Mr. Cain."
The public is sick to death of so-called "gotcha" stories that are short on fact but long on rumor, innuendo, and anonymous sources. The media, should it keep trying to drive this train, may end up feeling more of the heat—unless they can come up with some specific facts and find some people who are willing to put their name to an allegation—than the Cain campaign, whose supporters will likely take this latest attack as confirmation that their man is a serious candidate for president.
The mainstream media’s record on issues like this is spotty, to put it mildly, and they have a lot to answer for. They followed the Democratic Party line from Gennifer Flowers to Paula Jones to Monica Lewinsky and beyond in an effort to help President Bill Clinton and, had it not been for Matt Drudge, they would have gotten away with it. They also did everything they could to bury the Sen. John Edwards "love child" story until the National Enquirer made it impossible to ignore. So how come Herman Cain is suddenly fair game, especially with a story as apparently thin and anonymously sourced as the one that appeared over the weekend?
It may be that there is more to the story but that’s doubtful. The story and its timing smacks of political tactics, the kind that derail campaigns at critical moments because the charges sound bad, the reality is difficult to explain and, most of all, because the sizzle is more interesting than the steak.