Throughout the early Nineties, “sexual harassment” was presented to the American public as an unspeakable crime, an offense so serious that merely the credible accusation of a powerful man making unwanted advances toward a woman was enough to destroy a career with no further questions asked. The Left’s frenzied attempt to derail the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas poured high-octane fuel into the sexual harassment movement, as a pack of very thin allegations against a conservative judge was inflated into a national crusade through raw media power.
Sexual harassment had a great decade… right up until the sitting Democrat President, Bill Clinton, was caught red-handed perpetrating it. Suddenly it wasn’t so bad at all. In fact, feminists thoughtfully informed us, a powerful man could be forgiven a couple of trysts with young underlings, provided he had strong pro-feminist political credentials. In 1991, the “seriousness of the charge” was more important than the facts themselves, as Nina Totenberg of NPR memorably explained. By 1998, it all depended on the meaning of the word “is,” and suddenly the “character” of the accused (as measured by political convictions) was more important than either the seriousness of the charge or the evidence.
Thirteen years later, “sexual harassment” is back, baby, and now it doesn’t even matter if the charge is all that serious, provided the target is a black conservative… specifically, presidential candidate Herman Cain.
This weekend, the Politico website devoted four reporters to bringing us the horrifying tale of two anonymous women who claim Herman Cain made vaguely inappropriate gestures at them ten years ago, when he was head of the National Restaurant Association:
On the details of Cain’s allegedly inappropriate behavior with the two women, POLITICO has a half-dozen sources shedding light on different aspects of the complaints.
The sources — which include the recollections of close associates and other documentation — describe episodes that left the women upset and offended. These incidents include conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature, taking place at hotels during conferences, at other officially sanctioned restaurant association events and at the association’s offices. There were also descriptions of 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.
(Emphasis mine.) Not only has “sexual harassment” returned with a vengeance, but now it doesn’t even have to be “overtly sexual.”
Remember the Praetorian Guard behavior of the media ranks that closed around Bill Clinton – to the point of aggressively suppressing credible accusations of rape against him, and thereby launching the career of Matt Drudge – when you watch the swarms of reporters tearing into Herman Cain over this. I wonder how many innuendo-laden conversations Clinton had with women who were not Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office. Heck, I wonder how many he had last week.
All of Politico’s sources are perfectly anonymous. Anonymous sources confirm the reports of anonymous sources, and anonymously relate things Herman Cain allegedly said to them years ago. Everyone willing to go on the record either had no comment, or spoke well of Cain:
Ron Magruder, Denise Marie Fugo and Joseph Fassler, the chair, vice chair and immediate past chairman of the National Restaurant Association board of directors at the time of Cain’s departure, said they hadn’t heard about any complaints regarding Cain making unwanted advances.
“I have never heard that. It would be news to me,” said Fugo, who runs a Cleveland, Ohio, catering company, adding such behavior would be totally out of character for the Cain she knew. “He’s very gracious.”
[…] Fassler – who ran a Phoenix food-service company and finished his term as chairman the month before Cain’s June 1999 departure but remained on the board’s executive committee – described Cain as treating men and women identically and asserted it was “not within his character” to make unwanted advances. “It’s not what I know of him,” Fassler said.
Much like Fassler, almost all board members remember Cain fondly and say he left on good terms.
Cain was “extremely professional” and “fair” to female staffers at the restaurant association, recalled Lee Ellen Hayes, who said she “worked fairly closely with” Cain in the late 1990s, when she was an executive at the National Restaurant Association Education Fund, a Chicago-based offshoot of the group.
Cain’s treatment of women was “the same as his treatment of men. Herman treated everyone great,” said Mary Ann Cricchio, who was elected to the board of the restaurant group in 1998. She said Cain left such a good impression on the organization that when he spoke at a group event in January of this year, as he was considering a presidential bid, “he had unanimous support in the room.”
Supposedly Cain’s accusers were given five-figure separation packages after the National Restaurant Association resolved the matter, according to “documentation’ Politico claims to have seen, but no one willing to go on the record remembers anything about.
The point of this carefully orchestrated media hit was to rattle Cain’s neophyte campaign staff, and take the candidate himself off his game. It appears to have worked. The same press corps that couldn’t care less about Vice President Joe Biden lying through his teeth about crime statistics, and trivializing rape for political advantage, mobbed Cain in “a tense sidewalk encounter Sunday morning outside the Washington bureau of CBS News,” and flustered him enough to evoke this reaction:
Cain said he has “had thousands of people working for me” at different businesses over the years and could not comment “until I see some facts or some concrete evidence.” His campaign staff was given the name of one woman who complained last week, and it was repeated to Cain on Sunday. He responded, “I am not going to comment on that.”
He was then asked, “Have you ever been accused, sir, in your life of harassment by a woman?”
He breathed audibly, glared at the reporter and stayed silent for several seconds. After the question was repeated three times, he responded by asking the reporter, “Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?”
A Cain spokesman issued a strong denial to the Daily Caller:
“Fearing the message of Herman Cain who is shaking up the political landscape in Washington, Inside the Beltway media have begun to launch unsubstantiated personal attacks on Cain,” J.D. Gordon, Cain’s spokesman, said in a statement provided to The Daily Caller.
Gordon continued: “Dredging up thinly sourced allegations stemming from Mr. Cain’s tenure as the Chief Executive Officer at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, political trade press are now casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts.”
Hopefully Gordon has limbered up his “strong denial” muscles, because he’ll be obliged to issue plenty more of them, to a press corps that would laugh ten-year-old anonymously sourced allegations against Barack Obama out of the room – or perhaps launch investigations of the accusers, if they couldn’t ignore the story to death. Herman Cain will not be allowed to talk about anything else for at least a week, and perhaps longer. Instead, he’ll be forced into the same game the Washington Post has been trying to play with Senator Marco Rubio:
1. Publish a sensational allegation (refuted, in the case of the Post hit on Rubio, in a matter of hours by another paper.)
2. Wait a for other media outlets to give the story a bit of traction.
3. Begin describing the target as “controversial,” “embattled,” or surrounded by “swirling allegations.”
Democrats never have to play this game – in fact, their media janissaries will swat down troublesome stories that “distract” Democrat candidates from “the issues.” If necessary, they’ll even launch multimedia campaigns to assure Americans that “character doesn’t count,” or flip the story around into an investigation of the Democrat’s sinister, greedy, or insane accusers.
Happily for Herman Cain’s anonymous attackers and their anonymous corroborators, there is absolutely zero chance they will be accused of racism by the mainstream press, no matter what color their skin turns out to be. Assuming the media even bothers to find out what they look like.
It should be noted that Cain’s camp has been pitching their response as criticism of the media’s motives, and the incredibly shoddy “unnamed source” reporting, rather than issuing ironclad denials that anything ever happened. Spokesman Gordon played it that way on Geraldo River’s Fox News program Sunday night:
Cain’s campaign attacked the report, while not outright dismissing the validity of every allegation.
“These are allegations — this is not sourced,” Gordon told Fox News. “These two sources aren’t even named in the piece. It was a third party.”
When pressed on whether the two women received financial payouts from the trade association, Gordon deferred.
“You’ll have to get that from the National Restaurant Association,” he said.
Gordon said the story is simply the result of liberal activists trying to target a conservative leader.
“He deserves better,” Gordon said. “You see him at the top of the polls, so this is an attempt to drag him down. That is what it is.”
If there really is any substance at all to this story – even if it’s something only faintly embarrassing, or it was a barrage of nebulous complaints from two employees with an axe to grind against Cain – his campaign is making a deadly mistake by assuming they can handle it the way a Democrat would. Gordon’s insistence that all questions about the case be referred to the National Restaurant Association is an example of this mistake. That sort of deflection will smell like blood in the water to the press corps. No Republican candidate will ever be able to disperse a media frenzy by criticizing their use of unnamed sources.
Cain is supposed to make a Fox News appearance at 11:15 this morning, and will also speak at the American Enterprise Institute today. He should throw every card he has on the table, and relate every scrap of knowledge he personally possesses about whatever took place, subject to any legal obligations he might have to the National Restaurant Association. If this story has even the tiniest bit of meat on its bones, a misleading report will become the story by the end of the week, and nobody in the press will care about how shoddy Politico’s rollout was.
Update: Courtesy of NewsBusters, amazing video of the lead Politico author, Jonathan Martin, saying “we’re just not going to get into the details of exactly what happened with these women.” If any of you are still wondering what separates a “hit piece” from real news reporting, this will hopefully make the distinction clear. Never mind the details – just take it on faith from the Politico team that a couple of people they won’t name accused Herman Cain of doing something they won’t discuss, ten years ago, and America should be very concerned about it.
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