Late last evening, the Politico website published a story claiming that GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain was accused of sexual harassment in the late 1990s when he was the head of the National Restaurant Association (NRA). Supposedly, two female NRA employees left the organization and received cash settlements following their complaints.
The story is filled with anonymous sources, and the women are unnamed. The allegations themselves seem to be rather minor in the broad spectrum of “sexual harassment.” Politico reports:
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.
So we have innuendo and sexually suggestive personal questions as the basis for attempting to destroy someone’s career. In other words, it seems Cain’s alleged sexual harassing included nothing blatant or straightforward—at least not according to Politico’s investigation. Instead, we are in a gray area where your misinterpretation could be my innuendo.
Note also that the gestures too were apparently “innuendo” as well in that they were “not overtly sexual” but “regarded as improper in a professional relationship.” That could be anything. Furthermore, it sounds like some innuendos, questions and gestures weren’t even directed at the women themselves, but were merely “witnessed” by them.
The only other information about what the alleged “sexual harassment” entailed is Politico’s anonymous source saying they were told by a nameless board member that the unidentified complainant said “Cain had invited her up to his suite at a prior association event.” It doesn’t say that she went or that anything further happened. The story just dangles it out there, leaves its own innuendo hanging in the air.
For all we know, she said no and that was the end of it—if it ever happened at all. The only people willing to be named in the Politico piece (other than Cain staffers) say they never heard of the allegations back then and could not imagine they could be true.
Regardless of the truth or falsity of the accusations against Cain, he and his campaign staff have handled their response abysmally. The Politico states that they have been in communication with the Cain campaign for 10 days regarding the story, which would have given ample time to prepare a solid, clear, honest response.
Yet, it appears that Cain was caught off-guard Sunday morning. Politico writes:
The latest statement came from Cain himself. In a tense sidewalk encounter Sunday morning outside the Washington bureau of CBS News—where the Republican contender had just completed an interview on “Face the Nation”—Cain evaded a series of questions about sexual harassment allegations.
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?”
The Cain campaign then continued to flub the response by putting spokesman J.D. Gordon on the phone in a live impromptu interview with Geraldo on Sunday night. As bad audio crackled over the airwaves from a cell phone Geraldo held against his lapel microphone, Gordon refused to confirm or deny the allegations. He just kept repeating that people were out to get Cain, as Geraldo kept interrupting with demands that he say if the story were true.
Now the horrendous Geraldo appearance will be what the network morning shows and MSNBC air in a continuous loop today, even though the Associated Press now reports that the Cain campaign is finally calling the allegations false:
“These are baseless allegations,” Gordon said in a second interview later Monday evening. “To my knowledge, this is not an accurate story.”
Cain plans to continue with several planned appearances in Washington on Monday. He is slated to discuss his tax plan at the American Enterprise Institute, appear at the National Press Club and hold a healthcare briefing on Capitol Hill.
Had Cain gotten on top of the story when Politico first began asking about it, he could have avoided the self-inflicted wound he just delivered to himself—-a wound that may cause more injury than what it looks like the weakly presented original story would have caused alone.
If Politico’s story is fully factual, it was right to report it, so that a presidential candidate can be fully vetted—so that we can avoid the disaster of electing an unvetted candidate as we did in 2008 with Barack Obama. However, Politico owes its readership more details on what physical and verbal “innuendos” were made and in what context.
As it stands now, the website gives the reader no way to determine the extent of Cain’s guilt, if any. He’s just coated with the taint of innuendo, of something sordid, unsavory, oppressive.
Cain needs to take advantage of the so-called hot water he’s now in and wash his reputation clean of these allegations with a proper, definitive response.