The comically litigious lawyer Gloria Allred chose an appropriate venue for her latest roast, the Friars' Club in New York City. She treated her client's accusation of sexual harassment and assault as a punch line to a joke: Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain had offered the job seeker "his idea of a stimulus package," Allred said. Perhaps the Comedy Channel should have hosted the event as a program, with frequent roaster Jimmy Kimmel's interview of Cain later in the day as bonus footage at the end.
The story of the accuser, Sharon Bialek, is impossible to verify. Maybe it is true, maybe it is not. But Cain's flat denial of even knowing her gives the media something to check. Did the dinner to which Bialek refers actually occur? If so, Cain's candidacy is finished. "Absolutely not," Cain said to an interviewer who asked if he went out to dinner with her. A categorical denial like that can't be amended later.
Allred waived some affidavits around (from two people to whom Bialek complained at the time), but she didn't release them to the press, noted Fox's Greta Van Susteren. Bialek's recounting of the story seemed slightly odd in parts. For example, Cain had shown coarse presumption in upgrading her hotel suite, she implied, yet that didn't stop her from ending the evening then and there. Also, her recollected response to what she described as an ugly advance upon her was to remind Cain that she had a boyfriend, as if it wouldn't have been harassment and assault in the absence of one.
Liberal pundits found it all very exciting, particularly the new "interracial" dimension to the scandal. What the left thinks of the right always comes out in such moments. MSNBC's resident experts on race all seemed to agree that Cain's alleged selection of a blonde to target threatened to dampen conservative enthusiasm for him, the implied premise of their point being that conservatives are incorrigibly racist and live in dread fear of "black sexuality" loosed upon white women. Cain hasn't been called "OJ" yet, but one MSNBC pundit thought he "should have to register as a sex offender."
Touré, a master theoretician of race whose bracing insights leave MSNBC host Martin Bashir breathless with gratitude, said that the emergence of white accusers may prove too great a strain for pro-Cain conservatives, whose racism up to this point has been tempered by a hatred for Romney:
Charles Blow was talking about this the other day. What sort of comb, he says, does [sic] these women use? We're going to see how open the GOP is to this black -- their "new black friend" when they find out he is harassing blonde women as opposed to black women. That sort of thing of black sexuality -- predatory black sexuality. Very frightening in this country, still. Very threatening. So we'll see how that plays out.
Meanwhile, the Cain camp is adding to the farce, at once bemoaning false charges and making a few of its own. Without any hard proof, it accused Rick Perry's people of planting the original Politico story last week, and then on Tuesday falsely claimed a former Politico reporter was related to one of the accusers. At least Cain came up with a better lawyer than Allred. Atlanta trial attorney Lin Wood appeared at his Tuesday press conference to vouch for him. Wood has made a name for himself as a defender of the falsely accused (such as Richard Jewell) and used those credentials to help Cain. He also noted that he has represented victims of harassment and assault (such as the woman in the Kobe Bryant case) and that they don't wait over a decade to make a complaint.
If Cain is lying, he is an uncannily confident liar, a feat to rival Clinton's. Bill Clinton has appeared on television in recent days to hawk a book on economic policy, but interviewers haven't asked him about the subject on which he holds real expertise -- Cain's troubles. If he suspects Cain of lying, Clinton must secretly admire his chutzpah. Brazen it out, Clinton taught womanizing public figures, and be sure to wow inside-the-beltway types with detailed policy knowledge. Cain has fallen down on the latter, according to pundits who say his ignorance of China's nuclear weapons and other matters troubles them more than his alleged misdeeds -- a style of analysis Clinton's survival made fashionable.
The Cain story has become a tiresome, impossible-to-referee controversy. The persistence of it can be explained in part by the deadness of the GOP field. So thin are the offerings that the "virtual" campaign of Newt Gingrich now looks real and promising to a media in desperate need of a fresh storyline. Bachmann, Perry, Cain -- they have all been flavors of the month. Now it is Gingrich's turn. Once derided for taking a Greek cruise that caused staffers to quit en masse shortly after the start of his campaign, Gingrich can now reflect on the cruise calmly, as he did with CNN's Piers Morgan. It was a valuable trip that enlarged his perspective on the Greek debt crisis, Gingrich explained.
The Penn State scandal has also given journalists tired of the Cain story something to fulminate over this week. Maureen Dowd has found a new authority figure to revile, coach Joe Paterno, whose former defensive coordinator stands accused of abusing young boys. Paterno alerted school officials to the abuse once he learned of it, but Dowd still regards him as the equivalent of an evil and derelict Catholic bishop. "Like the Roman Catholic Church, Penn State is an arrogant institution hiding behind its mystique," she writes. Institutional evil abounds everywhere apparently, except at the New York Times. She salts her column with snide references to "St. Joe" and "Paternoland." She mocks his "values." And she casually refers to him and his colleagues as "scoundrels" who deserve to be run out of town. Why an aged football coach deserves this level of hatred isn't clear. But then again, Paterno is a conservative, and to the left that is the greatest crime of all.
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