As AEI turns into a three-ring circus for Herman Cain's appearance, let's review the Politico bombshell story about his alleged inappropriate conduct toward two female coworkers, before he fields any questions.
The first question is whether this is a legitimate story. The answer is plainly yes: if a candidate has a track record of inappropriate behavior toward women, that's of public interest. The accusation, voiced by some conservatives already, that Bill Clinton got a pass from the media for loutish behavior lacks force, because Clinton should have faced more scrutiny.
The second question is whether Politico's story holds up. The story is definitely weak in that it mentions no specifics and includes no quotes from anyone accusing Cain. It does contain, however, a number of quotes from people supportive of Cain who express disbelief that would have behaved inappropriately. Furthermore, the charge that the National Restaurant Association settled two suits relating to the broad category of "inappropriate behavior" tells us very little. It isn't confirmation that Cain was actually guilty of inappropriate behavior, much less that he committed sexual harassment specifically.
Nevertheless, there are two aspects of the story that raise it above the level of the accusations made against Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings (another event brought up by a number of conservative defenders of Cain last night and this morning). The first is that Politico's story is verifiable, because it references a paper trail the National Restaurant Association has in its possession. This isn't merely "he said, she said," and if Politico got it wrong, they will be caught out. The second is that Politico's Jonathan Martin asked Herman Cain four times, in person, if he'd ever been accused of sexual harassment, and Cain did not deny that he had. His spokesman also failed to deny it on Geraldo. Not until the past hour did anyone in the Cain camp deny that he had sexually harassed anyone, even though they'd been aware of the story since Politico asked Cain about the accusations prior to reporting it.
In summary: there is a real story here. It's possible that Politico got the story wrong, in which case they will be exposed. It's also possible that the story is totally accurate, and yet Cain is innocent of any wrongdoing. There are plenty of reasons, after all, why a businessman would settle a harassment suit even if he were blameless. The final possibility, of course, is that Cain did behave inappropriately toward women he worked with. Let's hope that's not the case.
A few final points: the accusation that Politico is unfairly liberal (made by Jeff Lord, among others) is itself unfair. Politico undoubtedly employs reporters from liberal media backgrounds, including at least one of the reporters who contributed to the Cain story, Ken Vogel. On the other hand, they also feature writers hired from conservative outlets. It's worth noting they have published pieces by a number of Spectator writers, myself included.
Lastly, it's likely that the story was motivated by opposition research from one of Cain's primary opponents. The article doesn't include any hints about who that might be, but, given Cain's ascent in the polls, it's not too hard to think of a few possibilities.
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