I have to rub my eyes, slap my forehead, and keep reminding myself that astounding as it seems, many of the same journalists I hear calling the detail-free and meaningless sexual harassment rumors about Herman Cain “devastating” never considered the sexual harassment issue worth discussing during President Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky crisis, and ignored Juanita Broderick’s credible claims that Clinton sexually assaulted her when he was Arkansas Attorney General. Times have changed, have they? How convenient.
CNN’s Gloria Borger, whose sneering daily coverage of all Republican presidential candidates on has to be seen to be believed, asked the Perry campaign operative Cain has accused of leaking the story to Politico what it would mean for Cain’s candidacy “if the sexual harassment charges are true.” That question is incompetent, dishonest and reckless journalism, because there are no “sexual harassment charges,” and there is no possible way that they can be proven “true.” Borger’s phrasing of her question implies that there is a standing accusation of wrongdoing, and there is not; it also suggests that there is a fair process available to determine truth, when there is not. Thus she exploits the public’s ignorance about sexual harassment (which she quite possibly shares) to impugn Cain without a molecule, atom, or photon of evidence. Nothing.
Now the Washington Post has demanded that the National Restaurant Association, which paid a settlement to one of Cain’s accusers—of exactly what, we do not know— in the 90’s, release the woman from the guaranteed confidentiality she was paid for. And what will that accomplish? Simple: it will screw Herman Cain, which is apparently the news media’s objective. As with Anita Hill’s calculated hit job on Clarence Thomas to derail his confirmation to the Supreme Court, the woman will tearfully describe how Cain’s jokes, or looks, or gestures, or some other conduct that did not involve physical contact made it so uncomfortable to work at the association that she was compelled to file a complaint. Cain will counter that what he did, if he did it at all, was innocent and misconstrued. And those who want to see Cain sink will proclaim that they believe his accuser (although they know nothing about her, and although she will have happily pocketed thousands of dollars in exchange for a promise she will be breaking), while those who support Cain will announce that they believe Herman, and there will be absolutely no way to determine if one or either of them are accurately recounting what happened—if either is even capable of doing so, so long after the relevant events. That doesn’t matter though, because the inevitable result will be to derail Cain’s momentum, create doubts about his integrity and values, and by all means, keep the headlines focused on smoke and mist rather than the real and troubling scandals surrounding the Obama Administration.
Joseph Heller added the term Catch-22 to our lexicon, to describe the paradox of a trap that can only be escaped by making the trap unescapable. It accurately describes the monstrously unfair approach the media has adopted in the Cain affair, in which a factless accusation involving a completely subjective offense can only be defended against by airing embarrassing claims that can never be verified now and which the accuser accepted money rather than attempt to verify them in court . The story, for this reason, never should have been reported, and once reported, should have been quickly dismissed as the dirty trick that it is.
In sexual harassment…Gloria…the offense of creating a hostile work environment is 100% subjective to the victim. That means that if nine women in a room hear a Herman Cain comment and observe a Herman Cain gesture that they find charming, funny, quirky, but entirely innocent and harmless, and one woman, who may be hyper-sensitive, finds it so offensive that it creates—only for her, now—a hostile work environment, she has a colorable claim under the sexual harassment statutes. Unless whatever Herman Cain allegedly did fell squarely under already defined sexual harassment categories, the only way to determine whether what he did or said constitutes the “pervasive” conduct required to create a hostile work environment would be to have a trial. In the trial, it would be determined 1) what happened 2) whether what happened was so pervasive that Cain’s accuser could reasonably feel that it made her work environment hostile. Until and without those dual determinations, it is impossible—impossible—to determine or for anyone to say definitively that the accusation is “true.” This is why Borger’s question was outrageous, and this is why the media attention on this issue is unethical.
Herman Cain cannot have engaged in sexual harassment as a matter of law until a court determines that he did so, and since a court cannot and will not determine that after more than a decade, and since his accusers chose to accept a settlement rather than try to persuade a court to make such a determination, it is unfair to give any attention, significance or credibility to the story.