Final Verdict: The Unethical Media Persecution of Herman Cain, and Five Questions for His Critics

The media’s relentless coverage of the non-story of Herman Cain’s alleged sexual harassment 15 years ago continues in defiance of all previous standards of journalistic ethics, fairness and decency.It is a disgusting spectacle, yet the number of individuals, including many of my peers, friends and colleagues, who continue to manufacture ways to blame Cain himself for his outrageous treatment continues to grow.  It is almost a full week since Politico published its fact-free hit job, and still there is nothing substantive that would allow anyone to determine with certainty or even probability that Herman Cain did anything other than spark  opportunistic accusations from female employees seeking a swift pay-off. Astoundingly, people who readily assume that Cain was guilty of wrongdoing based on their undefined claims and resulting cash settlements pronounce themselves “shocked” at the Cain’s defenders’ suggestion that the women themselves had no basis for their accusations. Yet that suggestion is at least as supported by the facts, or lack of same, as the conclusion that Cain did anything wrong.

Anonymous sources have been cited as damning accusers without any information whatsoever regarding the nature of the inappropriate conduct Cain was accused of, without any objective determination regarding whether such conduct actually occurred or, if it did, whether it constituted sexual harassment.

Worst of all, and this has been true throughout the episode (which I regard as a journalism scandal rather than a political one), the news stories and news commentary about Herman Cain’s alleged sexual harassment have almost totally neglected to make it clear to readers what sexual harassment is. The story has been repeatedly referred to as a “sex scandal,” which is wrong and misleading: there is no sex in the form of sexual harassment at issue. The so-called charges (there are no charges at this point) are repeatedly being called “serious,” suggesting Cain did something genuinely substantial and wrong, when that is completely unknown. A lot of conduct that can be used to support sexual harassment allegations may be neither intentional nor objectively harmful in any way. The average member of the public who does not deal with the term sexual harassment as a legal term presumes that it always involves so-called “quid pro quo” sexual harassment: a superior’s solicitation of sexual intercourse or other sexual conduct from a subordinate, using threats, direct or implicit, to make the subordinate comply.

This is Bill Clinton-style sexual harassment, which the public heard enough about during the Paula Jones matter to imprint it indelibly on its mind. It is also the kind of sexual harassment usually on display in “Mad Men” and in other fictional venues. The news media knows this, or should know it, so it has an obligation to make clear that this is not what the two women who filed complaints with the National Restaurant Association  alleged, whatever it was that they alleged. This should be done as a necessary component off every single story and piece of commentary about the matter, because to do otherwise is affirmatively misleading.

Cain’s mysterious, undefined, unproven and never-described sexual harassment was what is called “hostile work environment” sexual harassment. Among the conduct that have been held in particular circumstances to constitute “hostile work environment” sexual harassment are using words of endearment or compliments of a physical nature that an employee considers inappropriate, a repeated request to get together socially that an employee considers unwelcome, jokes, songs, non-sexual touching (such as putting a hand on a woman’s shoulder), e-mails including jokes, stories or photos of a sexual or risqué nature, insults with sexual associations, such as “bitch” or “whore,” looks that an individual perceives as leering or uncomfortably intense, an individual repeatedly looking at a woman’s breast, legs or derriere…or an executive encouraging or permitting any of this conduct to occur repeatedly by other employees or, in the case of an association, members or customers. As far as sexual harassment law is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether the offender intended any of this to be disruptive or not, or whether more than one member of the extended staff finds it so.

Is this what the news reports and commentary about Cain’s phantom harassment charges have clearly suggested he was guilty of fifteen years ago? Absolutely not.

I challenge those supposedly fair and unbiased critics of Cain now arguing, in classic Big Lie fashion, that it is his reaction to the misleading and vague allegations that now condemn him, to answer these five questions: Continue reading

The Media’s Despicable Catch-22 Against Herman Cain

Mr. Cain...meet Capt. Yossarian. He'll expain everything.

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. Continue reading

Herman Cain, the News Media’s New Sarah Palin

Calling Herman Cain an Oreo and an Uncle Tom is bad, but comparing him to Sanjaya? Is there no limit to media cruelty?

At least when the media and pundits decided to suspend basic principles of fairness and decency to attack Sarah Palin for the unforgivable crime of being an outspoken conservative woman (even before she had a chance to show she deserved to be attacked for other reasons), she had been nominated for Vice President. Business executive Herman Cain, a similarly reviled aberration from the expected norm as a black Republican, is now getting equally unconscionable journalistic treatment just for getting decent poll numbers.

I will move past the race-based attacks from columnists and the MSNBC hit squad that have explicitly referred to him as an Oreo, an Uncle Tom, a black man who “knows his place,”  “the GOP’s token,” and “the Sanjaya of the Republican field,” as well as the many demeaning references to him as a “joke candidate,” and go right to this weekend, when the Palin standard was on bright display.

Here is part of the interview of Cain on “Face the Nation,” after host Bob Scheiffer showed Cain’s bizarre web ad, which ends with his campaign manager taking a puff on a cigarette:

Continue reading

Herman Cain’s Unethical Abortion Doubletalk

Republican presidential contender Herman Cain’s explanation of his position on abortion while chatting with CNN’s Piers Morgan is causing his growing legion of fans and supporters discomfort, and with good reason. It was ethically incoherent at best, unethical at worst. In either case, his comments show that he hasn’t devoted sufficient serious analysis to the issue to allow him to have a responsible and consistent approach. That is status quo for most Americans. It is not acceptable for a President of the United States.

Here is the relevant section of the interview (emphasis mine):

PIERS MORGAN: Abortion. What’s your view of abortion?

CAIN: I believe that life begins at conception. And abortion under no circumstances. And here’s why —

MORGAN: No circumstances?

CAIN: No circumstances. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Rep. Michele Bachmann…Again

Bachmann doesn't kid about this.

“When you take the 9-9-9 plan and you turn it upside-down, the Devil’s in the details.”

—-Rep. Michele Bachmann, concluding her critique of rival Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” tax plan during the Bloomberg GOP presidential candidates’ debate.

Throughout her campaign, as she has throughout her political career, Rep. Michele Bachmann has been sending coded messages to her Evangelical Christian base, usually through Bible references that most Americans don’t recognize. But most of us have seen “The Omen.” When an Evangelical like Bachmann suggests, with a big smile of course, that a black Presidential rival named Cain is pushing a plan that becomes the Mark of the Beast when turned upside-down, she’s not joking….indeed, I have never seen any evidence that Michele Bachmann is capable of joking. Continue reading

Why Lawrence O’Donnell’s Interview With Herman Cain Wasn’t Unethical Journalism

Lawrence O’Donnell’s unconscionable roast of GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain —-no fair journalist would call it an “interview”—made me realize that broadcast journalism ethics have fractured to the point where it is unfair to apply the same ethics standards to different networks and programs. My initial reaction to seeing O’Donnell’s over-the-top performance was that it represented a new low in broadcast journalism interview ethics. Now I think that is unrealistic and unfair. O’Donnell’s conduct was what MSNBC’s audiences want to see, and what critics should expect to see. Herman Cain, the target in this case, consented to the abuse. Where’s the unethical journalism? There was no journalism. Continue reading

Obama’s Fractured History

"Don't know much about history..."

I have been, some say, too hard on Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain, for their various gaffes related to our American heritage. The reason I believe that these politicians are especially blame-worthy for their fractured history is that they are all constantly evoking America’s historical past, especially its founding. If you are going to take on the responsibility of educating Americans about the Constitution (which Cain mixed up with the Declaration), Paul Revere (whose ride Palin mangled) and the Founders (to whose number Bachmann added John Quincy Adams), you better get your facts straight, because the public trusts what you say.

What then, is the proper and fair reaction when a President the media has anointed as brilliant states in a nationally televised speech before Congress that Abraham Lincoln was the “founder of the Republican Party”? Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Rep. Ron Paul

One of the benefits of absolutist ethical systems is that they can force you to maintain your integrity when unethical positions are convenient or temporarily beneficial. So it was that libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tx) emerged from Monday’s New Hampshire debate among GOP Presidential hopefuls as the only candidate who rejected limiting the participation of gays in the military and the infamous “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. While Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum (naturally), Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty all said, in various and convoluted ways, that they supported DADT, Paul cut precisely to what is ethically offensive about the policy.

“We have to remember, rights don’t come in groups,” Paul said. “We shouldn’t have gay rights. Rights come as individuals….it would be behavior that would count, not the person who belongs to which group.”

I am far, far from being a Ron Paul fan, for his libertarian principles lead him to as many irresponsible positions as ethical ones. And he is certainly emboldened to risk the displeasure of the Republican base as a candidate with about as much chance of getting the Republican nomination as I do (though more of a chance than Newt Gingrich).  But on a night when six of his rivals pandered to homophobia and embraced a policy that both violates core American values and endorses lying, Ron Paul alone had the courage and principle to correctly place “Don’t Ask” where it belongs, in conflict with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

False Leaders, GOP Division, Part I : Sarah Palin on Paul Revere’s Ride

"What the HELL did she just say about me?"

“He who warned, uh, the … the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringin’ those bells and, um, by makin’ sure that as he’s ridin’ his horse through town to send those warnin’ shots and bells that, uh, we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free … and we were gonna be armed.”

—-Sarah Palin, recounting the famous ride of Paul Revere during her bus tour.

I can’t criticize Herman Cain for mixing up the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, as well as score Michele Bachman for putting the “Shot Heard Round the World” in New Hampshire, and neglect to express my disgust at Sarah Palin’s inability to tell a story that every grade schooler should be able to recite by heart. Yes, I admit to being something of a Paul Revere fan, but I also am not touring the country on the pretense that I am reminding Americans of their legacy and values.

This is classic Palin, repeating her slovenly modus operandi on display from the moment she was thrust into the national spotlight. She fakes almost everything she does. She is glib and charismatic, and no dummy (though she does some stunningly dumb things). She has many of the most important traits of successful leadership, except indispensable basics like diligence, integrity, and respect for her constituents’ intelligence. Being a leader also takes dedication, hard work and attention to details: you can’t fake and jive your way through on charm and passion alone. Continue reading

Herman Cain Flunks The Presidential Candidate Competency Test

Herman Cain's Consitution

The legal ethics standards do not require that a lawyer be fully knowledgeable and competent to handle a particular representation when he or she accepts the assignment, but does require that the lawyer be sufficiently up-to-speed in the legal area at issue when the work commences. That standard is reasonable for the law,  but the American public should expect more when an individual has the audacity to pronounce himself fit to be President of the United States. One area I would hope a candidate wouldn’t need to bone up on after the fact: the nation’s founding documents.

Former pizza CEO and conservative radio host Herman Cain officially entered the contest for the GOP nomination over the weekend with this statement, following his exhortation to America’s public to read the Constitution:

“Keep reading! Don’t stop at life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”

Meet me at the bridge; I’ll be jumping at noon. Continue reading