Guy Benson

Herman Cain just appeared on Fox News to publicly address the Politico story that dropped last night.  He called the allegations of sexual harassment "totally false" and "baseless," adding that he has "never sexually harassed anyone" in his life.  Cain seemed to admit that there were accusations made against him, but flatly asserted that he was "falsely accused" at the time.  He also said that he was unaware of any monetary settlements that arose from those unfounded aspersions.  If any pay-outs did occur, he said he was not aware of the specifics -- including the dollar amount.  He joked that he hopes it wasn't a significant sum, because "nothing happened."  Here's Cain defending his honor and reputation, under firm but fair questioning from Jenna Lee:
 


National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru asks on Twitter, "How common is it to be unaware of a settlement by your employer of a harassment claim against you?"  Good question.  WaPo's Jennifer Rubin thinks it's "inconceivable" that Cain wasn't at least aware of the settlements.  She suggests it's common practice for the accused party to be a signatory to any non-disclosure agreement in these circumstances.  Hmm. 

Another intriguing question from Matt Lewis: Who nudged Politico toward this story?  Liberal Democrats, or a GOP rival?  Cain's been giving plenty of Republican campaign operatives heartburn these days, so the list of possible suspects is long.  Did I mentioned Cain now leads Rick Perry....in Texas?  (To be clear, I am not remotely implying that Team Perry planted this story.  I'm simply illustrating that Cain has proven to be a lasting threat in the primary field).

Speaking of Politico, critics are beginning to hammer the reporting that led to this story.  As I pointed out last night, not a single accusing source was named or quoted on-the-record in the piece.  Not one.  Politico's description of Cain's supposed misdeeds was very vague, almost to the point of being meaningless.  Here's the relevant portion of their "bombshell" report:
 

On the details of Cain’s allegedly inappropriate behavior with the two women, POLITICO has a half-dozen sources shedding light on different aspects of the complaints. 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.


One of the lead reporters on this story is Jonathan Martin, who appeared on MSNBC this morning to discuss the allegations.  He was asked what, specifically, Cain allegedly did or said to the women in question.  Martin's response was light on specificity, but heavy on "sensitivity" (via the 'Busters):
 


 

WILLIE GEIST: Hey Jonathan, what are the allegations specifically as you understand them?  There's obviously a wide range in sexual harassment. What did he do?

JONATHAN MARTIN: We-, we-, well we have to be careful about that obviously, because we're sensitive to --

GEIST: Of course --

MARTIN: -- the sourcing involved here.  And also, what actually happened to these women as well--we want to be sensitive to that, too. It includes both verbal and physical gestures.  These women felt uncomfortable, they were unhappy about their treatment, and they complained to both colleagues and senior officials.  In one case it involved, I think, inviting a woman up to a hotel room of Cain's on the road. Um, but, we-, we-, we're just not going to get into the details of exactly what happened with these women beside what's in the story.


Yeah, that's just not good enough, Politico.  Herman Cain has been targeted with a report that was clearly designed to damage his presidential campaign.  If the allegations were true, or if he's being dishonest about them, they should hurt him politically.  But there's absolutely no evidence to that effect at this point.  All of the "sources" who peddled this stuff to Politico remain anonymous.  We don't even know what "not overtly sexual" gestures Cain is alleged to have made.  Politico wants to keep their sources, and the details, to themselves.  What's left?  Rumor, innuendo, and readers' imaginations.  If you're going to publish a big splash hit piece about a major political figure, you'd better have your ducks lined up.  So far, Politico seems to have failed that test.
 
Two flashbacks: (1) The New York Times drops a poorly-reported hit piece about a rumored extramarital affair on John McCain shortly after he secured the GOP nomination in 2008.  (They also reportedly killed a major Obama/ACORN story because they weren't interested in reporting a "game-changer" so close to an election).  (2)  Politico's huge expose about John Edwards' adulterous affair, which spawned a secret love child, a massive coverup effort, and -- eventually -- a criminal indictment.  Oh, did I say Politico? Sorry, I meant the National Enquirer, which scooped the entire (strangely incurious) mainstream media on that true, stunningly lurid story.
 

UPDATES - Jen Rubin, a Romney supporter, fleshes out her doubts about Cain's claim that he had no knowledge of the National Restaurant Association settlements.  National Review's Kevin Williamson is also concerned.  Rush Limbaugh came out with guns blazing on his show today, tying this Politico story to the Washington Post's truly stupid hit job on Marco Rubio, and alleging MSM racism against non-white conservatives.  How does that feel, liberals?  Ed Morrissey writes about the Cain campaign's tax/election law problem, which has gotten lost in the news cycle shuffle.

Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography