Commentary by James H. Shott
Editor's Note: This column was written for a daily newspaper and was filed a few hours prior to the public statement of Sharon Bialek accusing Herman Cain of inappropriate and unwanted sexual advances, and therefore is based upon the circumstances existing before those accusations were made public.
The circumstances surrounding these new charges are still developing, and these charges are disputed by Mr. Cain.
We will see what develops as time passes.
Herman Cain, one of several candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, is an interesting political character. Mr. Cain has achieved the American dream, rising from humble beginnings as the son of a domestic worker mother and a father who worked as a janitor and chauffer. After that modest start he has achieved great success, working as a civilian mathematician for the U.S. Navy, chosen as CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, chairman of the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. He also has been a syndicated columnist and radio host.
As a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination who has never held elective office, Mr. Cain rose from relative obscurity to sit atop Republican polls ahead of better-known candidates like Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachman, and Rick Perry, all of whom are experienced in the fine art of politics.
Despite the large number of Americans upset with careerism in politics, that rare individual who dares to enter national politics without first paying dues or learning the ropes in some lower office is often the object of disdain.
However, Mr. Cain’s lack of political experience is one thing people like about him. A frequent complaint about American politics focuses on how many elected officials make a career of holding elective office, many spending decades in elected positions, and more than a few tending to focus on being re-elected more than on serving the people who put them in office.
Another thing they like is his clear thinking, learned as a successful businessman running a large corporation, which also taught him to identify problems and cut through the fog to find practical solutions to them.
Whether it is Mr. Cain’s experience in the private sector rather than in government, or his no-nonsense approach to problems, the Republican rank and file seems to like it, and that has the other Republican candidates on edge. It also has gotten the Democrats’ attention, and the way they have reacted tells us just how nervous they are.
“I can’t imagine that he wasn’t given a hand—whether it was through state policy or affirmative action,” says Stacey Abrams, the Democratic leader of the Georgia House, downplaying Mr. Cain’s success. Harry Belafonte, who was a popular calypso singer forty years ago, said on the Joy Behar show that Mr. Cain was a “bad apple,” a “false Negro,” someone “denied intelligence,” and then praised Fidel Castro as a supporter of democracy and people’s rights.
And then there is the week-old story of 12 year-old sexual harassment allegations by former employees of the restaurant association.
As things stand now, this story is an indictment of the news media more than of Mr. Cain. The lack of detail and real information in this story is breath-taking; a textbook case of what not to do in journalism, but it is nonetheless being used by Democrats and the media to attempt to destroy a political enemy.
First published by the left-wing news organization Politico as a story of a formal complaint filed with the restaurant association, the story was based on anonymous sources and furnished virtually no detail. Cases of this nature involve confidentiality provisions that protect the parties, so information about the claims is not available. Responsible journalists would not have published a story with so little factual information available, and it is shoddy journalism like this that produced the terms “lame-stream media” and “drive-by media.”
Then there are the allegations themselves, which may represent actual cases of sexual harassment, or they may not. Right now no one really knows. An allegation is just an allegation, and settlement agreements keep the details of the claims private.
But even a settled claim does not mean that sexual harassment occurred. Any attorney can tell you that legal settlements result because settling is frequently less expensive than the cost of going to court, and amounts of $35,000 to $45,000 are considered “nuisance value.”
Sexual harassment is a very real problem, but not every charge is true sexual harassment. A female employee may complain that a male co-worker stood too close to her and made her feel “uncomfortable.” But just because she was uncomfortable doesn’t mean she was “harassed.” A casual comment intended as a compliment can be misinterpreted, and a harassment charge may result. The definition is foggy, but the legal standard is that the alleged conduct be “severe or pervasive.”
Mr. Cain, who denies that he has ever harassed anyone, handled this situation very poorly, perhaps due to his lack of political experience. However, under the standards of American justice he is innocent until proven guilty. Until some actual proof of true sexual harassment comes out, this firestorm is a tempest in a tea pot, and is best ignored by everyone.
Whether Herman Cain is the best of the Republican candidates will be determined over the next several months. He has some very good ideas, a refreshing non-political perspective, and the insight of a successful private sector performer.
If he does not prevail in the nomination process it must not be because of this shameful journalistic misadventure.
Cross-posted from Observations