Sexual harassment and GOP candidate Herman Cain

Sexual harassment and GOP candidate Herman Cain

November 1st, 2011 in Opinion Times

In this photo provided by CBS News, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain appears on CBS's "Face the Nation" in Washington Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/CBS News, Chris Usher)

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Herman Cain's unlikely rise in the field of Republican presidential aspirants was bound to draw attention to his past, and rightly so. Every candidate who gains prominence in the pursuit of the nation's highest office comes under a microscope. What Politico.com uncovered in its meticulous investigation of allegations of sexual harassment against Cain, published Sunday, is part of that process of due diligence. And so far, the quality and depth of Politic.com's reporting is a league ahead of Cain's varied and belabored responses.

At the moment, Cain has the megaphone. He made headlines Monday, but not by claiming that he had not been charged with sexual harassment by two females who previously worked for him. Rather, he asserted that he had been "falsely charged." Following his earlier evasions to Politico.com's reporters, that sort of quasi-denial begs context and fuller disclosure -- the kind provided by Politico.com and avoided by Cain.

Politico.com is one of the country's brightest and most comprehensive online news journals. Before it published its story Sunday about the allegations of the two females who had worked for Cain, it conducted a range of interviews with current and prior board members and employees of the National Restaurant Association. That's the trade group Cain headed as ceo in the 1990s, when he helped the organization build a substantial lobbying operation in Washington.

The online magazine confirmed through multiple board member sources that the two women brought sexual harassment charges against Cain, that several board members were offended, upset and troubled by the nature of the alleged acts of harassment, and that the association ultimately resolved the women's formal complaints by offering them five-figure compensation settlements, which contained language that restrained public disclosure of the incidents.

The incidents, Politico.com reported, included "conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature, taking place at hotels during conferences, at other official 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."

Politico.com's four-member reporting team wrote that the first complainant was identified by a former association board member and two other sources, and that "she was offered a financial package to leave the association..." The magazine quoted the board member as saying, "What I took offense at was that it was clear that rather than deal with the issue, there was an effort to hush it up. She was offered a way out to keep quiet."

The second complainant was similarly confirmed. The magazine said it withheld their identities to protect their privacy.

Given the details provided by Politico.com, Cain's earlier refusals to comment and his evasive answers to the magazine's questions parallel the now common patterns of public figures who seem to hope the story will go away if they refuse to comment. When given specifics, he finally said he was " 'vaguely familiar' with the situation." Then his spokesman, J.D. Gordon, told Politico.com that Cain was being attacked with "old and tired allegations..." as "merely part of a smear campaign meant to discredit a true patriot who is shaking up the political status quo."

At this point, it's too early to say that the information produced by Politico.com will be, or should be, the undoing of Cain's rise in the GOP field of presidential wanna-bes. All we know is how many politicians have risen to prominence and then been brought down by revelations pertaining to their character that they denied until the end. The pattern of evasion, denial and then rebuttal has typically been an accurate guide as to the outcome.

Now, it's not just the unfavorable analysis of his dicey 9-9-9 tax plan, which would shift the burden of taxes even more heavily onto the middle and the poor, that dents Cain's luster. Charges of sexual harassment will have to be considered, as well.