The Herman Cain “Hit Piece”

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit asks:

Would Jonathan Martin, Maggie Haberman, Anna Palmer and Kenneth Vogel have put their names on a similar piece, with no named sources, aimed at Barack Obama? Would Politico have run it?

He’s referring to the Politico piece about how two women working for the National Restaurant Association, of which Cain was CEO, complained about sexual harassment by Cain and were given severance packages “in the five-figure range.”

It’s obvious in reading the story that these reporters and their editors were highly conscious of the importance of thoroughly backing up their reporting. Despite the number of sources confirming each fact, it’s still being called a high-tech lynching and a hit piece. Some have linked it back to the accusations against Clarence Thomas.

I’d argue that yes, if Politico received information that Barack Obama was accused of sexual harassment by a former employee or two, these reporters would pursue the information. If they found enough evidence – anonymous sources and documents – they’d put their names on it. And of course Politico would publish it – think of the traffic they’d get and the reputation they’d gain if they broke that kind of story.

The sources in this piece may have been anonymous, but there seem to be a lot of them.

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 first woman was identified to POLITICO by a former association board member, and her identity was confirmed by two additional sources. […]

There are also quotes and paraphrases from various individual sources about bits and pieces they knew about the accusations. Naturally, there are all sorts of ethical dilemmas which arise with anonymous sources. They could be simply using Politico to advance their own agenda or get revenge for a personal grudge. Sometimes, however, you can only get the information on the condition of anonymity. I’d say it’s a positive sign that there were so many reporters involved in the piece – it means more people weighed in on the reliability of the sources.

There are also documents:

In one case, POLITICO has seen documentation describing the allegations and showing that the restaurant association formally resolved the matter.

So, if Politico had a similarly researched and sourced piece about a prominent Democrat, they’d run it.

Of course, then you get into the whole issue of past scandals involving Democrats and the media coverage of those… But aside from that whole morass, at least one of these accusations of sexual harassment took place and money changed hands – which doesn’t mean the accusations are true. That’s a separate – more important – issue which we’re unlikely to ever get the absolute truth on.

Since we can’t question the women who made the accusations (Politico did not print them due to privacy concerns), we have only Herman Cain’s side of the story. He related the incident he remembers to a Fox News host in a taped interview to be aired later tonight (10 p.m. EST).

“She was in my office one day, and I made a gesture saying — and I was standing close to her — and I made a gesture saying you are the same height as my wife.  And I brought my hand up to my chin saying, ‘My wife comes up to my chin.'”  At that point, Cain gestured with his flattened palm near his chin.  “And that was put in there [the complaint] as something that made her uncomfortable,” Cain said, “something that was in the sexual harassment charge.”

The anonymity of the women has been called into question as a ploy by the left-leaning Politco. Rush Limbaugh:

Let’s say that some conservative publication ran a story exactly like this: Unnamed sources, 15 years ago, with every detail of Obama sexual harassment. What would the Democrat national committee and what would the media be doing? They would be going after the women. They would be targeting these women, and they would name names, and they would destroy them. That is what the Democrats and the media would do.

Hm. No, I don’t think so. Sure, the left-leaning blogosphere would be all over uncovering and publishing the women’s names, but most of the lamestream media has policies in place to protect victims of sexual harassment or assault. That’s why even though you can usually find the name out there, the establishment media will usually not have a name in high-profile stories. And that’s another ethical issue.

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