“Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’ll be very bored.”
That was presidential candidate Senator Gary Hart’s famous dare to the press corp in response to rumors of an affair. Funny thing about a dare to journalists, they’ll take it. They still do.
When reporters for the Miami Herald, who were already staking out Hart’s DC townhouse, broke a story about seeing a woman leaving the same evening of the dare, Hart claimed they couldn’t have seen both entrances and didn’t have the facts. Which, of course, led to the publishing of the famous photo of Senator Hart on a Miami dock wearing a tee-shirt from the boat “Monkey Business” and with 29-year old actress Donna Rice* in his lap. A week later he was out of the race.
Last week, another presidential contender dared the press.
During Herman Cain’s tenure as the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, at least two female employees complained to colleagues and senior association officials about inappropriate behavior by Cain, ultimately leaving their jobs at the trade group, multiple sources confirm to POLITICO.
The women complained of sexually suggestive behavior by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable, the sources said, and they signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts to leave the association. – Politico story by Jonathan Martin, Maggie Haberman, Anna Palmer and Ken Vogel.
Addressing the National Press Club, Mr. Cain said that he “had never sexually harassed anyone.” He said that, while he was chairman of the National Restaurant Association, he had been, “falsely accused of sexual harassment.” That the charges were “thoroughly investigated” and “it had no basis. As for the settlement, I am unaware of any sort of settlement.” Mr. Cain then began suggesting that the reporters hadn’t done their job — belittling the story and dismissing it as “anonymous sources when there is no basis for the accusation.” When asked at the Press Club if he was going to request that the association release the files to shoot down the allegations, he said, “No, there’s nothing to shoot down.” Then he dared the press, “Enough said, there’s nothing there to dig up.”
One thing you can count on: more will be dug up. Everything will get out. It always does. The working press still does.
Herman Cain had a chance to get in front of this story. Something that occurred 20 years ago is not necessarily damning in politics – Robert Byrd’s membership in the KKK, comes to mind. But Mr. Cain did not get in front of the story. Instead, he dared the press. Blamed the press. Suggested the press is out to get him. Parsed the difference between “agreement” and “settlement.” Blamed the women who had brought the allegations. Suggested it was a liberal lynching. Suggested that the Perry camp had leaked it for political gain. He has said almost everything, but the truth – whatever the truth is. He has acted indignant, angry, patronizing, and dismissive.
I’m no expert on hubris, but I do know a bit about embarrassment. I remember every painful detail of each embarrassing moment going back to when I was five. Had I ever been accused of sexual harassment, it would make my list. Had I been the ceo of the board of a national lobby group, I would have been truly humbled.
Sexual harassment is real. Just the possibility of the perception is enough in my book for a sincere and heartfelt apology. A promise to change ways and learn from the mistake. Pretty much, confess, repent and be saved process that so many of faith embrace.
Mr. Cain is a member of the last generation who lived during the time when propositioning or making sexual innuendo to someone who works for you, was acceptable. There is only one place left in American business where it still is acceptable: the boardroom. And there is only one group who can get away with it: the one percent.
* Full disclosure: When this story broke, CNN was desperate for some footage of Ms. Rice as an actress. CNN contacted Porter Creative (now CP+B), the creative firm that had produced the only commercial Donna Rice had ever done. Meg Gerrish, a frequent Dew writer, produced the spot. I was her client at the ad agency. In the spot, Donna played a bride. The spot she was in was for Piggly Wiggly.