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Cain Presser: Journalism #FAIL


My impression of Herman Cain’s press conference today, which he called to address mounting allegations of past sexual harassment, is that Cain succeeded in conveying the impression that in his own mind at least, he is telling the truth.

That does not resolve the facts of what may or may not have happened–it’s still a case of “he said, she said”–but it will likely reassure the bulk of Cain’s supporters.

What is noteworthy is that even though Cain took extensive questions from journalists, not one journalist, apparently, thought to ask Cain to answer simple questions arising from Sharon Bialek’s press conference with Gloria Allred in New York yesterday:

  • Does Cain deny communicating with Bialek in 1997?
  • Does Cain deny upgrading Bialek’s room in July 1997 at the Capitol Hilton?
  • Does Cain deny having dinner with Bialek in July 1997 in Washington, DC?

These are questions to which answers could probably be found–eventually–by studying telephone records, the hotel registry, credit card receipts, and the like. Though Cain stated that he did not recall having met Bialek, his denials or evasions on the questions above would have been highly relevant if evidence was later discovered to corroborate Bialek’s claims.

Cain said that he would submit to a lie detector test. But the journalists present did not try to get Cain on the record, in the moment, about the facts. And I suspect that is because the facts are not actually that important to the media at this point. What is more important is the narrative the allegations serve to create–a narrative about Cain’s neophyte campaign, not his past conduct, his honesty, or even his personal life.

The essence of that narrative is that a relative political outsider like Cain is not ready for, much less welcome in, Washington D.C. Facts are interesting only to the degree they confirm or (to a lesser extent) refute that over-arching hypothesis about his candidacy.

That may be why the mainstream media minders over at Media Matters for America, normally quick to jump on journalists who fail to ask Republicans tough questions, have been uncharacteristically silent about the media’s lapses at the Cain presser. The narrative is what matters, not the facts (and for Media Matters, the more important narrative in this case is about Cain’s defenders at Fox News and talk radio, not about Cain’s prospects as president).

It is easy to criticize Cain and his campaign for the way they handled the accusations when they first surfaced over a week ago. When they blamed Curt Anderson for spreading the allegations to Politico, for example, they did so without any real evidence, effectively doing to Anderson what Jonathan Martin and Politico had originally done to Cain. Today, the Cain campaign unwisely doubled down by alleging–falsely–that the son of one of Cain’s accusers works at Politico.

Yet that is a separate issue from the question of whether, in fact, Cain had committed the misconduct of which he is accused. That question is relevant to Cain’s ability to govern, but it appears to be a question the mainstream media is not particularly interested in answering, after all. They seem far more interested in exposing his weaknesses as a politician than as a potential president–and the two, though related, are not the same.

Perhaps that is because our current president campaigns very well, but has not governed well at all, and an honest comparison of the management skills and record of Barack Obama and Herman Cain would greatly favor the latter.

It may be premature for Cain to regard today’s press conference as a success. Regardless, it marked American journalism’s continuing decline.

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