The media have been up to their usual tricks this week, smearing a Republican candidate with innuendo and anonymous charges. As the always fair minded James Taranto notes, Cain seems as much a victim as a villain in this latest mediagenic tale:
With virtually no facts available, a fair-minded person cannot possibly draw any conclusions from these stories. Maybe Cain behaved badly. Maybe the women were unhappy in their jobs and took advantage of a legal regime that--especially in the wake of the furor over Anita Hill's unsubstantiated accusations of ribaldry against Clarence Thomas--is highly indulgent of sexual-harassment allegations. Maybe the real story is something in between and involves elements of misunderstanding.
It seems to us, however, that the original Politico report is a pretty poor excuse for journalism. Of the six questions a reporter is supposed to answer, Politico told us only where and when--at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. Politico withheld information about who (both the accusers and its sources) and either didn't know or didn't say what, why and how.
Journalists have confidentiality agreements of their own, which they strike with sources in exchange for information--but in this case there wasn't enough information to make a real story. That is in part because of a practice of also concealing the identities of women who make any kind of sexual allegations against men, a custom originally intended to protect rape victims.
The latter assumption presupposes the sexual innocence of women--a paternalistic assumption that dates back to an era in which women were also held accountable through social shaming to standards of sexual innocence. If women in such disputes enjoy a presumption of innocence that is nearly impossible to rebut--"I believe Anita Hill"--that amounts to a presumption of guilt against any accused man.
At least Hill was an identifiable person making specific accusations. With the Cain stories, we are asked to presume he is guilty even though we don't know what he is accused of or by whom. Anyone who believes in the American ideal of equality before the law should consider it a travesty.
This time, the candidate, Herman Cain, is not playing by the pundit authored game book -- no snaky looking operatives charging the women with being nuts and sluts, no getting off message to treat this foolishness as more than it is -- and the public seems to like it. Perhaps I should title this "Raising Cain," because the more the media tries to make of these unsubstantiated nothingburger charges, the more the voters seem inclined to dismiss them.
Those who do discount the anti-Cain hype have history on their side.
For decades now, the media has burnished the images of their favorite Democrats and kicked mud on their political opponents, and when the truth seeps out years later the damage has been done.
Let's take Four recent examples just in case you forgot or missed them:
For years the story was that as his first wife was in the hospital dying of cancer he appeared with divorce papers he wanted her to sign. Were that story true, one might well have serious reservations about his character. In fact, as we just learned, the story was false. Tom Maguire::
Justin Elliott of Salon reprised the media treatment of this incident over the years in a March 2011 article; he summarizes the legend in his lead:
For almost three decades, Newt Gingrich has been dogged by a single devastating anecdote from his past, one that has been repeated in the national press hundreds of times and that has arguably come to define his political persona. After being elected to Congress in 1978 on a family values platform, the story goes, he visited his wife Jackie, who was in the hospital recovering from an operation for uterine cancer, and demanded that she discuss terms of their divorce.
I'm glad to hear that the cancer part of the story was an exaggeration. Take that out and take out the notion that Newt visited the hospital with the intention of discussing the divorce (rather than bringing the two girls), and the incident is much less ghastly.
It's a story that, remarkably, Gingrich disputes to this day. Testament to how deeply it has reverberated, some version of the story - often rendered as Gingrich "serving divorce papers" to his wife in the hospital - has been cited in the last month alone by Slate, MSNBC, Politico, Commentary and the New York Times, among other outlets.
I would say that nicely illustrates the inaccuracies that crept into the telling of that tale. Let's just peek at what the Times wrote - here is Jeff Zeleney in February 2011, near the end of a profile on Newt:
In 1981, he and his first wife, Jackie, divorced, and he married his second wife, Marianne, that year. In an episode often cited by his detractors, he visited Jackie in the hospital in 1980 while she was recovering from a cancer operation to discuss terms of their divorce. Mr. Gingrich disputes the account.
And the always thoughtful Gail Collins:
The most famous story about Gingrich's failed marriages is about his first wife, Jackie, who had been Newt's high school math teacher before he appeared at her door and suggested a new equation. Jackie was recovering from surgery for uterine cancer when her husband walked in and started talking about the terms of a divorce.
The first ex-wife gave her version to the WaPo in early 1985, as described by Salon:
"He can say that we had been talking about [a divorce] for 10 years, but the truth is that it came as a complete surprise," says Jackie Gingrich, in a telephone interview from Carrollton. "He's a great wordsmith ... He walked out in the spring of 1980 and I returned to Georgia. By September, I went into the hospital for my third surgery. The two girls came to see me, and said Daddy is downstairs and could he come up? When he got there, he wanted to discuss the terms of the divorce while I was recovering from the surgery ... To say I gave up a lot for the marriage is the understatement of the year."
Asked if, in fact, he handled the divorce as insensitively as portrayed, Gingrich responded: "All I can say is when you've been talking about divorce for 11 years and you've gone to a marriage counselor, and the other person doesn't want the divorce, I'm not sure there is any sensitive way to handle it."
The exaggerated claim about the hospital visit was the subject of a cartoon by the Miami Herald's prize winning cartoonist, Jim Morin who contrasted Newt bringing divorce papers to his hospitalized wife with John Edwards hugging his cancer stricken spouse.
This brings me to a second example:
(2) John Edwards
Cartoonist Moran may have been the only member of the press corps who did not know that the John and Elizabeth Edwards "family values" story was a made for the campaign crock.
Almost from the outset, blogger Mickey Kaus was reporting that everyone in the press corps knew about John's affair with Rielle Hunter and we later learned that Elizabeth did, as well, and yet pressed on with the game for reasons of ambition.
Here's just a sample of the Kaus jeremiad against his colleagues:
Jason Zengerle and Freedom Eden agree:John Edwards would never, ever, engage in that sort of despicable behavior!
There's no way Edwards would do that to her.
I don't believe it.
Well all right then! .... P.S.: And both parties deny the affair-- it can't be true! I mean, logically it's impossible, right? Who else is there? ...
Thank God the Goats Don't Have E-mail: Yglesias says I'm operating from an "assumption of guilt" because I argued it wasn't wise for Edwards to call the story "made up." But let's look at the situation: The National Enquirer says it has 1) highly suggestive but not-at-all-conclusive emails from a woman, let's call her W; 2) a source who says W did tell her conclusively in a phone call and talked openly of an affair. Edwards denies it. Fine--the denial wasn't too vague, as I'd thought when I read what turned out to be a partial quote. But if I were him, I'd stop there. Why add the "made up"? It runs the risk of angering either a) the Enquirer, making striking back a question of institutional pride; b) W; or c) the source. That's almost certainly not something Edwards would want even if his denial was completely truthful. (Who knows what further damage a) b) or c) could do--if only in terms of prolonging the story?) It's certainly not something Edwards wants if his denial was untruthful. Either way, the smart pol's course would seem to be to forcefully deny the accusation without cuteness or reservation--but also without personally attacking the accusers. It's a fine line! I'm not sure he walked it. ...
P.S.: Yglesias' suggestion that if there was anything to the story then somebody in the "legitimate" press would have come up with the evidence "by now" is a little premature, I think. ... 12:46 P.M. link
Later when the press had caught Obama fever and no longer cared much about Edwards and the National Enquirer broke through the media iron curtain, some like the LA Times, as Kaus noted, still were trying to lower it:
LAT Gags Blogs: In a move that has apparently stirred up some internal discontent, the Los Angeles Times has banned its bloggers, including political bloggers, from mentioning the Edwards/Rielle Hunter story. Even bloggers who want to mention the story in order to make a skeptical we-don't-trust-the-Enquirer point are forbidden from doing so. Kausfiles has obtained a copy of the email Times bloggers received from editor Tony Pierce. [I've excised the recipient list and omitted Pierce's email address]:
-From: "Pierce, Tony"
Date:July 24, 2008 10:54:41 AM PDT
Subject: john edwards
There has been a little buzz surrounding John Edwards and his alleged affair. Because the only source has been the National Enquirer we have decided not to cover the rumors or salacious speculations. So I am asking you all not to blog about this topic until further notified.
If you have any questions or are ever in need of story ideas that would best fit your blog, please don't hesitate to ask
That will certainly calm paranoia about the Mainstream Media (MSM) suppressing the Edwards scandal. ...
P.S.: Is the Times' edict a) part of a double-standard that favors Democrats (and disfavors Republicans like Rep. Vito Fossella and John McCain)? Or does it b) simply reflect an outmoded Gatekeeper Model of journalism in which not informing readers of certain sensitive allegations is as important as informing them--as if readers are too simple-minded to weigh charges that are not proven, as if they aren't going to find out about such controversies anyway? I'd say it's a mixture of both (a) and (b). This was a sensational scandal the LAT and other MSM papers passionately did not want to uncover when Edwards was a formal candidate, and now that the Enquirer seems to have done the job for them it looks like they want everyone to shut up while they fail to uncover it again. ...
P.P.S.: The Times apparently failed to get word of the ban to one of its bloggers in time to prevent her from shocking readers by saying she hoped the allegations against Edwards weren't true. ...
(3) Mark Foley and Tim Mahoney
In 2006 , the Democrats were desperate to regain the majority in the House of representatives and ginned up a "pedophile" scandal against Florida Representative Mark Foley, a not very closeted homosexual who when drunk had some suggestive email correspondence with former pages who were then adults.
The charges were overblown, appeared first on a sketchy website obviously designed to provide anonymity to the accusers. I examined the charges against him and the related charges that then Speaker Hastert had improperly covered up the story in minute detail here at American Thinker.
Tom Maguire didn't think much of the story either.
As I recall we were pretty much alone in our skeptical view of this matter, most of the conservative ranks did what they usually do when the charges are sensational -- they run from the forum to keep their togas spotlessly white and allow the jackals to devour their colleagues.
In any event, if you've forgotten the end of the Foley saga, let me remind you.
No criminal charges were filed because he broke no law.
As for his opponent, Tim Mahoney, who won because of the fallout from the made up scandal, his conduct never did get the same publicity as the false charges against Foley garnered,
On October 13, 2008, ABC News reported that Mahoney had agreed to a $121,000 payment to a former mistress who worked on his staff and was threatening to sue him. Because Mahoney won this seat in 2006 after a sex scandal forced the incumbent to resign, several considered it ironic that a sex scandal of his own coming to light a month before the election, especially since he first campaigned against such corruption. Some professional political pundits, such as Charlie Cook, have already reclassified the race as "Leans Republican." The FBI is looking into whether Mahoney hired the first mistress - and put her on the federal payroll - so she would not reveal their affair.
Mahoney admitted to having "numerous" affairs, "certainly more than two."Mahoney's wife Terry filed for divorce in Palm Beach County court on October 20, 2008.
On August 6, 2011, Mahoney was booked into the Palm Beach County jail and charged with a DUI offense.
Next time you hear scandalous charges about a Republican which charges don't amount to much after careful examination -- as they did not in those involving Foley -- remember the name Tim Mahoney, because given their widespread penchant for every sort of corruption it's quite likely the Democrat opponents who are flinging mud have worse stuff they are hiding.
(4) The 2008 Presidential Election
While through that election the media thumb on the scales seemed simply a matter of personal biases, we learned afterwards it was not. A substantial number of journalists, whose names are linked here, were committed to working together to burnish Obama and tarnish his opponents; to publish gushy-often fake-- hagiographic stuff abut Obama while burying any positive information about his opponents and, in fact, exaggerating and fabricating negative stuff about them.
1. Spencer Ackerman - Wired, FireDogLake, Washington Independent, Talking Points Memo, TheAmerican Prospect
2. Thomas Adcock - New York Law Journal
3. Ben Adler - Newsweek, POLITICO
4. Mike Allen - POLITICO
5. Eric Alterman - The Nation, Media Matters for America
6. Marc Ambinder - The Atlantic
7. Greg Anrig - The Century Foundation
8. Ryan Avent - Economist
9. Dean Baker - The American Prospect
10. Nick Baumann - Mother Jones
11. Josh Bearman - LA Weekly
12. Steven Benen - The Carpetbagger Report
13. Ari Berman - The Nation
14. Jared Bernstein - Economic Policy Institute
15. Michael Berube - Crooked Timer, Pennsylvania State University
16. Brian Beutler - The Media Consortium
17. Lindsay Beyerstein - Freelance journalist
18. Joel Bleifuss - In These Times
19. John Blevins - South Texas College of Law
20. Sam Boyd - The American Prospect
21. Ben Brandzel - MoveOn.org, John Edwards Campaign
22. Shannon Brownlee - Author, New America Foundation
23. Will Bunch - Philadelphia Daily News
24. Rich Byrne - Playwright
25. Jonathan Chait - The New Republic
26. Lakshmi Chaudry - In These Times
27. Isaac Chotiner - The New Republic
28. Ta-Nehisi Coates - The Atlantic
29. Michael Cohen - New America Foundation
30. Jonathan Cohn - The New Republic
31. Joe Conason - The New York Observer
32. Lark Corbeil - Public News Service
33. David Corn - Mother Jones
34. Daniel Davies - The Guardian
35. David Dayen - FireDogLake
36. Brad DeLong - The Economists' Voice, University of California at Berkeley
37. Ryan Donmoyer - Bloomberg News
38. Adam Doster - In These Times
39. Kevin Drum - Washington Monthly
40. Matt Duss - Center for American Progress
41. Gerald Dworkin - UC Davis
42. Eve Fairbanks - The New Republic
43. Henry Farrell - George Washington University & Crooked Timber
44. Tim Fernholz - American Prospect
45. Dan Froomkin - Huffington Post, Washington Post
46. Jason Furman - Brookings Institution
47. James Galbraith - University of Texas at Austin
48. Kathleen Geier - Talking Points Memo
49. Todd Gitlin - Columbia University
50. Ilan Goldenberg - National Security Network
51. Arthur Goldhammer - Harvard University
52. Dana Goldstein - The Daily Beast
53. Andrew Golis - Talking Points Memo
54. Jaana Goodrich - Blogger
55. Merrill Goozner - Chicago Tribune
56. David Greenberg - Slate
57. Robert Greenwald - Brave New Films
58. Chris Hayes - The Nation
59. Don Hazen - Alternet
60. Jeet Heer - Canadian Journolist
61. Jeff Hauser - Political Action Committee, Dennis Shulman Campaign
62. Michael Hirsh - Newsweek
63. James Johnson - University of Rochester
64. John Judis - The New Republic, The American Prospect
65. Foster Kamer - The Village Voice
66. Michael Kazin - Georgetown University
67. Ed Kilgore - Democratic Strategist
68. Richard Kim - The Nation
69. Charlie Kireker - Air America Media
70. Mark Kleiman - UCLA The Reality Based Community
71. Ezra Klein - Washington Post, Newsweek, The American Prospect
72. Joe Klein - TIME
73. Robert Kuttner - American Prospect, Economic Policy Institute
74. Paul Krugman - The New York Times, Princeton University
75. Lisa Lerer - POLITICO
76. Daniel Levy - Century Foundation
77. Ralph Luker - Cliopatria
78. Annie Lowrey - Washington Independent
79. Robert Mackey - New York Times
80. Mike Madden - Salon
81. Maggie Mahar - The Century Foundation
82. Dylan Matthews - Harvard University
83. Alec McGillis - Washington Post
84. Scott McLemee - Inside Higher Ed
85. Sara Mead - New America Foundation
86. Ari Melber - The Nation
87. David Meyer - University of California at Irvine
88. Seth Michaels - MyDD.com
89. Luke Mitchell - Harper's Magazine
90. Gautham Nagesh - The Hill, Daily Caller
91. Suzanne Nossel - Human Rights Watch
92. Michael O'Hare - University of California at Berkeley
93. Josh Orton - MyDD.com, Air America Media
94. Rodger Payne - University of Louisville
95. Rick Perlstein - Author, Campaign for America's Future
96. Nico Pitney - Huffington Post
97. Harold Pollack - University of Chicago
98. Katha Pollitt - The Nation
99. Ari Rabin-Havt - Media Matters
100. Joy-Ann Reid - South Florida Times
101. David Roberts - Grist
102. Lamar Robertson - Partnership for Public Service
103. Sara Robinson - Campaign For America's Future
104. Alyssa Rosenberg - Washingtonian, The Atlantic, Government Executive
105. Alex Rossmiller - National Security Network
106. Michael Roston - Newsbroke
107. Laura Rozen - POLITICO, Mother Jones
108. Felix Salmon - Reuters
109. Greg Sargent - Washington Post
110. Thomas Schaller - Baltimore Sun
111. Noam Scheiber - The New Republic
112. Michael Scherer - TIME
113. Mark Schmitt - American Prospect, The New America Foundation
114. Rinku Sen - ColorLines Magazine
115. Julie Bergman Sender - Balcony Films
116. Adam Serwer - American Prospect
117. Walter Shapiro - PoliticsDaily.com
118. Kate Sheppard - Mother Jones
119. Matthew Shugart - UC San Diego
120. Nate Silver - FiveThirtyEight.com
121. Jesse Singal - The Boston Globe, Washington Monthly
122. Ann-Marie Slaughter - Princeton University
123. Ben Smith - POLITICO
124. Sarah Spitz - KCRW
125. Adele Stan - The Media Consortium
126. Paul Starr - The Atlantic
127. Kate Steadman - Kaiser Health News
128. Jonathan Stein - Mother Jones
129. Sam Stein - Huffington Post
130. Matt Steinglass - Deutsche Presse-Agentur
131. James Surowiecki - The New Yorker
132. Jesse Taylor - Pandagon.net
133. Steven Teles - Yale University
134. Mark Thoma - The Economists' View
135. Michael Tomasky - The Guardian
136. Jeffrey Toobin - CNN, The New Yorker
137. Rebecca Traister - Salon
138. Tracy Van Slyke - The Media Consortium
139. Paul Waldman - Author, American Prospect
140. Dave Weigel - Washington Post, MSNBC, The Washington Independent
141. Moira Whelan - National Security Network
142. Scott Winship - Pew Economic Mobility Project
143. J. Harry Wray - DePaul University
144. D. Brad Wright - University of NC at Chapel Hill
145. Kai Wright - The Root
146. Holly Yeager - Columbia Journalism Review
147. Rich Yeselson - Change to Win
148. Matthew Yglesias - Center for American Progress, The Atlantic Monthly
149. Jonathan Zasloff - UCLA
150. Julian Zelizer - Princeton University
151. Avi Zenilman - POLITICO
Undoubtedly, by now there are new members and some have dropped out, but I count 5 members from Politico, the publication which is behind the vague, shifting, nothingburger charges against Cain.
There is no chance that the media will become more self aware of the bubble from within which they are operating, whether or not they are formal members of Journolist.
Watch as ex-editor of the Washington Post, Ben Bradlee, paws a lady reporter from Daily Caller.
Jack Kennedy was a serial womanizer and a good friend of Bradlee, who covered up his shortcomings. Bradlee himself was involved in a messy divorce. The reporter was at the event celebrating yet another book about Kennedy, which, since it is by Chris Matthews, is certain to be favorable to him. And yet Bradlee suggests the charges against Cain (which are vague and not in the Bradlee or Kennedy category in any event) are serious and that, "He has it coming, doesn't he?"
Despite the history of media misbehavior, some still fall for this stuff. What arguments might we use to persuade them to simply ignore all this and vote for the candidate whom they believe is best suited for the job?
Here are some ideas:
(1) To those who say the character of a candidate is very important to them, I say you cannot as things stand have any idea about a candidate. The media which portrayed Jack Kennedy and John Edwards as faithful, loving husbands and Newt Gingrich as a man who forced his dying wife to sign divorce papers is not going to tell you the truth even if they know it.
(2) History is full of examples of political, business and even civil rights figures -- viz. Martin Luther King -- who greatly contributed to mankind and yet were, as we are all, imperfect human beings in their personal lives. For political office, look to the candidate's experience and positions on issues that matter to you.
(3) If that doesn't work, consider this: one more term of Obama and decent, hard working people will be utterly rolled over by a corrupt government and inept management of our resources, and the world will be in even worse shape than it already is. People struggling to survive are in a worse position to help others. In fact, history shows they often change their behavior for the worse. The world relies on a prosperous and strong US to maintain order and for that we simply need someone else in the Oval Office, and any of the major Republican candidates fill that bill.