Herman Cain, in a Scottsdale, AZ press conference this afternoon, threw down the gauntlet regarding the accusations alleging he has a history and habit of sexually harassing women. In a strongly worded announcement, Cain said the most recent allegation, made by Sharon Bialek, 'simply did not happen'. Not only did the event not happen, but Cain firmly insisted that he did not even recognize the woman who publicly charged Herman Cain attempted to grope her genitals, force her head towards his crotch, and imply he wanted sex in exchange for helping her find a job 14 years ago.
Cain continued to insist regarding this accusation as well as the anonymous accusations dating from his tenure as the CEO of the National Restaurant Association, including the two that resulted in separation agreements paying funds to the accusers, were entirely 'baseless' and insisted that he 'never acted inappropriately with anyone - period.'
Opening the press conference, Herman Cain's counsel, Lin Wood, implied that the accusations reflected character assassination and attempts to use the court of public opinion to attack his client. He referenced that given the decade plus time since these event, and the anonymity of the some of the accusers, there would be no process for a proper cross-examination of the accusers. He also questioned why, after over a decade plus of time, these accusations are coming out only now from some of the women.
Herman Cain did acknowledge that Karen Kraushaar, currently an employee in the Treasury Department, was one of the women who did accuse Cain of harassment while both worked at the National Restaurant Association. Cain, however, insisted that the investigation into the accusation resulted in the Association not finding any veracity behind the accusation and deciding without Cain's input to negotiate a separation agreement with Kraushaar. Kraushaar, now speaking out more about her claims, is not backing down from her accusations and that even after this time believes corroboration of her claims would be possible. A friend of Kraushaar stated that she believed Kraushaar may get more active in this process - standing with the other accusers as they repeat and detail their claims against Cain.
Without corroboration or witnesses, these accusations remain a she said / he said situation. If more women appear to attack Cain's character, it could highlight that despite his denials or promises to take a lie detector test when given sufficient cause to, Cain may have a character problem with women and being in a position of power. However, with 4, 5, or 6 accusations, each over a decade old, most without a timely complaint of any type, may also support the case that someone (individual or organization) is actively trying to discredit one of the GOP Presidential Primary frontrunner's to further their own agenda.
My concern is that with such an empathic denial, if this is being orchestrated, more and more women will step forward with accusations in the next days / weeks. This has turned into a battle and the battle lines have been drawn. All that is needed to disrupt his campaign is sufficient doubt in Cain's character...but what about sufficient doubt into the veracity of the accusations?
We cannot count, based on the questions that the press asked of Cain after his statement, on the mainstream media to ask not only the hard questions - but more importantly the right questions to both Cain and his accusers. Expect a lot of focus on the Cain answer that he would give a lie detector test - asking just what would be the trigger for that event. Given the bias of the media, expect a lot more 'difficult' questions being directed towards Cain than towards the accusers. Will Bialek be given more softballs like her tour through the morning news shows this morning, or will she be asked harder questions about her story and the time frame?
As much as I think this needs to be considered like a court of law, with the burden of proof on the accusers / prosecution, the presumption of innocence for the accused, and evidence to be presented that goes beyond any reasonable doubt of innocence, Lin Wood was right. This is going to be tried in the court of public opinion. Those who dislike Cain and cannot bring themselves to support a possible Cain GOP nomination / Presidency will declare the candidate's effort dead. Those who support Cain and see him as a viable and likely winner in 2012 will ignore these accusations as just more of the base and cheap tactics in politics today.
The real question is going to come from those who don't fit either of the above camp. Who will they determine is the closest to telling the truth? Or will they just tire of the accusations and denials and move on to other candidates out of weariness of the process? If the latter - what message does that send to future candidates and partisans regarding the ease of character assassination?