- Associated Press - Sunday, November 13, 2011

NEW YORK — Herman Cain has decried the media firestorm surrounding claims he sexually harassed former employees. But the Republican presidential hopeful has also eagerly milked the limelight, even as he casts himself the victim of a journalistic smear.

“A lot of people who have been writing stories from their cubicles don’t get it,” Mr. Cain said in a radio interview Friday, maintaining an anti-media theme he’s stuck with since the story first broke.

Allegations that the Georgia businessman sexually harassed subordinates as head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s have been catnip to political reporters, blending issues of power, sex, race and money and pitting Mr. Cain’s word against that of at least four accusers. The story has led news broadcasts, made headlines in major papers and driven reporters to track the candidate’s every move.

Mr. Cain himself has been a constant media presence since the claims first surfaced, appearing frequently on Fox News, visiting late-night talk shows and calling in to radio hosts. As he takes advantage of its many platforms, he also criticizes the media for its interest in the controversy.

The attention has given Mr. Cain unrivaled exposure since Oct. 30, when the Politico website first broke the story.

The former pizza-chain executive and his allies have used the opportunity to malign the media, currying favor with many conservatives who think news coverage is biased in favor of Democrats.

“It plays to the victimhood strain, the aggrieved aspect of being a conservative in an allegedly liberal, elitist media world,” said Marty Kaplan, a professor of media and politics at the University of Southern California. “Mr. Cain has played into that - he gets the benefits of attention, and for his conservative supporters it proves what a grand antagonist toward the media he can be.”

Audience members booed at a nationally televised debate this week when CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo questioned Mr. Cain about the harassment claims. And they cheered when Mr. Cain pushed back.

“The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion,” Mr. Cain said to applause.

At first, Mr. Cain and his backers could blame press scrutiny with ease. The early stories from Politico and other news organizations, including the Associated Press, did not include the names of Mr. Cain’s accusers or many specific details of what he was alleged to have done.

But it got harder for Mr. Cain to target reporters after Nov. 7, when one of his accusers went public.

Sharon Bialek told her story at a packed news conference in New York. She appeared with celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, and the two women then sat for several TV interviews.

Another Cain accuser, Karen Kraushaar, identified herself Tuesday.