This was once a serious country with serious newspapers, back in the day when they were edited by serious editors and a man had the right to confront an accuser before she was allowed to destroy his reputation, career and even his life.
Herman Cain doesn’t look like Jack the Ripper, but Scotland Yard never pursued Mr. Ripper with the passion of the newspapers and television networks so hot after Mr. Cain. He may be guilty of whatever it is that he is accused of — so far little more than a wink, a predatory smile or even a suggestive smirk. Or he may not be guilty. But in the wonderland of Washington journalism, we demand the verdict first and only then the evidence (if any).
“Sexual harassment” has been established as a crime that only the accuser is entitled to define, and then at her attorney’s convenience. The accused is not necessarily entitled to know who accuses him or even to know what he is accused of doing. The crime is so heinous that the mere accusation is enough to convict. Why waste time on evidence?
Politico, the political daily of liberal pedigree that set the hounds on Mr. Cain, has not said what he is guilty of, or when, or where, or who says so. Innuendo is enough. Politico says it has a half-dozen sources “shedding light on different aspects of the complaints.” Once upon a time, a reporter trying to get a story merely “shedding light” on “aspects” past a gruff old city editor would have been thrown down the stairs if the gruff old city editor was having a particularly bad day.
The more sensational the story, the more skeptical the editors ought to be. Newspapers traditionally withheld the name of a rape victim, for example, but if the man was acquitted of the crime, the purported victim was then identified. Rape, alas, is not regarded as a crime as serious as sexual harassment. The new rules hold that women are the equal of men, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereunto, except when it’s more convenient to be “the little woman.”
The most unlikely ladies want to be “the little woman.” In one celebrated complaint, a three-star general of the U.S. Army got a male colleague, a mere two-star, cashiered for touching her “in a sexual way” and trying to steal a kiss. Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy said nothing at the time, holding her fire until ready, and she was ready several years later, when the man who had offended her was up for promotion. Nothing shrinks a man’s passion, even for patting a bottom or stealing a kiss, quicker than a firm and furious rebuff from the lady. The delicate lady general retired, satisfied, to the rank of Miss, never aspiring to be remembered as Stonewall Jackson or George S. Patton.
Like the “he said-she said” skirmish between the generals, the accusations against Herman Cain have smelled from the beginning, The case against Mr. Cain smells like an exercise manipulated by one of his rivals for the Republican nomination. The Cain camp’s blaming Rick Perry, whose campaign then blamed Mitt Romney, was about par for inexperienced newcomers to a presidential campaign. As a third woman emerged to say she was offended, or shocked, or affronted by something Mr. Cain said or did at a dinner party, descent into a circus was inevitable.
Neither Mr. Cain nor his accusers seem to want to waive confidentiality and let the record of settlements with the accusers at the National Restaurant Association be opened to public review. For their part, the accusers and their attorneys continue to get good mileage out of anonymous hints and intimations. The Cain campaign is reluctant to feed fuel to the fire, tempted to think the episode will recede into another news cycle.
The Republican establishment clearly wishes Herman Cain would go away and let Mitt Romney, whoever he is or turns out to be, get on with the coronation. But the natives in the grassy reeds and roots are restless, and the Republican establishment has yet to figure out how to deal with peasants newly empowered by Facebook, YouTube, tweets and other novelties and toys of the Internet.
A new Rasmussen poll of Republican voters nationwide, taken Wednesday night, shows Mr. Cain leading Mr. Romney 26 percent to 23 percent, and he has opened a wider lead in South Carolina in a poll taken two days after Politico set off the carnival of allusion and implication. He’s not dead yet.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.