Will the media take advantage of sexual harassment allegations to perform even more stringent levels of Cain scrutiny of every word and action from his campaign? New York Times reporter Susan Saulny hinted so in Friday’s “Even Cain’s Old Jokes Face Extra Scrutiny Now.”
Previously, Saulny had quoted leftist Cain-haters Cornel West and Harry Belafonte in an October 19 story fretting over Cain’s playful treatment of black stereotypes on the campaign trail, even quoting a professor who accused Cain of employing “a certain kind of minstrelsy to play to white audiences.”
On Friday, Saulny strung together some vague, less-than-earthshaking anecdotes to suggest Cain would have to reel in his trademark humor now that his persona was tainted with the allegations (even though he denies them), and even to be careful how his entourage treats female reporters on the campaign trail.
It was another offhand joke by Herman Cain.
While answering a question at the Republican presidential debate Wednesday night, the candidate referred dismissively to Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, as “Princess Nancy.”
His campaign sent the quip out on Twitter almost immediately, to drive home the point in case anybody had missed it. But the public response was not as the campaign might have expected.
Dana Perino, former White House press secretary for Bush, criticized the remark on Twitter, and Cain apologized for it. But that wasn’t enough:
After more than a week of battling accusations that he sexually harassed a number of subordinates while he was chief of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s, Mr. Cain faces a new challenge: calibrating his campaign behavior toward women in an atmosphere newly colored by the allegations.
With Mr. Cain’s campaign running a vigorous defense against the sexual harassment charges -- questioning the women’s credibility and even scrutinizing their bank accounts -- any stray remark or campaign photograph could create a public relations problem if seen as unduly rude, flirtatious or aggressive toward women.
At a campaign stop Thursday at a diner in Ypsilanti, Mich., the mood turned unusually tense when a bodyguard for Mr. Cain tried to move a reporter out of the candidate’s path. The reporter, a woman, objected, saying, “Please don’t touch me, sir!”
The bodyguard responded, “Now you listen here, lady.”
Campaign events are not usually genteel, but the tone of the incident did not help Mr. Cain’s perception issue.
Nor did this: while shaking hands with patrons in the diner, Mr. Cain elaborated on the reason behind his apology on the Pelosi remark and seemed less than contrite.
“I apologized for calling her ‘Princess Pelosi,’ ” he said. (Actually, he had called her “Princess Nancy.”) When asked why, he said, “So you all could stop asking me about it, O.K.?”
Also Thursday, Mr. Cain was caught on tape joking about Anita Hill, who accused Clarence Thomas of harassment decades ago during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing.