NYT Quickly Fronts Vague Cain Charges, Ignored John Edwards Adultery Allegations Almost a Year

November 1st, 2011 1:54 PM

There’s a clear double standard on sex allegations for presidential candidates in the New York Times.

The Times put 15-year-old anonymous accusations of sexual harassment against GOP candidate Herman Cain on the front page Tuesday morning, in an off-lead story by Jim Rutenberg and Michael Shear written with help from five other reporters: “Cain Confronts Claim From 90s Of Harassment – He Denies Wrongdoing – Account of Settlement Changes – Reports Rock Campaign.”


The prominent story comes just one full day after the allegations first surfaced on Politico Sunday evening. The Times was also eager during Campaign 2008 to advance sex rumors against Republican John McCain, who was on his way to clinching the GOP nomination.

By contrast, the paper’s treatment of better-substantiated allegations of adultery against Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards were ignored until the candidate himself was compelled to confess.

On February 21, 2008 the Times attempted to take down the McCain campaign with a front-page story focused on McCain's alleged affair with a lobbyist, which promptly fizzled out among conservatives and liberals alike, who dismissed it as a strained mix of sex innuendo and old news. For its affair innuendo, the Times relied on two anonymous former staffers who admit "they had become disillusioned with the senator."

By contrast, more substantiated and damaging allegations about 2008 Democratic presidential candidate (and 2004 Democratic Party choice for vice president) John Edwards were ignored for ten months by the paper until the candidate himself confessed to adultery on ABC News in August 2008.

Clark Hoyt, the paper’s Public Editor at the time, chided his paper for its reluctance to investigate allegations of Edwards's affair, initially raised by the National Enquirer: “The Times did not want to regurgitate the Enquirer's reporting without verifying it, which is responsible. But The Times did not try to verify it, beyond a few perfunctory efforts, which I think was wrong.”

Hoyt forwarded excuses from the Times for not running with (or even checking out) the Edwards's affair story: "Editors said that when the first Enquirer story appeared [in October 2007] and they could not verify it after fairly cursory inquiries, they left it alone. 'I'm not going to recycle a supermarket tabloid's anonymously sourced story,' said Bill Keller, the executive editor."

Yet the paper’s own 2008 McCain affair story was sourced from two anonymous former staffers. Bill Keller may have been too proud to run with a tabloid's anonymous story, but he's more than happy for his paper to do it itself.

Today's Herman Cain allegations are similarly anonymous, although the paper doesn't use that word until paragraph eight. From Tuesday’s front-page story:

Herman Cain, a surprise leader in the Republican race for the presidency, acknowledged Monday that he was accused of sexual harassment while chief of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, but he denied wrongdoing in an episode that has consumed his rising candidacy.

Facing the biggest test of his campaign just as it was demanding notice from a political world that had not seen him coming, Mr. Cain spent the day in a whirlwind of television interviews and news briefings that were originally supposed to highlight his economic plans but became an exercise in damage control.

He maintained that he had been falsely accused and that internal investigations at the association had corroborated that. But his explanations evolved during a day in which conservative supporters rallied against what they called an unfair attack from the news media, while others expressed fresh doubts about a campaign that has yet to prove it has the mettle to survive a national nominating battle.

Mr. Cain’s shifting explanations and the gaps in the story made it hard to determine the impact of the revelations on his long-term prospects in states like Iowa, whose crucial caucuses are just two months away.