The press routinely flogged itself in the Bill Clinton years for being too quick to acknowledge when women suggested they'd had affairs or been harassed by Clinton. They would have been extremely slow to relay a cheating allegation with no details or proof. So why are national media outlets repeating an unproven adultery allegation....and against a woman? When the guy has a domestic violence record?
Because she's a Republican? In Mark Sanford's South Carolina? Sarah Palin-endorsed South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley has seen an unsubstantiated adultery charge spread by the Associated Press, The Washington Post, Newsday, and CNN, whose Wolf Blitzer ran to the evidence-free story on The Situation Room Monday:
BLITZER: South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, has been the GOP frontrunner, picking up endorsements from Sarah Palin, former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, and many others. But her campaign has suddenly been rocked by allegations of an extra-marital affair -- charges she's strongly denying.
Our Lisa Sylvester has been looking into all of this for us -- Lisa, tell our viewers what's going on.
SYLVESTER: Well, Wolf, Nikki Haley is a married mother of two and she is currently leading the pack of Republicans seeking to replace outgoing governor, Mark Sanford. And that makes her, also, a key target of political rivals. She is out now forcefully denying rumors of having an extramarital affair several years ago.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): She's a rising political star in South Carolina -- a Tea Party favorite who has surged in the polls in the four way Republican gubernatorial primary. But now, Nikki Haley has been accused of straying outside her marriage. An influential state blogger dropped a bombshell, saying that years ago, he had an inappropriate physical relationship with Haley. Will Folks, who says he is a Haley supporter [!], says he decided to come forward after rival campaigns began leaking the story to the media. Folks, who resigned from the state government in 2005, before admitting a domestic violence charge, says he isn't saying anymore.
But Haley was quick to deny the allegations. In a radio interview, she dismissed the allegation as a disgraceful smear and as political tactics, saying her marriage to her husband, Michael, is as strong as ever.
NIKKI HALEY: Michael and I met my very first weekend at Clemson. We dated for seven years. We've been married for 13 years. He is my very best friend and probably my biggest cheerleader and supporter as I am in this race.
SYLVESTER: Folks provided no evidence of an affair, but it surfaced in a state that's already sensitive to the charges of indiscretion after the peccadilloes of South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, who called an Argentine mistress his soul mate.
GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And so the bottom line is this. I -- I've been unfaithful to my wife.
SYLVESTER: Governor Sanford is one of a string of politicians who have fallen from political grace -- Representative Mark Souder, Representative Eric Massa and former New York governor, Eliot Spitzer.
Earth to CNN: it is not impressive "news judgment" to conclude "there's something in the South Carolina water" and spread this story without proof. Surely CNN wouldn't have started telling adultery stories about other Arkansas politicians on the principle "if Clinton does it, they must all do it." But then CNN compounded the offense, by psychologizing Haley as an offender:
Temple University professor Frank Farley says politics, by its nature, draws a Type T personality -- T for thrill seeker. They're natural leaders, charismatic, but there is a down side.
PROF. FRANK FARLEY: The T negative, unfortunately, is where they take risks in destructive ways, either self-destructive ways or in ways that are destructive of other people. And it's like you sometimes -- it sometimes overflows in a sense. You know, you may be this big T personality out there, a leader, changing the world, but you also have a little bit of that negative potential.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SYLVESTER: And we should emphasize again that Nikki Haley adamantly denies cheating on her husband.
Sarah Palin spoke to her this morning. And according to Palin's Facebook page, Palin told Haley: "Hang in there." She says: "Any lies told about you will strengthen your resolve to clean up political and media corruption. You and your supporters will grow stronger through things like this," end quote.
And Haley, during her radio interview, said, if anything, these charges have made her even more motivated to win the state primary, which, Wolf, is in just two weeks -- Wolf.
A week after the Monica Lewinsky story broke, CNN aired a self-flagellating special titled "Investigating the President: Media Madness?"
Jeff Greenfield began: "More than 200 years after the Founding Fathers risked their lives to found a nation built on the idea of freedom, after crafting the Bill of Rights, whose very first guarantee is the right of a free press to inform and educate the people, millions of those people are asking the press one question fraught with significance: What the hell are you people doing trying to find out what kind of sex the President of the United States might or might not be having?"
They didn't offer the same regrets for Nikki Haley. They also chatted about these charges later in the evening on John King USA.