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Herman Cain and Journalistic Ethics

Herman Cain and Journalistic Ethics

By Carl M. Cannon - November 9, 2011


Herman Cain has met the enemy and he is us. The media, that is.

Not his libido. Not his lack of impulse control. Not his changing stories. Not his flaky campaign manager. Not the “Mad Men” environment of the restaurant business, or the evolving standards of male-female behavior -- not even the sometimes ephemeral standards of sexual harassment.

No, his problems stem from the First Amendment. He’s the victim, not the growing roster of women who have accused him of boorish behavior. Anonymous sources! Hidden agendas! Sensationalism in the Fourth Estate! Yes, that’s the true scandal here. That’s his story, anyway, and he’s sticking to it. So is his lawyer.

“Herman Cain finds himself on trial in the court of public opinion . . . where there are no rules except those made up by the media,” Lin Wood, Cain’s high-dollar defense lawyer, groused on Tuesday.

“Don’t even go there,” Cain scolded a reporter who tried to ask him about the accusations a day earlier.

“Can I ask my question?” the surprised reporter asked.

“No!” Cain replied, before adding, bafflingly: “Where’s my chief of staff? Please send him the journalistic code of ethics.”

Say what? It’s hard to know what Cain had in mind, just as it’s hard to fathom what campaign manager Mark Block was doing when he breathlessly told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he had “confirmed” that the son of one of Cain’s alleged victims worked for Politico, the news outlet that broke the original story.

Except that the journalist in question, Josh Kraushaar, is not related to Karen Kraushaar, the former National Restaurant Association employee who brought sexual harassment claims against Cain and was given a cash settlement for her troubles. Nor does Josh Kraushaar work for Politico. He works for Hotline, a rival news outlet owned by Atlantic Media. Josh did work briefly at Politico, but that was 16 months ago -- before anyone had ever heard of Herman Cain.

Let’s return to that “journalism code of ethics” crack of Cain’s for a minute, though. I’m going to pull rank on him here.

Herman Cain made his reputation working for Burger King and Godfather’s Pizza. I like hamburgers as much as the next man (Big Macs more than Whoppers), and I ordered a carryout pizza for my kids the night of Cain’s latest press conference. And although I worked in a pizza parlor and a burger joint in high school, I don’t presume to know as much about the fast-food business as Cain. And he damn sure doesn’t know as much as I do about journalism.

I was born and raised in the news business. My father was -- and is -- a highly respected reporter and presidential biographer. I have a college degree in journalism, and have worked for 35 years as a reporter and editor, and covered every presidential campaign since 1984. I’ve worked on newspapers, magazines, and online organizations, including this one. I’ve written books, done investigative reporting, won several of the prestigious journalism awards, lectured at colleges, been a writing coach, and done in-depth media criticism.

I have delved more deeply into the ethical obligations of journalists than anyone running for president in 2012. Although not a conservative myself, I’ve long been troubled by the pervasive liberal slant of political reporting in the mainstream media. I’ve written about this problem -- and named names -- and strained friendships over it. I was disgusted by the one-sided political coverage in 2008, particularly concerning Sarah Palin, and said so in print.

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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