NEW YORK — Herman Cain has decried the media firestorm surrounding claims he sexually harassed former employees. But the Republican presidential hopeful has also eagerly milked the limelight, even as he casts himself the victim of a journalistic smear.
"A lot of people who have been writing stories from their cubicles don't get it," Cain said in a radio interview Friday, maintaining an anti-media theme he's stuck with since the story first broke.
Allegations that the Georgia businessman sexually harassed subordinates as head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s have been catnip to political reporters, blending issues of power, sex, race and money and pitting Cain's word against that of at least four accusers. The story has led news broadcasts, made headlines in major papers and driven reporters to track the candidate's every move.
Cain himself has been a constant media presence since the claims first surfaced, appearing frequently on Fox News, visiting late-night talk shows and calling in to radio hosts. As he takes advantage of its many platforms, he also criticizes the media for its interest in the controversy.
The attention has given Cain unrivaled exposure since Oct. 30, when the Politico website first broke the story. But it's also allowed the former pizza chain executive and his allies to malign the media, currying favor with many conservatives who believe news coverage is biased in favor of Democrats.
"It's fun for the right to bash the press. It plays to the victimhood strain, the aggrieved aspect of being a conservative in an allegedly liberal, elitist media world," said Marty Kaplan, a professor of media and politics at the University of Southern California. "Cain has played into that — he gets the benefits of attention, and for his conservative supporters it proves what a grand antagonist toward the media he can be."
Audience members booed at a nationally televised debate this week when CNBC's Maria Bartiromo questioned Cain about the harassment claims. And they cheered when Cain pushed back.
"The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion," Cain said to applause.
At first, Cain and his backers could blame press scrutiny with ease. The early stories from Politico and other news organizations, including The Associated Press, did not include the names of Cain's accusers or many specific details of what he was alleged to have done.
Fox News personality Sean Hannity referred to the reporting as "journalistic malpractice," while Donald Trump dismissed it as a witch hunt.
Conservative pundit Ann Coulter revived the term "high-tech lynching," which is how Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas described the media scrutiny he received during his confirmation hearings in 1991 when allegations he sexually harassed a coworker, Anita Hill, surfaced. Thomas and Cain are both African-American.
Cain even got an assist from a GOP primary rival, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who said the press focused on scandal at the expense of the interests of ordinary voters.
But it got harder for Cain to target reporters Monday, when one of his accusers went public.
Sharon Bialek told her story at a packed news conference in New York. She appeared with celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, and the two women then sat for several TV interviews.
Cain and many other conservatives jumped on Bialek's association with Allred, who has contributed to many Democratic candidates.
Another Cain accuser, Karen Kraushaar, identified herself Tuesday.
Cain held a news conference Tuesday in Arizona, where he took questions only after he and his lawyer, Lin Wood, gave lengthy opening remarks.
Wood has warned other women who might come forward with allegations against Cain that they would be aggressively scrutinized and should give the matter careful consideration before going public.
Cain also sat for an interview with ABC News, where he suggested reporters had menaced members of his family, including his wife, Gloria, who has stayed out of the spotlight thus far.
Cain is also making the rounds of late-night talk shows.
"The voice of the people is stronger than the voice of the media," Cain told ABC's Jimmy Kimmel. "They're not going to be easily swayed by what the media hype is."1 comment on this story
The media frenzy surrounding the Cain story — and Cain's strategy to take advantage of it — speaks to the often unhealthy symbiotic relationship between media and politicians, according to Robert McClure, a professor of media and politics at Syracuse University.
"In no other country would Herman Cain be taken seriously in a way that would take up the time and the attention of serious decision-makers," McClure said. "What Cain traffics in is that he's glib and he loves attention. The media also traffics in glibness, so it's a match made in hell."
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