Leftist ProPublica Questions Politico's Decision to Publish Cain Allegations

For those who don't know, ProPublica (bold is mine) "is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Our work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with 'moral force.' We do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them." It has received predominant funding from the Sandler Foundation (yeah, those Sandlers; Herbert Sandler is Chairman). Other contributors include George Soros's Open Society Foundations. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (yeah, him) is also on ProPublica's board.

Translation: They lean left. Nevertheless, the organization's Stephen Engelberg (HT Instapundit) questions whether the Politico had enough information on sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain to publish a story (bolds are mine):


Raising Cain: When is a Scoop Ready to be Published?

Politico’s story on possible sexual harassment by Herman Cain may be the biggest investigative scoop of the campaign season. But it would be hard to deduce that from the facts as published.

The story lacks the key details needed to judge whether the allegations amount to fatal character flaw in a candidate suddenly running near the top of the polls. For example, the story quotes unnamed sources as saying the National Restaurant Association paid two “five figure settlements” to deal with charges of harassment by Cain, who was president and CEO of the trade group from 1996 to 1999.

Were they $99,999 each? (To use some of Cain’s favorite numbers) Or a buck above $9,999?

The former would suggest, but not prove, that something seriously untoward had occurred. The latter sounds like what lawyers term nuisance settlements – the money corporations routinely shell out to make frivolous claims go away.

After providing equivocal denials to Politico, Cain came out swinging today. "In all of my 40 years of business experience,’’ Cain told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington, “ I have never sexually harassed anyone.

“While at the restaurant association,’’ Cain said, “ I was accused of sexual harassment. Falsely accused, I might add."

Therein is the problem with this story. If the facts as published were part of a memo to Politico’s editors they would amount to a first-rate tip on a story. ...

... But the onus remains on news organization to nail down their stories.

... in this case, it remains unclear whether this was merely a great tip or an actual bombshell.

Note, however, which Scott Whitlock at NewsBusters did this morning, that the Big Three networks hyped the story as huge, with former Clinton advisor George Stephanopolous characterizing it as a "bombshell blast."

The hypocrisy of the Politico choosing to run a story based on such thin gruel is in stark contrast to how the press handled at least four other items concerning Democratic presidents and presidential candidates over the last two decades. Besides Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky, which Matt Drudge forced out into the open in January 1998 after Newsweek spiked Michael Isikoff's story, there are these:

  • During the 1992 presidential campaign, particularly during the early primaries, the press, especially the broadcast networks, worked feverishly to suppress Clinton's years-long affair with Gennifer Flowers -- an affair to which Clinton admitted six years later.
  • The elite media initially fiercely resisted publishing any information about Clinton's sexual harassment of Paula Jones in an incident which occurred in May 1991, mere months before Clinton announced his presidential run, when it became known in late 1993. Isikoff, then at the Washington Post, "brought the Paula Jones sexual harassment case to his editors ... (and) they refused to run the story." The matter was settled for $850,000 in November 1998.
  • More recently, the establishment media had to be dragged kicking and screaming by the National Enquirer into acknowledging John Edwards's 2006-2007 affair with and his fathering of a child out of wedlock by Rielle Hunter -- while the former South Carolina senator's now-deceased wife Elizabeth was fighting cancer. As I noted in January 2010 when Howard Kurtz tried to claim there was "no independent proof" of Edwards's beyond-professional involvement with Hunter at the time of the Enquirer's real bombshell, there were plenty of clues. Several journalists following Edwards's campaign seemed to have been in a position to obtain more complete proof of the Enquirer's story, but inexplicably dropped the ball.

Each of the four stories involved were far closer to being "nailed down" than Herman Cain's. That doesn't matter. Herman Cain is a Republican, conservative, African-American, a threat to the Washington elites of both parties, and a clear and present danger to Barack Obama's reelection. Thus, the as of now unsubstantiated story about Cain fits the establishment press's definition of a "bombshell."

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.