In his lame excuse for a no-holds-barred press conference late Tuesday afternoon, Herman Cain said he relishes talking directly to the American people. But despite the new ways in which candidates can circumvent the national media–Twitter, Facebook, YouTube–they’re still largely at the mercy of their mainstream press coverage. And however many times Herman Cain says “Period. End of story,” it’s clear that he won’t be getting “back on message” until the national press corps has learned quite a lot more about the charges of sexual harassment against him.
Thanks in part to some not-very-effective questioning from the reporters present–Marc Lacey of the New York Times being a noble exception, with his highly specific question about Cain’s latest public accuser (specificity is crucial in these situations)–The Hermanator managed to do a lot of talking without saying much of substance. He denied “any inappropriate behavior,” ever, a statement so sweeping it suggests that he never so much as misbehaved as a child. He repeated trite and completely unpersuasive points from earlier interviews, including the notion that unnamed enemies within the Washington establishment are orchestrating these charges against him.
In an inane statement yesterday, Cain said that “At some point during a career like [mine], someone will not like things you do, or how you do it. Someone will complain. That is just the nature of things if you’ve ever done much in your life,” which will come as news to the thousands of CEOs, sports heroes, Nobel laureates, and countless other people of accomplishment who have not been accused by four different people of sexual harassment. (A list that also includes most people who have run for President, by the way.)
It’s possible that Cain is being unfairly targeted, but as the volume of the charges mount and the accusers step forward–and Cain flails so unconvincingly–that seems less and less plausible. Virtually every member of the Washington press corps thinks so. And with his talk of journalistic codes of conduct, and now this afternoon’s weak attempt at taking “hard questions,” Cain has only waved a red flag of hostility at the people he needs to help clear his name: journalists. Cain can now try to ignore the story, get back on message, and speak directly to the people. But given that Cain doesn’t care to visit primary states, it’s particularly hard to see how he can carry on with the national media so totally, if not always skillfully, aligned against him.