By Alexander Bolton - 11/02/11 12:30 AM EDT
Republican senators have accused the media of a double standard on Herman Cain, whom they argue is enduring tougher treatment because he is a conservative.
The Republican senators ripped the media for their reporting of anonymous sexual harassment allegations against the presidential candidate, saying a Democrat would not face the same kind of reporting in the absence of a public accusation.
“It’s easy to take potshots at conservatives,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who described the media’s treatment of the Cain story as “overdone.”
“I do think that conservative candidates tend to get more rigorous criticism than liberal candidates,” echoed Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).
Arguments of a double standard in the media are nothing new, though former President Clinton and former Sen. Gary Hart, among other Democrats, would likely disagree with Hatch and Sessions.
Clinton was dogged by sex scandals during his 1992 campaign for the White House and through two terms, leading then-first lady Hillary Clinton to famously blame a “vast right-wing conspiracy” that included conservative news outlets for her husband’s problems.
The attention on Clinton’s sex life led Kenneth Starr to investigate his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky as part of the Whitewater real estate inquiry. The House, led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who is now Cain’s rival for the GOP presidential nomination, voted to file Articles of Impeachment against Clinton for lying about the Lewinsky affair and obstructing justice, before the Senate acquitted him.
But in 2007, the mainstream media did not follow up on a story in the National Enquirer that Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards had fathered a child out of wedlock with a campaign aide. The story ended up being true, earning plaudits for the Enquirer and some criticism of media outlets.
Hatch argues conservative candidates often get harsher treatment from the mainstream media.
“Conservatives are family-oriented, for the most part religious; they believe in raising children and they believe in marriage. It’s easier to take potshots at a Republican,” Hatch said.
“It just makes you wonder why some in the media will jump all over the Republican on allegations — and that’s all they are — and are not doing the same on the other side,” said Hatch, who has known Cain for a long time. “I’d prefer we look at the individual and look at how good the individual is, or bad.”
Sessions agreed that the media coverage “has not been fair” to Cain, although he also said Cain could have done a better job at responding to the story.
“I don’t think it was handled as well as it should have been,” he said of the media coverage.
Cain has acknowledged he was accused of sexual harassment during his tenure at the National Restaurant Association from 1996 to 1999. Politico reported that two women reached financial settlements and left the trade group after complaining of inappropriate behavior by Cain.
But Cain, who according to some polls is leading in the race for his party’s presidential nomination, says he was “falsely accused” and calls the allegations baseless. His campaign has made blaming the media a big part of its strategy, and some conservatives have rallied around the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO since the news broke.
Cain and his supporters have focused on the use of anonymous sources, a common practice by news organizations.
“I don’t think that allegations from anonymous people should be given any credence or even printed because I think someone’s character is pretty important,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
“If you’re not willing to come forward and name yourself, it shouldn’t be printed. Because that does damage someone’s character to have something like that printed.”
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) on Tuesday said he did not believe Cain would do something inappropriate.
“I have no information other than what I hear,” he told reporters. “I can’t imagine he’s done anything serious in the past, and so all I know is just what I’m hearing from you guys.”
Sessions said Cain’s campaign shouldn’t be over because of the story.
“The essence of it seems to be [more] a perception of a bad encounter than anything that can be objectively proven to be bad,” he said. “I don’t think this is the type of thing that should derail the campaign.”
— Daniel Strauss contributed to this report.
— Originally posted at 2:45 p.m. and updated at 8:30 p.m.