Hart to Cain: Don't you dare

Photo of Donna Rice sitting on the knees of Gary Hart on the ship Monkey Business, the climactic image that ended Hart's 1988 presidential campaign.“Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’ll be very bored.”

That was presidential candidate Senator Gary Hart’s famous dare to the press corp in response to rumors of an affair. Funny thing about a dare to journalists, they’ll take it. They still do.

When reporters for the Miami Herald, who were already staking out Hart’s DC townhouse, broke a story about seeing a woman leaving the same evening of the dare, Hart claimed they couldn’t have seen both entrances and didn’t have the facts. Which, of course, led to the publishing of the famous photo of Senator Hart on a Miami dock wearing a tee-shirt from the boat “Monkey Business” and with 29-year old actress Donna Rice* in his lap. A week later he was out of the race.

Last week, another presidential contender dared the press.

During Herman Cain’s tenure as the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, at least two female employees complained to colleagues and senior association officials about inappropriate behavior by Cain, ultimately leaving their jobs at the trade group, multiple sources confirm to POLITICO.

The women complained of sexually suggestive behavior by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable, the sources said, and they signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts to leave the association. – Politico story by Jonathan Martin, Maggie Haberman, Anna Palmer and Ken Vogel.

Addressing the National Press Club, Mr. Cain said that he “had never sexually harassed anyone.” He said that, while he was chairman of the National Restaurant Association, he had been, “falsely accused of sexual harassment.” That the charges were “thoroughly investigated” and “it had no basis. As for the settlement, I am unaware of any sort of settlement.” Mr. Cain then began suggesting that the reporters hadn’t done their job — belittling the story and dismissing it as “anonymous sources when there is no basis for the accusation.” When asked at the Press Club if he was going to request that the association release the files to shoot down the allegations, he said, “No, there’s nothing to shoot down.” Then he dared the press, “Enough said, there’s nothing there to dig up.”

One thing you can count on: more will be dug up. Everything will get out. It always does. The working press still does.

Herman Cain had a chance to get in front of this story. Something that occurred 20 years ago is not necessarily damning in politics – Robert Byrd’s membership in the KKK, comes to mind. But Mr. Cain did not get in front of the story. Instead, he dared the press. Blamed the press. Suggested the press is out to get him. Parsed the difference between “agreement” and “settlement.” Blamed the women who had brought the allegations. Suggested it was a liberal lynching. Suggested that the Perry camp had leaked it for political gain. He has said almost everything, but the truth – whatever the truth is. He has acted indignant, angry, patronizing, and dismissive.

I’m no expert on hubris, but I do know a bit about embarrassment. I remember every painful detail of each embarrassing moment going back to when I was five. Had I ever been accused of sexual harassment, it would make my list. Had I been the ceo of the board of a national lobby group, I would have been truly humbled.

Sexual harassment is real. Just the possibility of the perception is enough in my book for a sincere and heartfelt apology. A promise to change ways and learn from the mistake. Pretty much, confess, repent and be saved process that so many of faith embrace.

Mr. Cain is a member of the last generation who lived during the time when propositioning or making sexual innuendo to someone who works for you, was acceptable. There is only one place left in American business where it still is acceptable: the boardroom. And there is only one group who can get away with it: the one percent.

 

* Full disclosure: When this story broke, CNN was desperate for some footage of Ms. Rice as an actress. CNN contacted Porter Creative (now CP+B), the creative firm that had produced the only commercial Donna Rice had ever done. Meg Gerrish, a frequent Dew writer, produced the spot. I was her client at the ad agency. In the spot, Donna played a bride. The spot she was in was for Piggly Wiggly.

6 thoughts on “Hart to Cain: Don't you dare

  1. Del Olds

    Amen! and Amen! Do not cover up when caught. Tell all quickly, seek forgiveness and try to move on (hopefully).

    The work place has changed so much, I would not fit in now. One cannot kid, make a joke, or tell a business colleague that they are “looking good” or “you’re looking good in that outfit’ without the fear that if that person becomes, or is, dissatisfied about something, you will be accused of sexual harassment. To me that is a shame, but “that is the way it is.”

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  2. Bob Lamb

    Excellent piece, Lee. Cain is the living exemplar of “Pride goeth before a fall.”
    We’ve watched this kind of thing many times before, the denials, the arrogance, the half-truths, and the outcome was always the same: the end.
    P.S. For the record, women know the difference between a compliment and sexual harassment. That’s not to say that no gal has ever cried foul to even a score or run a scam. The latter happened just recently in a widely publicized case in NYC: the Frenchman and the hotel maid. But the bullying that women have endured over the years just because they have a vagina is a far more often occurrence.

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    1. Monica Smith

      Really, I’d suggest that sexual harassment, like racial harassment, aims to intimidate by calling into question personal characteristics the victim cannot change. It’s not about getting sexual gratification; it’s about exercising domination. So, if there was a sexual harasser in that NYC incident, it was the female trying to extort some favor or payment. Males call each other’s sexual prowess or proclivities into question all the time as a strategy of one-up-man-ship. That’s why when they do it to females and get accused of discrimination, they don’t understand. From their perspective, they were “treating her as one of the guys.” That gays also feel threatened by this kind of behavior doesn’t register either because each and every one of the guys had to put up with it at some time.
      When my sons were teens, it was the only issue for which I had no good answer. How does one refute a false accusation? All I could offer was that rude people need to be ignored. Of course, that’s not possible when such people presume to present themselves as candidates for the highest office in the land.
      That Herman Cain is not a respecter of personal privacy is probably good to know.

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  3. Will Cantrell

    Good post, Lee. While I am always more than a little suspicious of anyone who signs on with Gloria Allred, as one of his accusers has, it’s still hard for me to believe that ALL of his now four accusers are lying. I would suggest that Herman Cain, like many other One Per Centers has had so much success in his life that he feels like he is “Bulletproof” , Above it all” – and not accountable for bad behavior. What arrogance! Will

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    1. Lee Leslie Post author

      Thank you, Will. We have good reason to be suspicious of anyone who choses the spotlight. In this case, I believe we should give the benefit of trust to the victim while the facts are being considered. And they will. There’s a name for someone who is egocentric, deceptive, has shallow emotions, lies about his past, lacks empathy and remorse -- Google it.

      Reply

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