Herman Cain and the Limits of Media-Bashing

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 7 2011 9:13 AM

Herman Cain and the Limits of Media-Bashing

One of the bloggers in the room for Herman Cain's Saturday press conference had a great angle when Phil Rucker audaciously asked about Cain's sexual harassment morass. Pay attention to when Mark Block walks over to give Rucker a talking to. He hands the journalist -- one of the Washington Post's national political reporters, and one of the sharpest guys on the beat -- his card. He promises to send Rucker the "journalistic code of ethics." If that means the Society for Professional Journalists code, which is strangely, I wonder how Team Cain interprets this rule: "Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing."

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It's a funny, stupid scene. But don't get the impression that you're watching Cain get pas the story. According to the new Reuters/IPSOS poll, Republicans have become markedly darker in their views of Cain. He used to have a 66 percent favorable rating among those voters; he's now at 57 percent. A full 39 percent of Republicans think that the allegations against Cain, reported by Politico based on primary documents, are true.

This isn't a good dynamic for Cain. Sure, most Republicans still think that an unfair media is trying to hobble a candidate they fear. I'd bet that some of the people who think the allegations are true don't even think they matter. If this scandal broke when Cain was the nominee, there would be a rallying effect. The moment that conservative voters finally accepted John McCain as their nominee was when the New York Times ran a gauzy expose about... well, nothing, but ostensibly some sexual peccadillos. It activated that synapse that governs media-hating, and it did wonders for McCain.

Now, what's the problem for Cain? The story's out and there are other candidates to choose from. Cain might not even get the most lift from angry Republican voters -- it's so easy to imagine this issue coming up at Wednesday's debate, and Gingrich taking the opportunity to attack the media, channeling the base in a way that Cain's too implicated to effectively do.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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