Herman Cain may feel like he’s being harassed by the media, but his harassment controversy is now spinning out of control.The question when Politico broke the original piece Sunday night, involving two unnamed women and largely unspecified conduct from his tenure at the National Restaurant Association, was how much more would come out on the sexual harassment front. The answer, at the moment, is a whole helluva lot.Forget for a moment his ham-handed handling of the matter, first saying he didn’t remember any legal settlement, then saying it was for about three months’ pay (it turned out to be a year’s salary, $35,000, the New York Times reported). Leave aside that some reporters looked like jackals shouting questions at the candidate while he appeared with a doctors’ group in Alexandria. On Wednesday, the story reached a tipping point.Now there’s a third case, according to GOP pollster Chris Wilson, who says he saw Cain sexually harass an unnamed woman at an Arlington restaurant in the late 1990s, making everyone “very uncomfortable.” Wilson says the woman wants to talk. (Again, though, no details on what Cain allegedly said or did—this is one murky controversy, without so much as a pubic-hair-on-Coke-can phrase attributed to the alleged harasser.)And we have the lawyer for one of the two complainants at the restaurant group saying she wants to tell her side of the story if the trade association would just release her from her promise not to talk. That was starting to smell like a cover-up--although the lawyer later backed off and said the woman doesn’t want to go public and become the next Anita Hill.Then there’s Iowa radio host Steve Deace, saying that Cain has said “awkward” and “inappropriate” things to his staff.Beyond the drip-drip-drip of new details, the harassment story has now graduated to full culture-war status. You have Cain accusing one of his former consultants, Curt Anderson, a Rick Perry supporter, of leaking the allegations (Anderson denies it), while his chief of staff demands apologies from Perry and Politico (don’t hold your breath). You have Rush Limbaugh accusing the media of an “unconscionable, racially stereotypical attack” and Ann Coulter using similar language (“Liberals detest, detest, detest conservative blacks.”). Lefty pundits, of course, are firing back (Lawrence O’Donnell saying Rush is peddling “pure hatred”).What all this means is that there’s enough invective to fuel the story hour after hour even during the brief periods when no actual news emerges.Meanwhile, some Iowa Republicans are telling reporters for The Washington Post and Politico that they don’t much care about the harassment allegations and view the whole mess as a media-generated scandal.
The problem now for Cain is that he can’t talk about anything else—or that, more precisely, nothing else he says can break through the scandalous static.