Herman Cain's Accusers Remain Anonymous Despite Media Frenzy
NEW YORK -- It's been four days since Politico reported that two women once accused Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain of sexual harassment in the late 1990s, thus upending the Republican race and driving media organizations to dig into the candidate's tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association.
But even as the political press devotes extensive resources to covering the Cain story, major news organizations -- such as The New York Times, NBC News, ABC News, the Washington Post and Politico -- have held back the names of the two women.
Joel P. Bennett, an attorney for one of the women involved, told The Huffington Post that he's currently fielding about 150 media inquiries a day and has had discussions with reporters about the issue of naming names. "I would just tell them, she's a private person," Bennett said, of conversations with reporters. "She doesn't want to be a public figure and it's their call."
That particular call has been a topic of discussion in newsrooms all week, including at the Associated Press.
On Wednesday, the AP broke the news that a third women who worked for the NRA had considered filing a complaint against Cain over "what she deemed aggressive and unwanted behavior." The AP did not report the name of the woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The AP mentions in the story that its reporters "located and approached" the woman as part of its "investigation into harassment complaints against Cain." Over several days, the woman described "situations in which she said Cain told her that he had confided to colleagues how attractive she was and invited her to his corporate apartment outside work."
Since the third accuser didn't make a formal complaint at the time, there isn't similar documentation that could be used to back up her claim. So AP editors had to make a determination whether her anonymous comments, along with additional reporting from sources, were enough to run the explosive story.
Ted Bridis, news editor of the AP's investigative team in Washington, explained one major reason he felt secure running with the story.
"If this woman had come to us over-the-transom, I would have been exceedingly dubious," Bridis said. "It would have been a real challenge. That's not what happened. We wanted to be transparent. We found her and we reached her and she was exceedingly reluctant to talk to us."
But the woman eventually did speak to the AP, and her claims have only added to the growing political media firestorm surrounding the former Godfather's Pizza CEO who was recently vaulted to the top tier of 2012 Republican candidates.
The Cain campaign has been taking shots all week at the "inside-the-Beltway media" -- a phrase tossed out immediately after the Politico and AP scoops -- and reporters' use of anonymous sources. However, shooting the messenger hasn't worked out too well. As reporters dig in and ask more questions, Cain has repeatedly changed his story, shifting from originally claiming not to have known about any settlement, to acknowledging some details of past complaints made against him. And the controversy hasn't gone away.
Still, the story may recede from the headlines if one of the accusers doesn't eventually come forward and speak on the record. In these types of political scandals, it often seems like only a matter of time before a major network or newspaper announces its exclusive.
Politico, in its original Sunday story, cited "privacy concerns" as the reason for not publishing the names of the first two women. NBC News, which confirmed that one woman settled with the NRA shortly after that night, simply said it was "not disclosing the name of the woman nor characterizing who she is." The New York Times, reporting late Tuesday night that one woman received a $35,000 severance, also didn't publish the name.
Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said there's no written policy about not naming names. "Situations like the current one are handled on a case-by-case basis," she said in a statement. "We're mindful and cautious of privacy concerns and of the sensitive nature of the story."
However, one TV news executive suspects that media outlets -- some of which have staked out the home of one accuser -- aren't holding back simply because of privacy concerns. The executive said the outlets are also fearful of losing a much-prized exclusive interview, especially if the NRA pulls back any confidentiality agreements.
"There's no journalistic reason not to name them," said the executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "I think it comes down to a very simple equation: If you name them, the likelihood of your news organization interviewing them probably goes down to zero."
In one case, it may not matter what the media publishes (or doesn't publish). Bennett said that his client "is not going public" and "will not do any interviews."
So Bennett's the one left handling interview requests, which he said have been non-stop. When reached by HuffPost on the phone, Bennett was on the other line with one reporter before leaving to grab a call from another, all in the space of a few minutes. His phone ringing off the hook is a testament to the media's insatiable appetite for political scandal.
"I could be on TV 12 hours a day easily," Bennett said. "I could be on CNN eight hours alone. Meet the Press. ABC. Next week, I'll be a nobody again."