(The story has changed somewhat, but, as usual, the arrangement with the syndicator means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)
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THE WHOLE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT
BY BOB FRANKEN
Sorry, Mr. Cain. Yes, it's true you are demanding that those of us in the media, ethics-challenged that we are, move on and away from our questions about the sexual-harassment charges against you. You insist that real people (meaning you, apparently) want to hear about important issues, so stop with the questions that linger about your conduct with female employees during your tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association.
Let's see how to put this, sir: How about, It ain't gonna happen. As a matter of fact, it is fair to say that those the only questions we should be asking. All the other stuff is just a diversion from a relentless inquiry into whether you acted like a sexual thug with female subordinates.
Thuggery is the only way to describe the accusations of Sharon Bialek, who has come forward with a claim that back in 1997, when she sat down to discuss a job: “He suddenly reached over and put his hand on my leg, under my skirt and reached for my genitals.” Then, she went on that he (meaning you) tried to pull her head toward his crotch.
This is vile. If true, it could possibly have been pursued as a sexual assault, but it wasn't. And the statement from your campaign that “all of the allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false,” just will not suffice. This now is far beyond the “witch hunt” that is, as you claim, some concoction of the “inside-the-Beltway” crowd. If these accusations are anywhere near true, you need to withdraw from a candidacy that would be a blight on our country.
If they are not, then we all need to know, so that any lingering doubts about such accusations of heinous actions can be swept away, and the nation can level appropriate scorn against those would engage in such a smear. When your organization goes on to say “Fortunately, the American people will not allow Mr. Cain's bold '9-9-9 Plan,' clear foreign-policy vision and plans for energy independence to be overshadowed by these bogus attacks,” that is wishful thinking.
Perhaps you can dismiss the criticisms leveled at the “9-9-9” tax plan, and maybe the dissection of various foreign-policy gaffes can be dismissed as nit-picking by traditionalists or however you want to characterize it, but surely even the most ardent believers among your fans will want to know if they placed their faith in a man who foolishly believed that egregious behavior in his past could stay private. This is a presidential campaign we're talking about, in which the candidate is unveiled, not covered up.
It's not fair, but this has taken on the “where there's smoke, there's fire” appearance, and the only way this can be extinguished is if the entire record is opened and you submit answers to all the questions. Any efforts of sloganeering to try to finesse this won't cut it. It may seem like a cliché, but the American people have a right to know. Everything. Anything less is a disservice to the country. To put it bluntly, we have hopefully learned from the mistakes of covering Bill Clinton, but these charges are even worse. In his case, the matters that were discussed involved consensual acts. What Sharon Bialek alleges was not.
You must make it clear whether you are the predator she claims you are or whether you're the target of an awful slander. This cannot be left to “he-said-she-said.” Until this is cleared up, you can say you don't wish to talk about it, but anyone who calls him- or herself a journalist must insist that there is nothing left to talk about for now. We can get back to the other matters once this is cleared up, and if your candidacy survives.
© 2011 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.