Herman Cain can’t prove a negative

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We know for certain only a couple things regarding the Herman Cain controversy: the National Restaurant Association reached agreements during the 1990’s to give payouts to at least two women who were accusing Cain of sexual harassment, and in recent days, another woman has accused him of long-ago sexual harassment.

There are many things we do NOT know regarding Cain and these accusations, including: whether he actually ever sexually harassed anyone (he has not been criminally convicted or even charged with anything, nor has he been found liable in a civil lawsuit, nor are there any witnesses to corroborate any of these women’s claims, that we know of, or any hard evidence of his alleged misbehavior, at least not yet). We do not know whether he ever acted inappropriately toward an employee (again, there are no tapes, no hard evidence of any kind, no corroborating witness accounts—at least not that have come to light at this point). We do not know who provided The Politico with confidential files belonging to the National Restaurant Association, or the motives of whoever did so for doing that (we can only speculate, unless some enterprising reporter wants to find out who furnished Politico with those files).

What we know is that, over the course of an extremely successful 40+ year career in business, several women have made accusations that Herman Cain sexually harassed them. We also know that these accusations only came to public light recently during the course of Cain’s run for president, unearthed by anonymous sources who released an institution’s  confidential files to the media.

It is certainly possible that Cain acted inappropriately toward some women subordinates and took advantage of his position. It is also certainly possible that Cain has been falsely accused, or that he may earlier in his career have engaged in “gray area” flirtations or behaviors that may have been inappropriate for the workplace but that have been blown out of proportion.

Any of these possibilities—or some combination—could be the truth.

I can certainly imagine a powerful man acting inappropriately and taking advantage; I can equally imagine that opportunistic people may have accused him or grossly exaggerated claims in order to get money. Based on my life experience, I think either set of scenarios is entirely possible. Best not to jump to conclusions until we learn more.

It might be worth examining whether the National Restaurant Association settled other, similar claims around that time (whether their policy was to settle things, even when there was a lack of evidence of impropriety, rather than risk letting them drag on when someone presented a claim that could be troublesome and expensive). I have heard that, at least in the state of Pennsylvania where I grew up, individuals accused of sexual harassment are responsible for paying lawyers’ fees for both parties even when such claims are eventually dismissed (I have to fact-check that, however).

My source in Pennsylvania says that this policy exists in order to encourage likely victims, usually women, to come forward, and to ameliorate any stigma or fear over doing so. If that is in fact true, the NRA would have had a major incentive to pay these women modest settlements in order to be done with the matter in short order. Also, the NRA might indeed have been required to pay their legal fees even if the accusations were, as Cain claims, determined to be baseless (and that could account for the settlement money distributed).

It seems to me there is no way to have the full context for even intelligent speculation about what probably happened if we do not have access to the files in their entirety. Again, all the public knows at this point is that Cain was accused, yes, by more than one woman. But anyone in the world can accuse anyone else of anything– in order to damage someone’s reputation for reasons of jealousy, spite, or resentment, or to obtain some benefit (including money or attention), or for any number of other reasons. People who ask, “But why would any woman do such a thing?” are probably decent and honest people who have had the good fortune never to have been falsely accused of anything. It happens, and people with money or high status are often especially attractive targets. Because it is so easy to make a false accusation, in general and all the more so when there are protections in place to protect accusers, the burden of proof must be on the accuser.

In the view of this journalist, the jury is still out as to whether there is any validity to these women’s accusations.

This entry was written by and posted on November 8, 2011 at 9:16 pm and filed under Blog.