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2011-11-09

As Cain Denies Mounting Allegations, Supporters Malign Female Accusers, Sexual Harassment Victims

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Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain has strongly rejected sexual harassment allegations against him, saying they "simply didn’t happen," and vowing not to withdraw from the 2012 presidential race. On Tuesday, Cain denied the claims of his latest accuser, Sharon Bialek, who said Cain groped her and tried to force her to commit a sexual act in 1997. Also Tuesday, another woman, Karen Kraushaar, confirmed publicly for the first time she had accused Cain of sexual harassment when they both worked for the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. We speak with Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at Slate. "I think this goes to these archetypes, that if you fail everything else, just accuse women of being insane, accuse them of being trampy, accuse them of being hysterics. I think that that’s a little bit of what you’re hearing here," Lithwick says. "I find it fascinating that you never hear these accusations turned against male accusers of misconduct. These are really, really Shakespearean ideas of women as emotional and unhinged." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to presidential politics. Nermeen?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain strongly rejected sexual harassment allegations against him in a press conference yesterday. He vowed not to withdraw from the 2012 presidential race and claimed to have never seen the woman making the accusations.

HERMAN CAIN: I tried to remember if I recognized her, and I didn’t. I tried to remember if I remembered that name, and I didn’t. The charges and the accusations, I absolutely reject. They simply didn’t happen.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Cain was responding to allegations made by Sharon Bialek on Monday. Bialek said he improperly touched her in 1997 while he was the head of the National Restaurant Association, or NRA.

Meanwhile, Karen Kraushaar, who accused Cain of sexual harassment when they both worked for the NRA in the 1990s, confirmed publicly for the first time yesterday that she had made allegations against him.

AMY GOODMAN: Karen Kraushaar, by the way, is now a spokesperson for the Treasury Department.

Last week, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain acknowledged he was accused of sexual harassment while at the National Restaurant Association. He made the admission after Politico reported two female employees of the association had complained of sexually suggestive comments and gestures by Cain. Sharon Bialek was the first to appear in public and make a statement. She had not brought charges. She said she and Cain had dinner together in Washington, D.C., when she was asking him to help her find a job. She said the incident took place in a parked car after dinner.

SHARON BIALEK: I thought that we were going to go into the offices so that he could show me around. At that time I had on a black pleated skirt, a suit jacket and a blouse. He had on a suit with his shirt open. But instead of going into the offices, he suddenly reached over, and he put his hand on my leg, under my skirt, and reached for my genitals. He also grabbed my head and brought it towards his crotch. I was very, very surprised and very shocked. I said, "What are you doing? You know I have a boyfriend. This isn’t what I came here for." Mr. Cain said, "You want a job, right?" I asked him to stop, and he did. I asked him to take me back to my hotel, which he did, right away.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking at a news conference in New York City, Sharon Bialek explained why she had decided to speak publicly about Herman Cain now.

SHARON BIALEK: I’m coming forward to give a face and a voice to those women who cannot, or for whatever reason do not wish to, come forward, and on behalf of all women who are sexually harassed in the workplace but do not come out of fear of retaliation or in public humiliation. I really didn’t want to be here today and wouldn’t have been here if it had not been for the three other women who have alleged sexual harassment against Mr. Cain. I want you, Mr. Cain, to come clean, just admit what you did.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, yesterday, Herman Cain accused the Democratic Party of being behind the accusations.

HERMAN CAIN: We will get through this. We will get through this. The fact is, these anonymous allegations are false, and now the Democrat machine in America has brought forth a troubled woman to make false accusations, statements, many of which exceed common sense, and they certainly exceed the standards of decency in America.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the accusations against Herman Cain, we’re joined now by Dahlia Lithwick. She’s at the PBS affiliate WCVE in Richmond, Virginia, senior editor at Slate.com, their senior legal correspondent, Supreme Court reporter. Her article on Herman Cain is called "Never Happened: Conservatives Aren’t Just Defending Herman Cain. They’re Denying the Very Existence of Sexual Harassment."

Dahlia, talk more about this, about this whole controversy that has been swirling around Herman Cain. Though he said he would not address this last week, yesterday he’s holding a news conference as the fourth woman comes forward.

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Well, what animated the writing of the article was simply astonishment that we had allegations—initially, as you said, they were anonymous, in that we had two women come forward, they were bound by confidentiality not to speak about this. And so, when I wrote the article, we had two, then maybe three, then maybe four, nameless, faceless accusers.

And what was striking to me, in watching this play out, was the extent to which Cain’s defenders, who could have just stopped at calling this, you know, "he said, she said," could have stopped at maligning them or their intentions, went one step further to a place that I am amazed that we’re willing to go in American discourse and discredit the whole doctrine of sexual harassment—in other words, just systematically saying there’s no such thing as sexual harassment, article after article saying this is a cabal of women who lie and their greedy plaintiffs’ attorneys, and just the deeply, deeply gender-based, really suspicious, hateful notion that there’s never a legitimate sexual harassment allegation, because the entire thing is just a racket for plaintiff lawyers and greedy women who can’t get rich the normal way. And so, that was really what was very, very, really terrifying to me as a legal reporter, is to see an entire doctrine discredited and taken off the table, as though there has never been and never will be a legitimate complaint that a man harassed a woman.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has expressed contempt for the women making accusations against Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain. He implied in a broadcast Tuesday that the women themselves were to be blamed.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: I’ll tell you, the left has everybody running around in straitjackets, handcuffs and gags. Everybody gagged, blindfolded, you name it, that’s what they want. A fifth woman now, in a period of two weeks—Herman Cain has been alive how many years? Sixty-five years. And in two weeks of his life, bammo! Five women from out of nowhere, when he takes a lead in the polls for the—you know, I’ll tell you, you women, why don’t you just make it official. Put on some burqas, and I’ll guaran-damn-tee you nobody will tough you. You put on a burqa, and everybody will leave you alone, if that’s what you want.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Rush Limbaugh on his radio show Tuesday. On Monday, he also attacked Sharon Bialek, one of Cain’s accusers, by mocking her name.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: Folks, get this now. I have been wrong in pronouncing the fourth Cain accuser’s name as "Be-ya-lik." Gloria Allred says that her name is pronounced Bialek, as in "buy a lick." Bialek, it’s B-I-A-L-E-K. I assumed it was "Be-ya-lik." But Gloria Allred says her name is Bialek, as in [licking sounds] "buy a lick."

AMY GOODMAN: Dahlia, talk further about how this, you feel, is undermining the whole body of sexual harassment law, what this means.

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Well, I mean, listening to Rush there, it reminds you of the accusations against Anita Hill. Remember, this is a woman who doesn’t come forward willingly against Clarence Thomas. She’s dragged into the limelight. She presents pretty credible evidence of what her claims are against Thomas, and instead of talking about them on the merits, you immediately see her attacked as, you remember the famous catchphrase, "a little bit nutty, a little bit slutty."

So, again, I think this goes to these archetypes, that if you fail everything else, just accuse women of being insane, accuse them of being trampy, accuse them of being hysterics. I think that that’s a little bit of what you’re hearing there, is—and I find it fascinating that you never hear these accusations turned against male accusers of misconduct. These are really, really Shakespearean ideas of women as emotional and unhinged. In this case, there’s a lovely strain of humorlessness. You know, Rand Paul, speaking about this last week, said, "This is just, you know, part of women’s humorlessness," and that he’s just learned to never even try to tell a joke to a woman, because we always take it wrong. And so, I sort of see it as a taxonomy of, you know, strange, archetypal ideas of women as just devoid of humor, devoid of reason, who are just inclined to go absolutely insane if you look at them funny and then speed-dial a plaintiffs’ attorney and file a suit. And so much of what you’re hearing there in the Limbaugh critique is an attempt to sort of sexualize, minimalize, humiliate and degrade a woman, rather than simply saying, if this were a man who came forward with these allegations or similar allegations, at the very least, we wouldn’t start from the predicate that they’re hysterical liars.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, I want to play a clip, a very different demeanor of Herman Cain—very serious yesterday at the news conference, but just the day before that, on Monday night, this is Herman Cain’s appearance on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, only hours after a fourth woman came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment.

HERMAN CAIN: We are taking this head-on, because—

JIMMY KIMMEL: Have you considered hiring Gloria Allred as your attorney?

HERMAN CAIN: You almost made me say something that my handlers say you should not say. Let me put it to you this way: I can’t think of anything that I would hire her to do, OK? I can’t think of a thing.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Republican presidential candidate, who until now has been ahead in the polls, on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the comedy show on ABC. Final comment, Dahlia?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Simply that, you know, this tendency of Cain to toggle back and forth between "this is hilarious and humorous" and "I am the victim here" is really, really interesting. They’re both ways of not taking it seriously. And whether he characterizes himself as the victim of this Democrat machine—comprised, by the way, of two, I think, registered Republican women—or, you know, as sort of a laugh line, that, you know, Gloria Allred and every woman she represents is a joke, I think are two ways to deflect the real issue, that I think he really, at some point, needs to get to on the merits and address them.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahlia Lithwick, we want to thank you for being with us, senior editor at Slate.com, senior legal correspondent and Supreme Court reporter, joining us from PBS affiliate WCVE in Richmond, Virginia.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, how did Bank Transfer Day go? How did credit unions fare last Saturday on Guy Fawkes Day? Stay with us.

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