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Herman Cain Accuser Steps Forward

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, yesterday was not just the day we got an extra hour of sleep. It was also the day that marked one year until the 2012 election. So today, we are going to look ahead at some of the under-the-radar issues that could help shape the outcome. We'll look at the battle over voter IDs. A handful of states have enacted laws that require voters to show a government-issued ID in order to vote.

We'll have two very different views from two people who have both studied election law and practices closely. And we'll talk about that ballot measure in Ohio that would repeal new restrictions on collective-bargaining rights for public employees.

But first to set the table, we want to talk about some national political stories that are making headlines. There is the ongoing saga over GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, and those charges of sexual harassment dating back to his time as head of the National Restaurant Association. Until today, the women who had reportedly accused Cain of sexual harassment had remained out of public view.

But on Monday, Sharon Bialek, who had worked with Cain and the association in 1997, came forward publicly. She said Cain was sexually inappropriate toward her in what she believed was a work meeting. And she held a press conference with her attorney, Gloria Allred. This is how she said she reacted to Cain's alleged conduct; this is from the press conference.


SHARON BIALEK: 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.

MARTIN: The Cain campaign responded with a written statement. And the statement says - and I'll read it in its entirety. It says, quote: Just as the country finally begins to refocus on our crippling, $15 trillion national debt and the unacceptably high unemployment rate, now activist-celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred is bringing forth more false accusations against the character of Republican front-runner Herman Cain. All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false. Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone. 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 overlooked by these bogus attacks, unquote.

Joining us to talk about all of this and other political headlines, we have with us Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Cynthia Tucker. She's now a professor of journalism at the University of Georgia. Also with us, Mary Kate Cary, columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. She's also a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. Welcome back to the program. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

CYNTHIA TUCKER: Good to be here.

MARY KATE CARY: Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: Cynthia, I'll start with you 'cause I know that you watched the statement in its entirety. You saw the press conference. What's your reaction?

TUCKER: I was stunned by these charges. Having heard that the accuser was coming in with the publicity seeking attorney Gloria Allred, I turned the TV on with some cynicism, thinking that I wouldn't think much of the accuser and these very late - or, her very late account. Instead, I found her very credible. And the charge - she made some very ugly charges against Herman Cain that in my view, go well past sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment, in my view, is mostly words - words that can be ugly and threatening, but mostly words. But she described Herman Cain laying hands on her. I view that as sexual assault. And I thought she was very credible because according to Ms. Allred, she's not trying to get any money out of it.

And she also told - apparently told two people she knew at the time. And so if this doesn't halt Herman Cain's rise, halt his campaign in its tracks, I don't know what will.

MARTIN: Now, Mary Kate, you know, up to this point, it appeared that Republican voters - who are the first people to have a say, here - did not find these allegations to be troubling. We know that a Washington Post-ABC News poll on Friday showed that 70 percent of the Republican and independent voters surveyed said that these - this whole situation had no bearing on their selection of a candidate.

A poll released yesterday shows that the portion of Republicans who view Cain favorably dropped nine points over the last week, to 57 percent, but that's still a pretty decent number. What's your reaction to this?

CARY: Well, I think some of those numbers not moving were a reaction to the fact that these were sort of unnamed women; they were very vague charges; there was no details. And now, all of a sudden, I think those numbers are going to move

more because you have a name; you have a face. You have a story that is very detailed and very ugly. I mean, I wish Gloria Allred wasn't involved because that adds to the circus that's going on.

But I think the fact that this woman came forward and was willing to put her name out there - the others weren't willing to do it - I think that's going to be the lynchpin for a lot of people. I was reading the poll numbers that you were referencing over the weekend, and the comment threads were very anti-media and very - that Politico was sort of whipping this up and it was all unnamed. And there was a lot of anger at the media, as opposed to Herman Cain.

But I think that's going to start changing because now, it's not just media. It's a real woman with a pretty damaging story, and Cain's non-denial denial doesn't help.

MARTIN: Cynthia, what about that? Was that your reaction prior to this new disclosure, that this was mainly a media story? And I do have to say, though, over the weekend, that there were other Republican candidates - like Jon Huntsman, for example, or influential Republican figures like Haley Barbour - who have suggested that Mr. Cain has not been as forthcoming as they would like to - him to be. But Cynthia, is that your analysis also, to this point - that this has been mainly a media thing?

TUCKER: Well, I had always thought that Herman Cain mishandled the issue. My criticism is that I wish reporters would spend as much time on the other things about Herman Cain that are troubling, such as his proud ignorance about foreign affairs.

However, let me say that in this particular case, again, this is not mere sexual harassment.This is not a man saying to a woman things that could be misinterpreted. For what little we knew of the previous accusations, Herman Cain could easily have made an off-color joke that a woman could have found offensive.

CARY: Yeah, well, the one example we had in the past was that he was comparing the other woman's height to the height of his wife.

MARTIN: Except that - well....

TUCKER: Exactly. And that doesn't seem that bad.

MARTIN: Well, if I could...

TUCKER: ... very, very different where he - again, this is very ugly. He has lain hands on this woman. It crosses over into assault, and I think he - it may not be true.

MARTIN: Can I just say one thing about this, though - that sexual harassment under the law has to be ongoing and unwanted. I don't think that the - I don't know that a - we know that a financial settlement was reached. We don't know all the details therein. Joel Bennett, an attorney for one of the women who received a settlement in response to her complaints of harassment, said that his client stood by her version of events but she did not, at that time, wish to be public.

But I do have to say that under the law, as I understand it, sexual harassment has to be ongoing, unwanted, a behavior that contributes to a hostile work environment. That is that - sexual battery, as you put it, Cynthia, is another matter. You know, unwanted touching is another matter.

TUCKER: You know, Michel, I think there might be a part of the law, too, though, that says there has a quid pro quo. And saying, you want a job, right, would certainly qualify as a quid pro quo.

MARTIN: Well, we'll see...

TUCKER: Now, I'm no lawyer, but I think that might be ...

MARTIN: Neither am I. Neither am I.


MARTIN: I'm simply recounting from the reporting that I've done on this area. If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're speaking about the issues on the political radar screen with our regular politicos, Mary Kate Cary, columnist for U.S. News and World Report, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Cynthia Tucker. She's now a professor of

journalism. And, you know, so I guess a final thought on this from each of you: Do you think that - I think, Mary Kate, you probably eluded to this - you feel that the story now, given the level of detail, continues because it still hasn't been put to rest, that the paper statement, you feel, is not a sufficient response.

CARY: Yeah, yeah. I think that raises more questions than answers, and I think the wheels are coming off the wagon. I really don't see how he can move forward after this. Just, you know, the women's vote alone - once he said, you want a job, right? - to me, that's it. You know, it's just so ugly, and I just don't see how you could get back into the top of the polls after something like that.

MARTIN: Mary Kate, can I just ask you one other question, too? Because this is one of those things that the conservative punditocracy - like the Rush Limbaughs, the Ann Coulters - have raised the question of race here, and they claim that the racial issue here is that Herman Cain is an African-American conservative and therefore, any effort would be made to bring him low. The woman in question who has come forward to this point is white. Do you think that that factors into the response that there will be to this?

CARY: You know, that's hard to tell. But I never thought race was part of it. I thought race had absolutely nothing to do with it, and this was strictly a male-female thing. And so I never bought into the high-tech lynching type of stuff. I thought it was because, you know, he is the front runner, and this is what happens. Stuff starts coming out, and he should have been prepared for that.

MARTIN: Cynthia?

TUCKER: I agree with Mary Kate on that - Clarence Thomas used the phrase high-tech lynching in response to charges by a black woman, Anita Hill. Herman Cain and his supporters have used the - have tried to hide behind race and charged that it's racial in response to allegations - at least one of which we now know is from a white woman. In either case, I don't think race had anything to

do with it.

MARTIN: Finally, in the couple minutes that we have left, I did want to turn to another story, and that is the whole question of how President Obama is faring with one of his most important constituencies. The Pew Research Center recently released a report saying that voters between the ages of 18 to 30 favor Obama over Romney by 26 points. But in the last election, young voters - the so-called Millennials - voted for the president by a margin of two to one, and it does appear that many of them have lost enthusiasm for Obama - and not just for Obama, but for politics overall.

And so I did want to ask, Cynthia - and I'll ask you this first - whether you feel that this is a bad sign for the president. Do you think that this is one of those data points that, you know, we're looking at now, that could have big implications later on; next year?

TUCKER: I do think it could have big implications because the president depended on not only getting young voters out to the polls, but they were the worker bees in his campaign. All over the country, he had young adults working enthusiastically for his campaign, sometimes for free. But those Millennials have been terribly affected by this very lousy economy. Even many of them who are college graduates, are without jobs. So it is hard to expect them to have the same enthusiasm for him next year that they did in 2008.

MARTIN: Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. She's now a professor of journalism at the University of Georgia. And Mary Kate Cary, columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report, she's also a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. We were happy to reach both of them on the phone for this fast-breaking story. Thank you both so much for

speaking with us.

TUCKER: Yeah, thanks, Michel.

CARY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.