Yet people today are watching the Cain story unfold, looking at the timing of it, and writing checks to the Cain campaign. Who knows what may come out before it’s over, but it better be some pretty powerful stuff if it’s going to fit the mood of the American people these days. People expect presidential politics to be rough and tumble, but times are different, and so are the circumstances of this campaign. Republicans are looking for someone to believe in. They won’t all vote for Herman Cain, but right now, he symbolizes something they want to protect. Try to take him down at your own peril.
This brings us to another interesting situation. Usually in presidential campaigns, the question of who originally leaked the story is given little consideration. The publisher protects his sources, and the rest of the media has no interest in drying up their own potential sources by publishing identities even if they know who they are. But this time, people will want to know. Also, these days, the media is so diverse that it will be very difficult to keep the identity of the people who planted the story secret. And it may not turn out to be the most likely suspect.
Initially, Cain lashed out at the liberal media. So did several conservative commentators. But I doubt that Politico
, which published the story first, came up with this scoop by investigating Cain’s background on its own.
People may think that news organizations have legions of Woodwards and Bernsteins fanned out across the country, poring through old courthouse records or public business records and talking to anyone they think may have some dirt to dish on a candidate. They don’t. They don’t have the money, for one thing. No, the days of Woodward and Bernstein, intrepid investigative reporters, are over. Investigative reporters have been replaced by people who keep a big basket under the transom to catch the dossiers and other materials that the various campaigns drop on opposing candidates.
Campaigns that can afford it often spend lots of money on “opposition research.” The research can be for perfectly legitimate things, such as positions candidates have taken on issues. Or it can be for personal dirt, substantiated or otherwise. If they pass it to the media, the campaign, of course, wants to keep its role secret. In this way, reporters are seldom investigators. More often they’re facilitators. It’s easier work.
Cain has now gotten off the media angle and targeted Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign as the source of the story. This is based on the fact that a former consultant from Cain’s Senate campaign now works for Perry. The campaign and the consultant deny it, and instead point the finger at the Romney campaign, because Cain’s successor at the National Restaurant Association, where the alleged harassment took place, is a Romney supporter and contributor. Further, the names of Democratic operatives and a Democratic officeholder have been mentioned to me off the record.
I have no idea who originated the story. But I’d say that looking inside the Republican family is probably a good bet. I speak from personal experience.
Days after I got into the presidential race in 2007, I was greeted with a website, “PhoneyFred.org,” described in the media at the time as an “anti Fred Thompson smear site.” You couldn’t really tell who was behind it, but we learned of it from the Democratic National Committee, which made ample use of it. We assumed that they had created it. However, a reporter at the Washington Post (of all people) decided to find out who was behind the site. After a lot of effort, she traced it to an executive of TTS Strategies, a South Carolina consulting firm run by J. Warren Tompkins, one of the most notorious hardball political operatives in the country.