News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The theory and practice of Caining

The Republican primary campaign is getting as nuts as the people in it.  The only candidate who has demonstrated any intellectual competence is Jon Huntsman, who obviously cannot compete in the GOP idiocy test with the likes of Palin, Bachmann, Perry, etc.  Mitt Romney who has a more sedate history is out there flopping around like a beheaded chicken.   Voters ultimately determine the outcomes of our elections, but the question is, who determines the mentality of the voters? As we know from the history of Germany in the 1930s, Joe McCarthy's inquisition, and other deviant episodes in human history, whole cultures can go bonkers. But this episode is driven by the voters who have the politicians groveling to be one of them, not led by politicians trying to persuade voters with ideas and plans, however nutty.  It is a time of the pettiest, meanest, and lowest kind of ad hominem frenzy, like the inmates of a loony bin having a gossip fest. 


The accusations that Herman Cain engaged in sexual harassment occurs in a context in which all allegations are suspect.  I must admit to a jaded attitude about sexual harassment charges.  As a local and state officer in a college faculty organization that dealt with matters of grievances and due process,  I ended up on a list of faculty from which outside review panels were formed when a professor requested an independent study panel to review personnel actions taken against him or her.  Sexual harassment charges dominated the actions reviewed by panels on which I served.  I hated those panels.  They involved a degree of work that intruded upon professional and family life, and they exposed one to sides of humanity that one would like to think are rarities in the higher education profession.   The reviews indicated an even, 50/50 split on sexual harassment charges.  About half of the actions taken against professors were fully warranted.  Some professors did use their power and authority to force sexual situations.  Some people were justifiably fired.  However, about half were matters of vindictive retaliations or the ruthless pursuit of ambitions or perverse states of mind.  Students or colleagues would conflate innocuous banter with examples of sexual aggression, sometimes in  cases when they were unhappy with grades or felt slighted somehow in the course of academic business.  Some cases were downright fabrications.  Most of the dubious accusations were overburdened with a malicious intent. 

A big problem in sexual harassment cases is that to save legitimate complainants from undue stress and embarrassment, organizations adopted procedures for dealing with the complaints that circumvent Constitutionally-derived due process.  The charges and proceedings were kept confidential, and were not available for critical examination.  In many cases, the procedures assumed the guilt of the accused, and some organizations even went so far as to suspend the person charged until some kind of administrative decision was made.  And that administrative decision was based upon a presumption of guilt, and the accused had to prove innocence.  Most organizations wanted to dispose of any such charges as fast as possible in the most expeditious manner possible.  Often they would buy off the complainers to get around any prolonged investigations, with little concern about whether the accusations were true.  The review panels did not get cases where there was irrefutable evidence that sexual harassment had occurred.  Guilty individuals in those instances did not ask for reviews.  The panels got the cases in which there were serious questions.  They generally fell into the contention of he-said-she-said, and the review panels had to grapple with conflicting accusations, twisted interpretations, and sometimes downright lies, which the panels generally could detect.  But the real depressing aspect of such cases is the damage they do.  The people involved never get over it, and the institutions are damaged.  That is why many administrators just want the people involved to leave and take the issue with them.  When the credibility of the accused and/or the accuser is in question, it is like implanting cancer cells in all the people around them.  The tear in the social fabric is irreparable.  


Sexual harassment is a very serious business.  When it occurs, it needs to be eliminated.  But due process is also a very serious business.  It is often eliminated, and needs somehow to be restored.

The Herman Cain  business illustrates all the defects in the procedures for dealing with sexual harassment.  There is evidence that harassment complaints were filed, but the facts are hidden to fester and ooze.  However, one huge fact stands out even if the details that led to a settlement are not known.  Because Herman Cain held the status of CEO, he was not the one asked to go.  The apparent object of the harassment was paid off to leave.  The procedures were not designed to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace and make it possible for people to concentrate on their work; they were designed to defer to and protect the status of the CEO and get rid of the person who filed the complaint. The offender in a case like this is the person against whom the offenses were committed.  Such a settlement does nothing to eliminate sexual harassment from the workplace; it defines instead who is bestowed the privileges of harassing and who must submit or get out.  Justice and the due process that delivers it is not a consideration.

The media plays a difficult role in matters of sexual harassment when a public figure enters the political arena and becomes a contender for an office which has a significant influence on how justice is delivered.  The political magazine Politico received a tip on the Herman Cain matter, and decided to publish the story referring to anonymous sources.  During my time as a full-time journalist, that would not have happened, except in the tabloids.  The rule back then was to aggressively and thoroughly investigate any such information, but not to publish it until the reporters had a person or a document they could cite to back up the allegations.  Anonymous sources used in a story only when a situation seemed so urgent that the story needed to be told even if sources could not be identified.  Recall the accounts of Watergate and the strenuous efforts of Woodward and Bernstein to verify their story. 


 At that time in the  not-too-distant past,  journalistic credibility and careful attribution were the primary considerations in handling such stories.  News media went to great lengths to give its audience substantiated facts.  The criteria today shows how the success of tabloid journalism has eroded the standards of reliability.  The major concern today is to be first with the story, which is why so many stories are based upon anonymous sources.  And a semi-literate public does not really care about authenticity and accuracy as long as it gets its does of titillation.  The media is a huge determiner of the public mentality, and it has created a simple-minded audience.


The fact that politicians such as Palin, Bachmann, Perry, and Cain make unabashedly ignorant statements and brandish them as badges of conservative merit is a measure of why the media has had more influence on the minds of the people than have the schools.  Herman Cain's display of ignorance about China and its nuclear status is a case in point. 

A symptom of the new literacy and what is purported to be a standard of journalism is South Dakota Politic's assailing of the Politico story as irresponsible journalism. Politico decided to abide by legal agreements made with the National Restaurant Association with the complainant not to disclose any details of the incidents.  South Dakota Politics contends that the fact that a legal agreement prevented disclosure made no facts available and therefore rendered the Politico story worthless, except as a hit piece on Herman Cain.  The fact that such an agreement exists is strong authority for a story, even though the details of it are guarded.  Politico decided it was important to know something about the history of a man who is in contention for the presidency, and published what it had. 


The huge irony is that no blog worships at the altar of ad hominem sacrifice with the devout fervor of South Dakota Politics.  It is a priestly order of defamation, and has turned it into a denomination of political science, which is among the most pseudo of the pseudo-sciences to start with.  Its efforts to present President Obama as a shambling houseboy who suddenly found himself in charge of the house is a classic scenario from the priestly order's liturgy. Irony abounds for those who recognize it.  The tabloid mentality prevails. 

The harassment accusations against Herman Cain have seemed to increase donations to his campaign.  Actually that is somewhat intriguing.  I never thought I'd live to see a black man become presidency.  Now, we have the prospect of two black men running for that office.  We seem to have made some kind of progress, but then one looks at the matter of what is presented to us through the sexual harassment story.  We see a concept of justice in which a CEO gets a pass and an alleged victim loses a job (although she  reportedly now works for the government, which the Conservatives would like to get rid of).


Politico did its job as a member of the Fourth Estate.  And for that, it must be castigated.  If America is to be the big serfdom for the rule of CEOs and we are bonkers enough to let it happen. 

1 comment:

Douglas said...

Interesting comment on a difficult subject.

The Cain matter should be irrelevant in political electoral decisions compared to his glaring ignorance of history and facts. His absurd 9-9-9 proposal should have short-circuited his plans long before the sexual issues raised their dirty heads.

Today another woman came out in public to make a statement. She was accompanied by a lawyer.

I don't really know if we need to know all this, but on the other hand, he should have been out of the race long ago.

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