Washington Watch Roundtable: Herman Cain On The Hot Seat For Alleged Sexual Harassment, Was Race A Factor?

The heat is on for Republican presidential frontrunner Herman Cain.  The facts:  Politico broke the story this week of allegations of sexual harassment and financial settlements during the time Cain was head of the National Restaurant Association.  Other news outlets advanced the story with more women coming forward and details on the thousands of dollars paid to settle the complaints.  Cain has denied the charges, but his side of the story has changed many times since the story broke at the beginning of the week.

Now, we’ll get into the political implications a bit later, but I want to start with how Cain and some right-wing pundits have tried to put race at the center of this story.  Here to examine the potent combination of sex, race and politics [are] race, ethnicity and demographics editor for the Associated Press, Sonya Ross; syndicated columnist and former associate of Justice Clarence Thomas, Armstrong Williams; “Washington Post” economics correspondent and author of The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas Michael Fletcher; and “The Black Eagle” from Sirius XM Radio, Joe Madison.

Now, let’s hear from the candidate himself on race as questioned by Charles Krauthammer on Fox News.


MR. CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER:  Mr. Cain, when Clarence Thomas was near to achieving a position of high authority, he was hit with a sexual harassment charge.  You contending for the presidency, the office of highest authority, leading in the polls[?] [for the] Republican nomination, all of a sudden get hit with a sexual harassment charge.  Do you think that race – being a strong, Black conservative – has anything to do with the fact that you’ve been so charged?  And if so, do you have any evidence to support that?

MR. HERMAN CAIN:  I believe the answer is yes, but we do not have any evidence to support it.


MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]  Okay.  That’s strange.

Mike, let’s go to you first.

MR. MICHAEL FLETCHER:  The interesting part is this is from a guy who’s been dismissive of race as a factor in everything else.  He talks about he doesn’t want to hear people whining about race, and all of a sudden that the heat is on, he talks about race rather than making a plausible defense.  Maybe he can argue, “What has been alleged?”  You know, “People use the term ‘sexual harassment,’ but what are the actual facts?”  You know, “Did I say something to somebody?”  We haven’t heard that many details about what happened; but, instead, he runs to the refuge of race.  And his supporters do that, and I think that just – i- — it rings hollow.

MR. MARTIN:  Armstrong, everyone obviously tried to make the connection – even Cain did earlier by trying to use the same phrase that Clarence Thomas used, a “high-tech lynching of an uppity Negro.”  You had Rush Limbaugh talk about, oh, how liberals don’t like uppity Blacks.  This is the same person who called Pres. Obama an uppity Black last year, so maybe he – maybe he knows what he’s talking about.

But to sit here and suggest that race was a[n] overriding issue, it makes it seem like if you’re a Rep- — a White candidate, then, if you had a so-called scandal, it wouldn’t get reported or wouldn’t get talked about.

MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS:  You know, I – I think it’s how it – it’s talked about.  Certainly, I don’t agree with Mr. Cain that race is a[n] overriding issue, but you cannot help to understand how the media addresses certain people when it comes to sexual harassment, like Justice Thomas and, now, Herman Cain.  It’s quite different than the kinds of things that were said when Pres. Clinton – former Pres. Clinton was accused of sexual harassment.  And I think it’s very difficult, even in the psyche of the media, to have the flashbacks to the Thomas hearings.  And I think what conservatives are trying to do is play on that; but, you know, they’re becoming the same thing that they accuse liberals of.

But I think it’s a fair assessment for candidate Cain to say, yes, race is a factor.  I don’t know how it’s a factor.  I think the rep- — media report guys who happen to look like him differently when it comes to sexual harassment than they will d- — not just other candidates, but s- — but someone of a different race.

MR. MARTIN:  But here’s the deal, though.  When you said that, what immediately came to mind was Bob Packwood.

MR. JOE MADISON:  And Weiner.

MR. MARTIN:  Was accused of sexual harassment, and he got nailed.  So, we’ve seen numerous examples where White candidates, White politicians have been accused of sexual harassment.  You had the congressman from New York who actually had to resign – Upstate congressman – the whole tickle affair, where they said he was actually, you know, targeting young men who worked for him.  So, let’s not act like White candidates or White politicians have not had to deal with the same kind of issue.

MS. SONYA ROSS:  Well, look.  Here’s something that immediately came out in my mind.  You know race is a factor, but you don’t know how race is a factor?  You’re a Black man from Georgia, and you don’t know how race is a factor in this?  That is kind of specious to me.

MR. FLETCHER:  Well – well, give him this, though.  If you look back at the Justice Thomas affair, when Justice Thomas sat before that judiciary committee and invoked that phrase “high-tech lynching,” you know what?  It changed the entire complexion of that proceeding.  When he invoked that, people backed off and –

MR. MARTIN:  Yeah, because we know –

MR. FLETCHER:   — and, you know –

MR. MARTIN:  — because we –

MR. FLETCHER:  — a- — and so –

MR. MARTIN:  — know how that –

MR. FLETCHER:  — something is –

MR. MARTIN:  — works when –

MR. FLETCHER:  — right.

MR. MARTIN:  — first of all, let’s look at ho- — how l- — how it looked.  You largely had a panel of White men –

MR. FLETCHER:  Right.  All –

MR. MARTIN:  — Black –

MR. FLETCHER:  — White –

MR. MARTIN:  — man –

MR. FLETCHER:  — all White men.

MR. MARTIN:  — all White men, Black man –


MR. MARTIN:  — and then we also know what ho- — how race has been used by some folks, where it’s been – I – whe- — where – again, where folks have been out of -bounds versus where it’s been real; and so we know it’s a[n] automatic pushback.

MR. FLETCHER:  Oh, yeah, and –

MS. ROSS:  And – and folk had –

MR. FLETCHER:  — and it takes the –

MS. ROSS:  — the very –

MR. FLETCHER:  — focus off the issue, too —

MS. ROSS:  — loaded –

MR. FLETCHER:  — and it takes the –

MS. ROSS:  — sit- — you had the loaded aspect of it, with it involving sex and a Black man.

MR. MADISON:  Well – and – and remember the – it was – it was orchestrated.  This wasn’t something that he just came up with.  This was the Brent Bozells of the world, the consultant who had consulted Bush on Willie Horton, and they knew how to knock those White men – conservatives and liberals – back on their heels.


MR. MADISON:  And that was what the purpose was, because what it did – if we all remember – [is] it froze the other women from coming forward –

MR. FLETCHER:  — well, let me –

MR. MADISON:  — because there was a group of women who were ready to testify in support of [A]nita Hill, and it –


MR. MADISON:  — cut it.

MR. WILLIAMS:  — let me just tell you, for accuracy, Justice Thomas was the one who introduced “high-tech lynching” and “I won’t cry ‘uncle’.”  I was in the room when the senators were very uncomfortable with the fact that he said, “This is what I’m going to do.”  They wanted to distance themselves.  So, no PR firm and no organization came up with this.  This came from the justices [sic] himself.  It was his strategy.

MR. MARTIN:  But he al- — but, to me, though –

MR. MADISON:  His strategy was – look.

MR. WILLIAMS:  [Crosstalk.]

MR. MADISON:  His strate- —

MR. WILLIAMS:  It was his strategy.

MR. MADISON:  — his strategy –

MR. WILLIAMS:  I – I – I – you’re giving the credit –

MR. MADISON:  — his strategy –

MR. WILLIAMS:  — to someone else.

MR. MADISON:  — his strategy –

MR. WILLIAMS:  It was his.

MR. MADISON:  — he – and – and – and do not sit here and suggest that Brent Bozell, and the other gentleman, was not involved in that campaign.  They were involved –

MR. WILLIAMS:  They were not –

MR. MADISON:  — in the – [crosstalk].

MR. WILLIAMS:  — involved in the “high-tech” –

MR. MARTIN:  Let – let –

MR. WILLIAMS:  — in that –

MR. MARTIN:  — let – let me say this here.

MR. WILLIAMS:  — no, they were not.

MR. MARTIN:  And – and – and here’s – here’s a[n] issue that I’ve had all week, and that is even trying to suggest, or even compare, what Clarence Thomas went through, what Herman Cain went through to lynching.  All of this conversation this week, people ’ve been talking, using the “lynching” phrases.

OFF CAMERA:  There’s no –

MR. MARTIN:  We’ve heard –

OFF CAMERA:  — comparison.

MR. MARTIN:  — no, no.  We’ve heard – right.  We’ve heard –

OFF CAMERA:  There’s no comparison.

MR. MARTIN:  — Sean Hannity.

OFF CAMERA:  Yeah, right.

MR. MARTIN:  But here’s the thing I want for our viewers.  I want them to see what a lynching photo looks like.


MR. MARTIN:  I want them to – that’s a lynching photo.  Here’s another lynching photo.


MR. MARTIN:  And I want them to see.  Watching Herman Cain’s scene at the National Press Club – that is not being lynched.  And even watching Clarence Thomas go through some tough confirmation hearings, that wasn’t a lynching.  So, I find it offensive when somebody wants to compare them going through a political process –


MR. MARTIN:  — to lynching.

OFF CAMERA:  But it –

MR. MARTIN:  I don’t care if you attach “high-tech” to it or not.

OFF CAMERA:  But it wa- —

MS. ROSS:  Eve- — even with Clarence Thomas using the term “high-tech lynching,” he used it after going through five days of hearings.

MR. WILLIAMS:  Thank you.

MS. ROSS:  In this particular instance, we are looking at “high-tech lynching” popping out there in the ether while the allegations were still floating around in the air.  Herman Cain had experienced maybe five minutes of inconvenience because of this situation.


MR. FLETCHER:  But, Roland, you hit on it in your –

MR. MADISON:  [Crosstalk] – catch phrase.

MR. FLETCHER:  — introduction.  It’s a distraction.  People invoked that phrase to take your eyes off of the ball.  The ball is –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. FLETCHER:  — these alle- —

MR. MARTIN:  They want to –

MR. FLETCHER:  — -gations.

MR. MARTIN:  — shift the conversation.

MR. FLETCHER:  You — right, exactly.

MR. MARTIN:  But here’s what I don’t understand


MR. MADISON:  But the person who was really lynched – and maybe also in reference to these three women – the person, in my opinion, who was really lynched was Anita Hill.  No one r- — recognizes that.

MR. MARTIN:  We- — well, ag- —

MR. MADISON:  And here’s the –

MR. MARTIN:  — ag- — again, though –

MR. MADISON:  — and here’s the reality.  These three women are coming forth because they’re sitting back there with their families, and they’re listening to a potential presidential candidate say things about them that suggest that they – maybe they were frivolous[?].  Maybe they were dishonest.  Maybe they were even lying.  And I’m telling you that these three women are not going to stand back and not have an opportunity to tell –

MR. MARTIN:  — I – I – I want –

MR. MADISON:  — their side of the story.

MR. MARTIN:  — to play this sound bite, because I want the panel to respond to this.  And, Joe, you alluded to it.  Here’s what Ann Coulter had to say that was astounding in terms of the issue of Blacks.


MS. ANN COULTER:  Our Blacks are so much better than their Blacks.  To become a Black Republican, you don’t just roll into it.  You’re not going with the flow.  You have fought against probably your family members, probably your neighbors.  You have thought everything out, and that’s why we have –

MR. SEAN HANNITY:  You know –

MS. COULTER:  — very impressive Blacks in –

MR. HANNITY:  — here’s what’s –

MS. COULTER:  — our party.

MR. HANNITY:  — disappointing about this, ‘cause –

MS. COULTER:  No John Conyers –

MR. HANNITY:  — his –

MS. COULTER:  — in the –

MR. HANNITY:  — his mother –

MS. COULTER:  — Republican Party.

MR. HANNITY:  — was a maid.

MS. COULTER:  No Maxine Waters in the Republican Party.


MR. MARTIN:  Oo-ooh!  Those bad Negroes!


MR. MARTIN:  Armstrong, are – are you part –


MR. MARTIN:  — of the “our Blacks”?

MR. WILLIAMS:  — she – she has no idea what she’s talking about.


MR. WILLIAMS:  And I’ll leave it there.

MR. FLETCHER:  Exactly.

MR. MARTIN:  Naw, naw!  We can’t leave it there!  I mean, but –

MR. MADISON:  No.  You know what?

MR. MARTIN:  — but, Armstrong –

MR. MADISON:  I appreciate –

MR. MARTIN:  — as –

MR. MADISON:  — Armstrong saying that.  I have been waiting for a – [chuckles] Black, Republican independent.  Armstrong is the first one to say that.  It is about time.  Project 21 hasn’t said it.  Herman Cain hasn’t said it.  There has not been a single, Black Republican that has come forth and said, “That’s the most absurd, racist, idiotic thing” –

MR. WILLIAMS:  But she di- —

MR. MADISON:  — “that could come” –

MR. WILLIAMS:  — she doesn’t know –

MR. MADISON:  — “across.”

MR. WILLIAMS:  — she’s being racist.  She – [chuckles] – probably doesn’t even under- –

MR. MADISON:  Oh, y- — oh!

MR. WILLIAMS:  — -stand what she’s saying.

MR. FLETCHER:  Ann Coulter knows she’s being self- —

MR. MADISON:  Oh, yeah!

MR. FLETCHER:  — she’s being self-promoting.


MR. FLETCHER:  It’s what she does.

MR. MADISON:  Now, look, man.  You just got a compliment.  Don’t make me take it back!


MR. WILLIAMS:  Well, you know what?  If she knows what she’s talking about, that’s a sad state of affairs.


MS. ROSS:  There’s a difference between knowing what you’re talking about and knowing what you’re doing.

MR. MARTIN:  Look, yeah.  I mean I – to – to sit here and m- — and make the comment – and, again, when you talk about how race is being used, Republicans – they will attack Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson.  They will attack anybody who’s Black on the left and say, “How dare you even invoke the issue of race?”  And it really was embarrassing to watch her, to watch Brent Bozell, to even watch Rush Limbaugh this week.  And with all of his racial antics, I – we[‘ve] got to play what he had to say as a part of this conversation.


MR. RUSH LIMBAUGH:  And it’s not news.  It’s not a news story.  This is gutter, partisan politics, and it’s the politics of minority conservative personal destruction.  It really is about Blacks and Hispanics getting too uppity.  You don’t achieve in American politics as a Republican, as a self-reliant individual or conservative.  You don’t do it:  “You try it, and we’re going to destroy you.”

Now, Clinton is laughing because he knows the media and the liberals are going to treat a Black conservative far different than how they would treat any Democrat.  Nobody’s going to ask Bill Clinton to comment on this.  That’s why I’m doing it for him.


MR. MARTIN:  Well!

MR. WILLIAMS:  Well, look.  Black conservatives – I mean – are treated differently than someone who happens to be a Black and a Democrat.  I mean that goes without saying.  But whether it’s – is – is it an is- — issue – race?  Listen.  It’s the ideology, and people feel there should be this group thing; you should think a certain way, and it’s a different standard.  So, while Limbaugh was 90 percent wrong about some things, but there’re some things that he said that resonates.  They are treated differently.  There’s a different standard.

MS. ROSS:  Yeah.

MR. FLETCHER:  I mean – I mean – [crosstalk] –

MS. ROSS:  Have any of these conservatives paused and listened to other Black conservatives?  I mean Condoleezza Rice came forward and said, “I don’t think race is a factor here.”  We just heard Armstrong say, “I don’t think race is a factor here.”  If you talk to other Black conservatives, they’ll say, “Well, I don’t know that it’s racial.”

MR. FLETCHER:  — and –

MS. ROSS:  So, that’s what’s such a contradiction here.

MR. FLETCHER:  — and the notion that the media is some kind of liberal cabal – you know, looking to attack, you know, Black conservatives is ridiculous.  The media – much of the media – is conservative – and actively pushing a conservative r- –

MR. WILLIAMS:  Really?

MR. FLETCHER:  — agenda.

MR. MADISON:  No – no one can –

MR. FLETCHER:  Yeah, we know.  We do know this.

MR. MADISON:  — no one –


MR. MARTIN:  Actually – you know, act- — actually, if you go back and look at the last 30 years, the percentage of newspapers that would endorse a Republican candidate for president versus a Democrat, you – you actually pr- — he actually proved that to be right.

Joe –

MR. MADISON:  No one –

MR. MARTIN:  — go ahead.

MR. MADISON:  — [is] as maligned on the left than Maxine Waters –

OFF CAMERA:  Oh – [chuckles, crosstalk] –

MR. MADISON:  — or John – oh, Maxine Waters is – is called – I mean you had Sheila Jackson Lee referred to in derogatory terms.  Excuse me.  You had the chairman of the Republican committee in South Carolina say that Michelle Obama re- — a – a primate escaped the zoo:  “It must’ve been a relative.”  You had – you had Limbaugh suggest that the First Lady was a linebacker.  You just had the chairman of the Loudon County Republican party send out an invitation with the President looking like a zombie with a –

MR. FLETCHER:  With a bullet in his –

MR. MADISON:  — bullet in –

MR. FLETCHER:  — head.

MR. MADISON:  — his head.  I mean come on.  It – it is – i- — i- — you know, the media is equal-opportunity “getcha.”  They really are.  And – and – and we know that John Conyers gets maligned for bringing up reparations – which we don’t talk about anymore.  So, yeah, it – it goes both ways.

MR. MARTIN:  I – I just thought this week, it was a shameful display by trying to move the story aside by trying to invoke race.  And I think, look, it came back to bite him; and then Cain, frankly, slapped all of them around by undercutting the whole deal.

MR. MADISON:  [Crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  And s- — a- — and s- —

MR. MADISON:  — [crosstalk].

MR. MARTIN:  — and now they look nuts –


MR. MARTIN:  — with these comments, and that’s why we wanted to go ahead and play them – to remind them, “Yeah, you said it.  This was the stupid stuff that you said.”  Now they look embarrassed as a result.