Herman Cain's assertion that he has no memory of Sharon Bialek's name or face or voice might be a problem for him, given that Bialek says she spoke to Cain at a Tea Party event this year and a witness says she saw the interaction. It was just one of many things Cain said in his press conference on Tuesday that indicate he did not succeed in putting the sexual harassment stories behind him. On Fox News, the prevailing opinion after the Arizona event was that Cain performed marveously. Elsewhere, among both liberals and conservatives, the reaction is somewhat different.
It's easy to explain why this press conference might not have gone so well by breaking it down by a few of Cain's more problematic statements.
Doesn't know Bialek:
When asked whether he might remember Bialek, Cain said, "I'm not an expert on how the brain works." Nevertheless, he says he doesn't know her. He explained that he watched her press conference in his hotel room, "going over and over and over in my mind, Do I know this lady? … I didn't recognize her name. I didn't recognize her face. I didn't recognize her voice." Even though "I'm pretty good at remembering people."
Why is that a problem? As The Atlantic's James Fallows points out, that's a statement that if untrue, can be easily disproven. Chicago radio host Amy Jacobson says she saw the interaction, saying Bialek was "inches from [Cain's] ear" and that it "looked like a tense few minutes." Further, as conservative David Wurtzel notes, if Bialek is telling the truth about Cain upgrading her hotel to a "palatial" room, there's a record of it. The National Review's Jim Geraghty says he's asked the hotel for the records.
Anonymous allegations from the Democrat machine
"The fact is these anonymous allegations are false and now the Democrat machine in America has brought forth a troubled woman to make accusations," Cain said. But not all the allegations are anonymous anymore. After being outed by several news organizations Tuesday, Karen Kraushaar is coming forward saying she is the woman who received a $45,000 payout, Politico's Jonathan Martin reports. She told The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg and Michael D. Shear in a story published an hour before Cain's session that she's consider "the idea of a joint press conference where all of the women would be together with our attorneys and all of this evidence would considered together." That way, she said, "These allegations can be considered together as a body of evidence." That makes two women not anonymous. And that makes two women not part of the "Democrat machine," either, because Kraushaar is a registered Republican who lives with her husband in Maryland. The couple has donated money to both Republicans and Democrats, campaign disclosure forms show.
Of Bialek, Cain said, "I have never acted inappropriately with anyone, period. These accusations that were revealed yesterday simply did not happen." As for Kraushaar, "the accusations… were found baseless. There was no legal settlement, there was an agreement between that lady and the NRA. And it was treated as a personnel matter because there was no basis to her accusations. Those are the facts. When she made her accusations, they were found to be baseless and she could not find anyone to corroborate her story." Politico's Martin says he spoke to half a dozen sources who knew of Kraushaar's claims. And the National Restaurant Association thought they were worth $45,000.
Not saying it's a conspiracy
"I cannot say that it is a conspiracy," Cain said. "We do not have definite factual proof. We can only look at some coincidences to suggest it that maybe someone is behind this." Cain said he wouldn't "point any fingers or place any blame," which is funny, because that's what he spent last week doing. Cain accused Rick Perry's campaign of leaking the story, and specifically his former consultant Curt Anderson, who is now working for Perry. Cain blamed Anderson, then Cain's campaign manager took it back, then Cain said Anderson was at fault again. Slate's John Dickerson tweets, "What standard of proof is lower? The Cain standard accusing Perry for being behind these charges or NRA standard for harassment payouts?"
The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan says that if Cain was trying to make this story go away faster, he failed. "Cain has just given this story major new life," Sulivan writes. "The total denials are accusations of total cynicism and lies from a variety of women whose only common factor seems to be they were grossed out by Herman Cain. They will be forced to respond to being called liars." And with so many different women saying Cain sexually harassed them, "you conclude that Cain is either lying or in complete denial. Neither is exactly a recommendation for a potential president of the United States." CNN's Peter Hamby says the first time Cain said it was the "end of story" was on October 31. Some conservatives have compared Cain to Clarence Thomas, who they say was the victim of a racially-motivated character assassination, but The Weekly Standard's John McCormack points out that Thomas faced just one accuser, while Cain has two anonymous ones and two who've revealed their names.
Time's Michael Crowley calls the event a "disaster tour," saying Cain talked a lot but said nothing. "He denied 'any inappropriate behavior,' ever, a statement so sweeping it suggests that he never so much as misbehaved as a child," Crowley writes. "It’s possible that Cain is being unfairly targeted, but as the volume of the charges mount and the accusers step forward–and Cain flails so unconvincingly–that seems less and less plausible." Like many others, Crowley notes that the reporters didn't ask Cain the toughest questions (he was asked whether he thinks sexual harassment is real, for example). Geraghty notes a few more that weren't asked, aside from the records of the hotel room Bialek stayed in:
“When former colleagues ask you for help in finding a job, do you often take them to dinner, just the two of you?”
“Mr. Cain, how do you define ‘inappropriately’? Could those who worked under you define that term differently?”
“Are these the only two settlements with former employees in your career as a manager?”
Which suggests Cain might have to face more rooms like this (as tweeted by ABC News' Jonathan Karl) if he's feeling up to it.
If not, maybe he can escape in this, which Karl spotted parked outside the conference: