Standards of conduct on sexual mores are constantly in flux, but the media madness has gotten wildly out of control
Herman Cain is now finishing a full week of interrogation over three cases of alleged sexual harassment in his past, and there's no end in sight. His supporters have not served him well by calling the media circus a "high-tech lynching"; as a number of other people have noted, that phrase trivializes the horror of lynching and speciously evokes the 1991 drama of Clarence Thomas, which resembles this one mainly in the color of the accused's skin. But if Cain's defense has misfired, his bottom line is actually quite sensible: As the man said, "Don't even bother asking" him. The media madness has gotten wildly out of control, and it's time for the press to relent and let Republican primary voters decide whether they believe or care about these still-vague charges.
About 25 years ago, journalists coined the term "feeding frenzy" to describe the mad swarms of hostile questioning and idle commentary that they inflicted on politicians at the first whiff of possible wrongdoing. That term still nicely describes the dynamic. In the countless frenzies over the years, which have tripped up public figures from Dan Quayle to Anthony Weiner, journalists have almost always operated from a faulty assumption: that the behavior in question -- usually something about sex -- undermines the politician's fitness for office. But that assumption was unfounded when these feeding frenzies started, and it's no more justified in Cain's case.