I’ve been struggling to put my finger on just what it is about how Politico handled the Herman Cain allegations that I find so offensive.

Michael Walsh has a good explanation, Return of the Whipsaw, which starts and ends as such:

First, posit the existence of a “story” as defined by Politico’s editors — doesn’t matter whether it’s true, relevant, or even recent. Actions that may have been acceptable, or at least non-actionable, in the past, no matter how long ago, can be re-framed in the context of current “morality,” and thus employed as handy blunt objects, journalistically speaking….

Fourth, watch with pleasure as the victim’s allies edge away from him (after all, it’s not the truth that matters, it’s the seriousness of the charge), and he starts to founder, the latest victim of the scorpion’s bite.

I’ll use a different example from my own career, having been a plaintiffs’ employment lawyer in the securities industry.

A good way to ruin a departing broker is to create customer complaints which go on the broker’s record and create hiring and licensing problems.  So what the firm does is start calling customers and asking questions like “were you happy with Joe,” or “did you have any problems with Joe,” or “did Joe ever make any transactions without calling you first,” and so on and so on.  Out of hundreds of clients, some percentage will be unhappy and start complaining, and then those complaints get entered into the system, and voilà, an otherwise clean broker now has 5-10 hits on his record, no one will hire him, and the regulators hold up his license transfer.

And that pretty much is what Politico did to Herman Cain.  The original thinly attributed and fairly vague article was an attempt to smoke out people who had a gripe about Cain, to create complaints from people who never before complained.

We’re seeing that now as various people are coming forward saying they heard Cain say “inappropriate” things, or do “inappropriate” things, but they never complained before.

Now Cain isn’t fighting just the two people who complained at the time, but a diffuse group of ever expanding complainers who gain strength from numbers.  The volume of complaints is what now matters, as they will tie up the candidate and slowly drag down the campaign.

It’s not the sort of thing honorable employers do to departing employees, or honorable journalists do to a candidate.