That’s the question David Mark at Politico’s Arena forum asks, with this explanation:

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s shifting responses to allegations of sexual harassment dating to his time as president of the National Restaurant Association have left his campaign reeling.

Has Cain’s campaign done itself politically mortal harm by not delivering a clear and consistent response to the original POLITICO story? Or might this episode actually help Cain by creating sympathy among conservatives over investigative reporting by “liberal media”?

As you know, although I have been critical of Politico’s news operations, I joined Politico’s Arena so that my voice could be heard there.  Here is my answer at Politico:

There is no question that Cain fumbled the initial handling of the story. He lacks the communications team needed to deal with the type of scrutiny some presidential candidates receive.

That said, the way in which POLITICO rolled out the story, structured for a Monday morning news frenzy with vague allegations seemingly intended to smoke out the story rather than report it, and teams of reporters ready to appear on every cable show that would have them, transformed the story into an attempt to take down a candidate not report. POLITICO seemed just a bit too joyful.

That POLITICO’s coverage now focuses on the inconsistencies from the Cain campaign in the opening hours, rather than on the facts some of which POLITICO apparently refuses to disclose, feeds into a narrative that is helpful for Cain: He is the target of a mainstream media that scrutinizes the lives of conservative candidates with joyful abandon yet steers clear of similar inquiry into the life and associations of Barack Obama.