Front-runners are put under a microscope -- but not all microscopes are created equal.
Charles Krauthammer of Fox News: "Do you think that race, being a strong black conservative, has anything to do with the fact you've been so charged (with sexual harassment)? And if so, do you have any evidence to support that?"
Herman Cain: "I believe the answer is yes, but we do not have any evidence to support it."
Playing the race card is vulgar, whether done by Al Sharpton or President Barack Obama — as he did to contain the Rev. Wright scandal. Especially when, as here, the complainant admits he lacks evidence. If Cain were not a front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination — a shock probably even to him — the media wouldn't bother. But when the quest goes from curiosity to conceivable, the scrutiny increases exponentially. And who knows how the media got the information, possibly from one of Cain's presumably non-racist GOP rivals.
Cain can — and should — complain about the media's hypocritical double-standard, however. There is a real-world, apples-to-apples comparison to examine whether, as a conservative, Cain is being subjected to harsher treatment: the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
During the heat of the 1988 race for the Democratic presidential nomination, rumors surfaced of Jackson's alleged numerous and rampant instances of infidelity. He was, for a while, his party's front-runner.
Democratic Underground, a left-wing website, recalls, "(After) Jackson won 55 percent of the vote in the Michigan Democratic caucus, he was considered the front-runner for the nomination, as he surpassed all the other candidates in total number of pledged delegates."
Unlike Cain, Jackson actually won several primaries and caucuses — and finished second in pledged delegates, beating out rivals such as future Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden.
To blunt whispers of Jackson infidelity, his wife, Jackie, warned Life magazine: "I don't believe in examining sheets. That's a violation of privacy. If my husband has committed adultery, he better not tell me. And you better not go digging into it because I'm trying to raise a family and won't let you be the one to destroy my family."
Whether the media feared being accused of racism or whether it feared Jackie, there were no "establishment media" stories on Jackson's alleged sexcapades. That is, until years later, when Jackson admitted fathering a child with a staffer to whom he paid money for a house and who received monthly payments.
Black conservatives — along with white male Christian conservatives and child molesters — remain one of the few groups to which the usual rules of civility and restraint do not apply.
Consider these recent comments about Cain:
"(Cain) really doesn't want to be overtly associated with African-Americans." — MSNBC's Martin Bashir on Cain's failure to appear at the Martin Luther King Memorial dedication.
"I think that (Cain) makes that white Republican base of the party feel OK, feel like they are not racist because they can like this guy. I think he is giving that base a free pass, and I think they like him because they think he is a black man who knows his place. And I know that sounds harsh." — MSNBC Democratic strategist Karen Finney.
"(Cain) needs to get off the symbolic crack pipe and acknowledge that the evidence (of racism in America) is overwhelming." — Princeton professor Cornel West.
"There is this constant minstrelsy aspect that (Cain) keeps bringing up. ... And yet Cain allows the GOP to have this sort of force where it's like: 'Well, we're not racist. We are supporting this black man.'" — Time.com contributor and author Toure.
Left-wing black journalists (a near redundancy) absolutely hate, hate, hate black conservatives. A few years ago, a black former policy advisor for President George W. Bush resigned after being arrested for stealing from retail stores. Los Angeles Times journalist and contributing editor Erin Aubry Kaplan wrote: "I don't support conservatism in its current iteration, and I support black conservatives even less. ... Here is a man who, like most black conservatives, has had to do an awful lot of personal and political rationalizing to pay dues. ... It's hard to imagine that such compromises and cognitive dissonance don't exact a psychological toll at some point."
Chicago Tribune's John Kass, after the revelation of Jackson's love child, finally acknowledged the double standard and the media-imposed no-fly zone over Jackson: "For years, Jackson has been treated kindly. Here's my explanation. In the media, we're white people, mostly, and mostly suburban born, mostly Democrats, terrified of being called racists, even if the charge comes from a hustler. Black reporters don't want to become targets, either.
"So news organizations skip timidly around Jackson's finances, though we've known his race baiting has carried a price tag. ...
"Through this condescending bargain, this queasy media pact laced with white liberal guilt and white liberal racism, the crafty Jackson has prospered.
"His profile increased, while other black voices, those with legitimate yet differing views, were diminished.
"We didn't want true diversity. We wanted it easy. We used him. And he used us."
Yes, the media do indeed put front-runners — all of whom willingly enter the political fray — under an intense microscope. And properly so. But not all microscopes are created equal.
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