Herman Cain And The Problem With "Rolling Disclosures"

When faced with allegations of sexual harassment earlier this week, Republican frontrunner Herman Cain responded in the worst possible way: with a series of “rolling disclosures.”

“Rolling disclosures” occur when a spokesperson fails to disclose everything they know from the start, opting instead to drip out information slowly. As a result, every time the spokesperson reveals a new detail – no matter how trivial – new oxygen gets pumped into the story. That approach has the net effect of extending the shelf life of the crisis while diminishing the believability of each new iteration of the story.

Mr. Cain’s inept response to these allegations has likely done more damage to his campaign than the allegations themselves.

Politico compiled a partial chronology of Mr. Cain’s rolling disclosures:

Sexually harassing two women in the 1990s while heading the National Restaurant Association isn’t necessarily enough to end his presidential run. Other public figures have weathered similarly embarrassing scandals: Bill Clinton survived his infamous “bimbo eruptions” scandal during his 1992 run, and Clarence Thomas survived allegations of sexual harassment and landed a seat on the Supreme Court.

But public figures often fail to survive a series of rolling disclosures. That’s because there’s usually only one reason to respond to allegations in such a ham-handed manner: where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

(Mr. Cain’s response also violates one of the Seven Rules To Remember When a Crisis Strikes: see number seven).

The allegations against Herman Cain may hurt him less than his rolling disclosures. Photo: Gage Skidmore

Mr. Cain’s wife is scheduled to appear on Fox News on Friday to discuss these allegations. But that appearance will likely fail to kill the story, since too many unanswered questions remain. Cain’s inept response reminds me of Anthony Weiner’s similarly ineffective response, which resulted in his resignation.

I suspect we’ll soon learn more about the allegations and that Mr. Cain’s time as the Republican frontrunner will soon come to a close. That’s not because conservative voters necessarily believe the charges against him – but many are worried that his lousy handling of the crisis bodes poorly for his chances in a general election.