Herman Cain's presidential campaign started out as a long shot. But with the Republican Party in a period of transition, and upheaval, the story of an outsider and neophyte has resonated. No sooner had Cain moved from the fringe to beneath the kleig lights did he find himself in the media's glare. Questions were raised about his 9-9-9 tax plan, as well as about his knowledge of foreign affairs. And then came the three charges of sexual harassment, which stemmed from his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association.
He has chalked up the incidents as misinterpretations of his sense of humor, and given other explanations. But it will take much more than that for Cain and his candidacy to survive.
While many high profile figures have seen their careers ended by sexual harassment charges, below are five figures whose public standing has weathered such accusations.
1. Bill Clinton
He once called himself the "comeback kid," but he really is "the survivor." That's what journalist John Harris called Bill Clinton in his biography of the country's 42nd president. Clinton is nothing short of a political prodigy. He rose from a broken home to a Rhodes scholarship, a path which was then followed by a nearly unfettered ascent to the White House in 1992. Except, of course, for his Achilles heel -- sex scandals, which have included charges of sexual harassment. His 1992 presidential campaign was dogged by the suspicion that he carried on an affair with Gennifer Flowers, who was a former journalist turned Arkansas state employee. But it was a lawsuit filed in 1994 by Paula Jones, also a one-time Arkansas state employee, that would prove his greatest challenge. In it, Jones claimed that Clinton made unwanted advances in an Arkansas hotel room. The suit was dismissed, though Clinton would still pay her an out-of-court settlement. And of course, it was during depositions in the Jones case that word of his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky eventually emerged. Impeached on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, Clinton would survive that round too.
2. Bill O'Reilly
For the television host, it was the harassment factor. In October, 2004, Fox News star Bill O'Reilly was at the center of a pair of lawsuits. The first was filed by O'Reilly himself against his former producer, Andrea Mackris. He was charging her with extortion. O'Reilly said that Mackris had threatened to sue him for sexual harassment if he didn't pay her $60 million. And after he filed suit, she indeed followed through on the sexual harassment charges. She was said to have in her possession a series of racy phone calls in which O'Reilly detailed his fantasies as he pleasured himself. But the two agreed to an out-of-court settlement, which was finalized five days before the presidential election in which Republican George W. Bush defeated John Kerry.
3. Clarence Thomas
After civil rights icon Thurgood Marshall retired from the Supreme Court in 1991, a giant void was left on the High Court. Then President George H.W. Bush plucked 43-year-old Clarence Thomas, whom he had just recently appointed to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Bush famously called Thomas the "best qualified [nominee] at this time." During a standard background check in the run up to the confirmation hearings, it came out that Thomas had been the alleged perpetrator of sexual harassment against attorney Anita Hill, who worked with Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After the lead inadvertently leaked, a media circus ensued. What followed was a confirmation hearing during which alleged sexual advances aided by strategic pubic hair placement on a soda can were openly discussed in the U.S. Senate. Thomas vigorously denied all charges, famously calling the incident a "high-tech lynching." He won confirmation 52-48. It was later reported that other women at the EEOC were ready to testify that they too had been harassed by Thomas.
4. David Letterman
It was a monologue that seemed not unlike all his others -- full of his inimitable self-deprecation. But it turned out that when David Letterman was speaking into the camera on Oct. 1, 2009, he was in fact coming forward about his history of sexual affairs with CBS employees. His hand had been forced by a looming lawsuit. Letterman had privately received files speaking to his affairs. The package came with a threat that the stories would be published in the form of a manuscript if the TV host didn't hand over $2 million. Letterman then contacted the authorities and set up a sting, and CBS director Joe Halderman was caught trying to deposit the check. Eventually, Halderman pleaded guilty on grand larceny, but not before threatening that he had proof of Letterman's sexual harassment.
5. Harold Bloom
He's considered to be a staunch defender of the Western Canon. But Harold Bloom has also used his perch at Yale University to make unwanted sexual advances on his students, or so alleged writer Naomi Wolf in a 1994 article published in New York magazine, entitled "The Silent Treatment." In it, Wolf asserted that Bloom had "put his hand on a student's inner thigh -- a student whom he was tasked with teaching and grading. The student was me." In seeking justice two decades after the incident, Wolf's claims met little traction among the higher-ups at Yale. "After nine months and many calls and emails, I was shocked to conclude that the atmosphere of collusion that had helped to keep me quiet 20 years ago was still intact -- as secretive as a Masonic lodge," she wrote. Bloom denied all charges.