Cain Offers Ethics Reminder to Reporters in Pushback Over Sex Harassment Allegations

Attempting to turn reports of sexual harassment allegations back on the media, the campaign for Republican presidential contender Herman Cain is targeting journalists by passing out a code of ethics offering guidelines on how to report stories.

On Sunday, Cain campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon emailed passages from the Society of Professional Journalist Code of Ethics that highlighted limiting the use of anonymous sources and evaluating their truthfulness and motives before allowing their use.

The code also offered a few reminders like removing arrogance from reporting, showing good taste, being accountable, not pandering to lurid curiosity, treating subjects of stories as reporters would like to be treated and exposing unethical behavior by fellow reporters.

With the media just slightly above Congress in public opinion polls of trustworthy institutions, the Cain team is hoping to capitalize on distrust as it fights back against coverage of sexual harassment claims by two women at the National Restaurant Association where Cain was CEO from 1996-1999.

The low-level staffers are bound by confidentiality agreements, and despite efforts by one woman's lawyer to get her released from that non-disclosure rule, she issued an anonymous statement Friday calling the allegations very serious.

Issuing an email solicitation on Saturday, Cain asked donors to contribute toward his goal of raising $999,000 -- keying off his 9-9-9 economic plan -- by next Thursday so Cain can compete in the Iowa caucuses scheduled for Jan. 3.

In the appeal, Cain noted the "attacks" and said his campaign still has momentum.

"Every time someone makes a donation to my campaign it shows the media and my opponents that the American people are fed up with the politics of personal destruction and they are demanding real change in Washington," the email reads.

But the story is having an impact. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, in the last week, Cain has lost 9 points in his favorability rating with Republicans. A week ago his favorability ranked at 66 percent in the poll, he's now down to 57 percent. Among all registered voters in the poll released Friday, he dropped 5 percentage points to 32 percent from 37 percent.

However, as far as favorability rankings go, Cain still holds his own against President Obama, ranking 46-41 in polls of 937 registered voters one year out from the election. The margin of error is 3.2 percent in the poll.

Separately, a Washington Post-ABC News survey taken after the allegations emerged last Sunday showed Cain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney running almost even with seven in 10 Republicans saying the reports don't matter when it comes to picking a candidate.

Cain's opponents said the sex harassment allegations are irrelevant to the race for the White House, though they are a distraction.

"I think the media blew this way out of proportion. I think there are a thousand stories out on there and I think that dilutes the real debates," Texas Rep. Ron Paul told "Fox News Sunday."

"It's up to Herman Cain to get the information out and get it out in total. But that's important because we've got some real issues to discuss in this campaign, and this is taking all the bandwidth out of the discussion so we're not able to talk about jobs. We're not able to talk about our position in the world. And that hurts. That hurts the American people," former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Cain vowed Saturday to answer no more questions about the allegations, cutting off a reporter who tried to inquire about the alleged incidents.

"Don't even go there. Where's my chief of staff?" Cain said as his top aide Mark Block signaled from the audience. "Please send him the journalistic code of ethics."

Speaking during a one-on-one debate with fellow candidate Newt Gingrich, Cain also took the opportunity from an open-ended question to complain about the media.

"There are too many people in the media who are downright dishonest. ... They do a disservice to the American people," Cain said, bringing the room to its feet.

"If I were running this campaign the way the pundits thought I ought to be running this campaign, I would have dropped out in August," Cain later told reporters.

"When people get on the Cain train, they don't get off."

But whether the Cain approach will put to rest the accusations or inspire reporters to dig deeper, the SPJ code of ethics does little to offer guidance. The SPJ notes that its code is voluntary and is not intended as a set of "rules."

"It is not -- nor can it be under the First Amendment -- legally enforceable," the code notes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.