(CNN) – Herman Cain wouldn't answer questions Friday afternoon about a comment he made regarding Anita Hill, the law school professor whose sexual harassment allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991 made national headlines.
"I want to get back on message. That's not on message," Cain told reporters outside a fundraising event in New York City. "I want to fix this economy so people can go back to work–not continue all this attention of stuff that does not matter."
Cain, who's been embroiled in allegations of inappropriate behavior from his time leading the National Restaurant Association, was at a campaign event on Thursday in Michigan, where he was jokingly asked if he had heard from Hill.
In the moment, caught on camera by Fox News, the Republican presidential candidate bent over chuckling and quipped, "Is she going to endorse me?" The rest of the room then erupted with laughter.
While the initial question that prompted Cain's response was inaudible in the video, the candidate confirmed in a radio interview Friday that he was asked about being contacted by Hill.
"It in no way was intended to be an insult towards Anita Hill or anybody else," Cain said on Fred Dicker's radio show.
Cain, instead, insisted the media was zeroing-in on him in an attack strategy he termed "flyspecking."
"Any word I say is now gonna be flyspecked by somebody and somebody who does not support Herman Cain," he said. "They're going to try to spin it into a negative."
Cain faced questions Friday over how he handled the "Anita Hill" comment, given the comparison that some have made between Cain's situation and the Thomas-Hill showdown.
Several Cain supporters have painted the GOP White House hopeful as a black conservative victimized by those on the left who may be unhappy with an African American running as a Republican.
A super political action committee backing Cain released an ad last week, telling viewers that Thomas went through a similar so-called "high-tech lynching" when Hill's allegations raised serious questions about the nominee.
The ad ended with an on-screen message: "Don't let the left do it again."
Cain has repeatedly denied that he's ever sexually harassed anyone, calling the accusations false and "baseless" in multiple media appearances as well as a press conference.
Meanwhile, some on both the right and left have questioned Cain's handling of the nearly-two week ordeal. On Friday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a rival for the Republican presidential nomination, argued that now is not the time to be making jokes.
"I think if you look at the concerns we have, about issues like sexual harassment, look at the tragedy at Penn state, if you look at how people feel in general about this kind of stuff, it's not something to joke about," Gingrich said on Laura Ingraham's radio show.
- CNN's Kevin Liptak and Rebecca Stewart contributed to this report.
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