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Why the Anita Hill hearings matter

I was in the room 19 years ago when Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas testified about things I never imagined I'd hear discussed in public, no less before a congressional committee. The atmosphere was charged, the details sordid. Some people in the room believed Hill's graphic account. Others credited Thomas' vehement denials.

But I doubt anyone present shared my colleague Kathleen Parker's reaction: "She may have told the truth, but so what?" So many years later, with memories faded even if emotions still run high, it's worth explaining why this matters.

First, if Hill told the truth -- and I believe she did -- Thomas' behavior went far beyond raunchy remarks or mild flirtation that Hill ought to have shrugged off. Indeed, if you believe Hill's account, Thomas himself recognized how far across the line he had gone: "He said that if I ever told anyone of his behavior that it would ruin his career."

Second, if Hill told the truth -- and Parker acknowledges that she may have -- then Thomas outright lied.

There is no way to square their testimony. You could imagine a world in which Hill related how offensive Thomas's behavior felt to her and Thomas said he had no clue she was taking it that way. But Thomas's blanket denials left no room for that middle-ground possibility.

Hill testified that three months after she began working for Thomas at the Department of Education's civil rights office, he started to ask her out. "I was very uncomfortable with the idea and told him so," Hill testified. "I thought that by saying no and explaining my reasons my employer would abandon his social suggestions. However, to my regret, in the following few weeks, he continued to ask me out on several occasions. He pressed me to justify my reasons for saying no to him."

It didn't end there. Thomas, Hill testified, repeatedly discussed the most extreme sorts of pornography -- women having sex with animals, rape scenes -- and bragged about his sexual prowess. "Because I was extremely uncomfortable talking about sex with him at all and particularly in such a graphic way, I told him that I did not want to talk about these subjects," Hill said. "My efforts to change the subject were rarely successful."

Hill explained that when Thomas was tapped to become EEOC chairman, she chose to follow him for several reasons: Thomas' "offensive behavior" seemed to have stopped; she cared about civil rights work, and she didn't have another job.

Then, the conduct resumed: "The comments were random and ranged from pressing me about why I didn't go out with him to remarks about my personal appearance," she said. "He began to show displeasure in his tone and voice and his demeanor and his continued pressure for an explanation. He commented on what I was wearing in terms of whether it made me more or less sexually attractive."

Hill said Thomas' discussions of pornography and the pressure to date him "made me feel sort of helpless in a job situation because I really wanted to do the work that I was doing."

Eventually, Hill said, she left for a new job, "in large part because of my desire to escape the pressures I felt at the EEOC." Should Hill have complained to a higher authority? "I may have used poor judgment early on in my relationship with this issue," she told the Senate. "I was aware, however, that telling at any point in my career could adversely affect my future career."

If this sounds like a "so what" situation to you, please explain what your reaction would be if you found your wife, your daughter -- or yourself -- in this predicament.

Then there is the uncomfortable topic of perjury. In his famous "high-tech lynching" statement, Thomas allowed for no possibility of an innocent misunderstanding. He testified "unequivocally, uncategorically, that I deny each and every single allegation against me today that suggested in any way that I had conversations of a sexual nature or about pornographic material with Anita Hill, that I ever attempted to date her, that I ever had any personal sexual interest in her, or that I in any way ever harassed her."

To acknowledge that Hill may have told the truth is to accept that Thomas may have lied -- repeatedly and under oath. If Hill testified truthfully, Thomas committed perjury. And this seems, even now, like a pretty big so what.

By Ruth Marcus  | October 28, 2010; 3:26 PM ET
Categories:  Marcus  | Tags:  Ruth Marcus  
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Yes, that is exactly why it matters, perhaps even more 19 years later, given that an unsavory, incompetent Thomas, who engaged in criminal acts while head of the federal agency charged with labor protections, helped give the country a corrupted presidential election in 2000, which led to 2 wars and bank-led, bank-fed global economic collapse, as well as the disembowelment of the American middle class. Clearly, Clarence Thomas wasn't even qualified to chair the EEOC - another great achievement by Ronald Reagan.

Posted by: streetnoise | October 28, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

At the time of the hearings I had studied quite a bit about sexual harassment as part of my role as a psychologist at a public university. One of the things which people may not understand is that when it comes to sexual harassment, no one need explain or justify why the remarks and pressure are offensive to them. They simply must indicate they are offended and ask for it to stop. This "rule" of what constitutes harassment is termed "the thinnest skin governs." Therefore, when Anita Hill said that she found the comments offensive, anyone in supervisory authority should have taken her at her word.

In addition, many women who have experienced such demeaning, offensive, and pressuring comments and behavior in the workplace literally develop PTSD as a result. I myself have treated some individuals who developed panic attacks, nightmares, insomnia, and other symptoms - which continued beyond their time of employment.

Sexual harassment has real and disabling consequences. And victims of such harassment should never be blamed for their reactions. Blaming the victim constitutes another level of abuse. And it cannot be condoned.

I have enormous compassion for what Anita Hill went through. And enormous admiration for her courage and poise in her Senate testimony many years ago.

On the other hand I am extremely distressed in the knowledge that a man is sitting on the Supreme Court who not only engaged in sexual harassment but who lied about it. By doing so he has diminished the stature of the Court itself, together with any rulings in which he has taken part. Dismay and disgust have followed in the wake of this man's behavior.

Thank Ruth for reconsidering your view of this matter.

Posted by: TheraP | October 28, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

to all,

face it, Anita Hill lied to the Congress & the sole reason that anyone then/now believed her nonsense was that they desperately wanted to believe her. - the truth is that there is no evidence whatever of wrongdoing on the part of the Justice Thomas. period. end of story.

sincerely, retiredMP46

Posted by: retiredMP46 | October 28, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Thank you. You've summed it up perfectly, and while doing so, were polite to your colleague! Would that Congress could follow your example.

Posted by: kejia32 | October 28, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Thank you. You summed it up perfectly, and while doing so, remained respectful to your colleague. Would that Congress could follow your example.

Posted by: kejia32 | October 28, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

The Anita Hill hearings matter about as much as the Pentagon Papers and Eisenhower's affair with his secretary. Give it a rest.

Posted by: bethg1841 | October 29, 2010 12:30 AM | Report abuse

He lied under oath and therefore should be impeached and removed. Any republican should be insisting on that. But then they have no integrity, not one has mentioned doing this.

Posted by: jimbobkalina1 | October 29, 2010 5:01 AM | Report abuse

To retiredMP46,

Please enlighten us upon what facts you base your opinion that Anita Hill lied to Congress. Please address the statements made by people to whom she complained about Thomas contemporaneously with his actions. What about the girlfriend who has come forward saying that Thomas was obasessed with porn, which is consistent with what Anita Hill stated?

Your conclusory statements hold no weight whatsoever. When you have solid proof, please provide it. I will check back here to see if you have come up with anything. It's very easy to say that none of these facts are true, which is what Thomas did. I wouldn't have expected him to say anything more than that. It must be very upsetting for you to see Thomas in this manner.

To bethg1841,

If this subject matter is so insignificant, may I ask why you would take the time to express its insignificance?

Ms. Marcus, thank you for addressing this issue. I read Kathleen Parker's column and was disappointed to see how dismissive she was. No one likes to think of our having a Supreme Court Justice who lied to Congress, but that appears to be the case.

Posted by: Alex1011 | October 29, 2010 6:13 AM | Report abuse

If Thomas had behaved that way toward my wife or daughters I would have whipped his [redacted].

Posted by: roblimo | October 29, 2010 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Anita Hill had nothing to gain by telling a lie. Clarence Thomas had everything to gain by telling a lie and everything to lose even by equivocating. And almost everything major in Clarence Thomas' subsequent career has shown his dismal level of integrity.

I hope that people with relevant cases before the Supreme Court call publicly for him to recuse himself when it's pretty clear that he has a financial stake in the outcome -- which is probably pretty much every case involving businesses acting against the interests of the American public. Since his vote is pretty much predetermined based on what his boss and his wife tell him, they have nothing to lose.

Posted by: edallan | October 29, 2010 8:17 AM | Report abuse

'Tis interesting the Ms. Marcus, unwilling to take up the disastrous news of her favored party's impending defeat, elects to continue a story that ran out of legs 19 years ago.

Is it because the sting of defeat is too great to handle?

Ms. Marcus should deal with things that matter today.

Posted by: Crmudgeon | October 29, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

Crmudgeon - Two things that matter today, whether or not there is an election coming up and whether you are a Republican or a Democrat:

A sitting Supreme Court justice probably lied under oath.

Women are sexually harassed in the workplace.

Ms. Marcus's editorial was exactly on point about those two things; Ms. Parker's was not.

Posted by: FLReader | October 29, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

It is stunning that even the most right wing person could state that it doesn't matter that a sitting Supreme Court justice probably abused his position as an administrator in a federal agency by sexually harassing a subordinate and then perjured himself when testifying about the matter.

It certainly mattered to the fight (sic) wing when a sitting president was accused of sexual impropriety and lying about it under oath.

Does anyone who says what Thomas did doesn't matter want to also say that what Clinton did doesn't matter?

Posted by: colton | October 29, 2010 9:10 AM | Report abuse

crmudgeon, mp46, & bethg:

You would be howling if a liberal Justice had done the things that Hill accused Thomas of, & you'd think it was plenty relevant. Admit it. And, of course, this whole revisiting of the Thomas affair was caused by Thomas' wife, poor Ginni, and nobody else.

So much for conservative family values, I guess.

Posted by: nyskinsdiehard | October 29, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

I was appalled by Parker's column. Anita Hill was not the only woman who described Thomas' sexual predatory behavior, harrassing women over whom he had authority as an employer. There is corroboration.

Parker's contention that the women all had motives to lie and therefore should be discounted, was ridiculous, because the person with the biggest motive to lie was Thomas himself.

I am so glad that MS Marcus wrote such a cogent rebuttal to Parker's column.

Parker should be ashamed of writing such a stupid column. It was clearly a piece of Republican apologetics. It was a dark day for America when Thomas was nominated and then confirmed to the nation's highest court.

Posted by: eadler2 | October 29, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Under Sharia law, Hill would have been punished for enticing Thomas and Marcus and Parker would not be allowed to comment publicly on the affairs of the state.

Make mine Sharia.

Posted by: tallyhohohoho | October 29, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

I also observed the Thomas confirmation hearings and it was clear to any fair-minded person that Anita Hill, at the coaching of liberal handlers, embellished innocuous sexually tinged chit chat between consenting adults, in an attempt to defeat and destroy a conservative black man. There was no evidence her expanded accusations were truthful and much evidence that she was a willing tool of the likes of Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy and Patrick Leahy. In fact, many former female employees and associates, both black and white, testified under oath defending Thomas. Clarence Thomas said it right. It was a high tech lynching and Anita Hill disgraced herself in her complicity. If there had been any evidence to support this rubbish, Clarence Thomas would never have been confirmed. Ms. Marcus knows this and I'm surprised she is still trying to perpetuate a lie.

Posted by: amresin | October 29, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Isn't it also important that Thomas engaged in these actions while working in the Department of Education's civil rights office, or heading the Equal employment Opportunities Commission? Both of these offices are responsible for investigating violations of the rights, including sexual harrassment cases. Thomas' actions reflected a natural inability to do so effectively.

As to Parker, well the right-winger's favorite cheerleader would turn a blind eye against evidence given against anyone in her herd. Even so, it is a bit strange to see her calling for Thomas' forgiveness of his wife. Perhaps they double dated?

Posted by: micost51 | October 29, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

It would be helpful to follow-up with a column about the way Anita Hill was treated by some Republican Senators during the Thomas confirmation hearing. The purpose of such a piece would be to show the lack of integrity of right wing ideologues and their apologists. These apologists must do whatever it takes to undermine the integrity of anyone who, in any way, might confirm Ms. Hill's testimony. The recent columns attacking Lillian McEwen demonstrate that those efforts continue.

Posted by: Hampstead | October 29, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Remember that the video store rental records came out and it showed that Justice Longdong had been renting exactly the kinds of pornographic videotapes that his accusers described him talking about.

Posted by: jiji1 | October 29, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

As I stated during the hearings in the confirmation of Clarence Thomas, one has to do a risk analysis on the problem. If what Anita Hill says is true and what Clarence Thomas says is false and the Senate confirms him as an Associate Justice, the potential harm to the American judicial system is very great. If what Anita Hill says is false and what Clarence Thomas says is true and the Senate does not confirm him as Associate Justice, there will be little harm to the American judicial system. Just from a risk analysis basis, Clarence Thomas should not have been confirmed. His subsequent decisions in the position has confirmed that danger of confirming such an individual to such a powerful position.

My personal experience with his was his enforcement of existing EEOC law indicates that he is definitely unethical. He swore to uphold the U.S. Constitution when he took the office in the U.S. Government. However he followed the dictates of Ronald Reagan in emasculating the law by not enforcing the law. This, on first analysis, is sufficient to impeach him.

Posted by: RubberDucky2 | October 29, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

We couldn't care less about this non-story but if you're going to obsess further over it in the Post, at least honestly state the facts.

The credibility of Anita F. Hill's account was severely undercut if not destroyed by the fact she followed Thomas to the EEOC. You poll-parrot Hill's explanation that she did so in order to have a job. But that explanation didn't wash because sworn hearing testimony established Hill could have remained in her Education Department job after Thomas left the Department.

Now for goodness sake, move on ...

Posted by: broadwayjoe | October 29, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I agree it matters if Thomas did what he was accused of. But as a victim of true physcial violence, I feel Hill waited too long to come forward for her version of events to have credibility. Hill's background & experience would have given her the ability to take a job elsewhere. She chose to continue working with him. In my opinion that casts doubt on her motive for not coming forward until he was facing a seat on the Supreme Court. I did not believe her then and do not believe her now.

Posted by: mkk733 | October 29, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Marcus makes a good case for why this matters, especially in light of Kathleen Parker's shocking column saying "so what" (and completely overlooking the disgraceful treatment of Anita Hill). Adding considerably to the "so what", if it was Anita Hill's account alone, some might be justified in (then or still) doubting her truthfulness. The problem is that at least two other women Clarence Thomas knew back then--who were not called to testify--confirm his pattern of behavior. It looks pretty clear at this point who was telling the truth, and who was lying. And if Clarence Thomas was the one who lied under oath--a possibility that Parker concedes might very well be true--having that person serving on the Supreme Court is even more disgraceful.

Posted by: MrDarwin | October 29, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

If,if,if, - lot's of speculation on your part, Ruth. Hell, IF the Germans didn't bomb Pearl Harbor(oh, whatever).

Posted by: robertshriner | October 29, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Marcus is right on; Parker should hide her face in shame. If any apology is due, one is due from George H.W. Bush for appointing Thomas to the seat once occupied by the great Thurgood Marshall. -- Edd Doerr

Posted by: EddDoerr | October 29, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Ruth:-) Jealous? Taking a shot at your colleague at the Post over this issue won't bring you a Pulitzer...she writes better than you.

Posted by: DQuixote1 | October 29, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse


fwiw, "unsubstantiated claims", "accusations" & "hearsay" (which was the sum total of Anita Hill's "testimony" & that of her cohorts.) does not constitute "evidence" or "proof".

i spent well over 25 years as an Army special investigator & CID Special Agent/Supervisor. therefore, i know the difference between evidence/proof & unfounded innuendo, common gossip, false accusations, hearsay & outright lies.

fyi, liars can always make more accusations than anyone has the time/money/energy to disprove. moreover, liars know that making accusations "dirties" the accused, no matter how obvious the lies may be to intelligent people, in the minds of the unknowing, the naive & the credulous.

the way "The American System of Justice" works is that evidence of wrong-doing is required for conviction of crime/wrong-doing & absent that evidence (and once more, i point out that Anita Hill & her "true believers" had no evidence whatever of any crime/abuse/wrongdoing on Justice Thomas's part) the accused is innocent, regardless of how much the "true believers", fools & "know nothings" wish the accused was guilty/punished.

in the (highly unlikely) event that you have any actual evidence, please present it
you could simply slink away with your tail tightly tucked between your legs.

sincerely yours, RetiredMP46

Posted by: retiredMP46 | October 29, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

nyskinsdiehard; ALL,

what part of "no evidence of crime" did you not understand? - as "RetiredMP46" suggested: LIARS & their CO-CONSPIRITORS can always make more false accusations than anyone can debunk. - "RetiredMP46" is exactly correct about that.

on the sad day (should that day come) that someone LIES ABOUT YOU, you will be REALLY glad that we Americans require EVIDENCE & PROOF before conviction/imprisonment.

yours, TN46
coordinator, CCTPP

Posted by: retiredMP46 | October 29, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Ms. Marcus, for a well thought out rebuttal to Ms. Parker's piece. As RetiredMP46 and TN46, and many of the people charged with his confirmation, failed to understand, Clarence Thomas was not on trial in a criminal proceeding. He was being considered for confirmation to a highly important and prestigious lifetime appointment. The fact that there were serious questions about his integrity, even if viewed as a "he said, she said" situation, should have been sufficient to derail his confirmation. I was out running errands on the afternoon that the Senate voted and, when I heard on the car radio that Chuck Robb, who should have known better, had voted for confirmation, I put my head down on the steering wheel and sobbed. In no way was this man the best African American candidate for the job, nor did he merit consideration for any other reason.

Posted by: msgerstein | October 29, 2010 11:16 PM | Report abuse

I love how Ms. Marcus glosses over the fact that Ms. Hill followed Mr. Thomas from one job to another, hardly the behavior one would expect from a victim of actual abuse. Anita Hill had her 15 minutes of fame, being paraded around as the "Rosa Parks" of sexual harassment. Most women polled did NOT believe her allegations. Most Americans, by about a two to one margin, also didn't find her credible. This is what liberal columnists such as Ruth Marcus never acknowledge. The Anita Hill hearings were nothing more than a bizarre charade destined to be remembered as little more than insignificant trivia. They DON'T matter nearly as much as Ms. Marcus seems to need to believe. This was an attempted hatchet job with the sole agenda of derailing the confirmation of a conservative justice.

Posted by: douglasmoy | October 30, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

C'mon, Ruth. Your article lacked two key words: 'Bill' and 'Clinton'. A country that countenanced its president's exploitation - and worse - of lower-status women (Juanita Broaddrick seems to be the principal 'she who must not be named' of liberal-feminist politics) is not exactly going to get lathered up about Clarence Thomas making off-color remarks.

Kathleen Parker was a lot closer to the attitudes of most Americans, including American women, toward the Thomas-Hill hearings, than you are. (Contemporary polling showed majority support for Thomas, which is why he was confirmed by a Democratic-majority Senate.)

Anita Hill was of the professional classes, a law professor, and women of her class are the women most vehement about the indignity she supposedly suffered. This was not a gender issue, or else Clinton would be anathema to Marcus. This was a class issue.

Posted by: markrichardc | October 30, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for writing this, my jaw dropped when I read Kathleen Parker's 'get over it' remark. Many years ago a friend of mine lost her job for not putting up with a sexual bully of a boss. She fought back, but it was very painful, embarrassing and expensive. It also took away a lot of precious time from a valuable and productive career, which I think has been her biggest regret.

Posted by: karenow | October 30, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

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