Defending Clarence Thomas from HBO Slander
6 things you must know about Anita Hill before you watch the distorted new 'docu-drama'
It must be true what they say about the 90s being “in” — Anita Hill is back in the news.
Her allegations against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas created a national firestorm in 1991. Twenty-five years later, HBO is bringing back Ms. Hill in the upcoming “docu-drama,” “Confirmation,” which premieres this weekend. Starring Kerry Washington of “Scandal” fame,” who also serves as executive producer, the film re-litigates the Thomas confirmation hearings with a substantial helping of Hollywood drama. In so doing, it also re-litigates — and distorts — the facts.
HBO doesn’t tell you the whole story. This is not only regrettable; it does a great disservice to history. A new generation of Americans who did not experience the hearings firsthand will watch this film and believe it to be an accurate depiction of events, rather than what it really is — a hit job that advances a politically-slanted agenda.
The American public had a front row seat to the 1991 hearings. They had the chance to assess the credibility of Hill and Thomas, unfiltered by the biased media spin machine. By a two-to-one margin, the American public came to the same conclusion a bipartisan majority of Senators did: Thomas was telling the truth and Anita Hill was not. Even the Washington Post editorial page came to that conclusion.
It’s worth revisiting the episode so the American people can once again draw their own conclusions. But HBO’s retelling of the story is selective, almost tortured in its efforts to build up Anita Hill’s credibility and tarnish Clarence Thomas.
Consider these six facts that HBO glosses over, and the many questions they raise.
1.) Anita Hill followed her alleged harasser to another job — and lied about it.
Why did Anita Hill, a Yale-educated lawyer, voluntarily follow Clarence Thomas from the Department of Education to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission after the alleged sexual harassment occurred? Ms. Hill testified that she felt she had no choice but to go with Thomas, even though at least two other coworkers, including the incoming head of the office, gave evidence that she had every opportunity to stay. Is there another example of a woman following her harasser to another job?
2.) Anita Hill reached out to her alleged harasser after they parted ways — and lied about it.
Why did Anita Hill make phone calls — on no less than eleven separate occasions — to Clarence Thomas over the years after the alleged harassment occurred, leaving several phone messages asking him to get in touch? In addition, why did she lie when first confronted about these calls, claiming she only was returning Thomas’ calls instead of initiating them, and later dismiss the phone logs that proved her wrong as "garbage"?
3.) Anita Hill dismissed allegations of sexual impropriety by Democrat Bill Clinton.
Why did Ms. Hill, in 1998, dismiss the sexual misconduct allegations against Bill Clinton because, in her words, there were "larger issues than just individual behavior?" She suggested Clinton was still "our best bet, not withstanding some behavior we might dislike." Does she still agree that someone’s political positions are more important than their personal conduct?
Indeed, over the past 25 years, Anita Hill has emerged as a prominent supporter of the Democratic Party, repeatedly coming to the defense of Clinton when he was accused of sexual harassment (a charge which he ended up paying Paula Jones $850,000 to settle) and assault — worse than anything ever alleged against Thomas.
4.) Anita Hill’s corroborating witness was fired by Clarence Thomas for using a homophobic slur.
Why does the film (or at least the script I reviewed) claim that Republicans blocked an allegedly corroborating witness from testifying? In truth, Angela Wright (played by Jennifer Hudson) made the decision not to testify on the advice of her lawyer, and Democrats in the Senate welcomed that decision because Ms. Wright had serious credibility problems.
For one thing, Thomas fired her for reportedly using the derogatory term "faggot" against a gay co-worker with AIDS. For another, a friend of Wright’s told the FBI that Wright was still angry at Thomas years later and wanted to "get him back." To top it off, she had made similar vindictive and baseless attacks against a previous supervisor when that supervisor was undergoing senate confirmation hearings.
5.) A dozen women came forward to testify under oath in Thomas’s defense; none of Anita Hill’s coworkers did the same for her.
Why doesn’t the film show the dozen women, including many who worked with both Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill at the time, who said they didn’t believe Anita Hill? One said in an affidavit that she found Hill’s claims "totally preposterous." Another said: "Based on my observation of their interactions I have no reason to believe that Professor Hill was being sexually harassed."
6.) Anita Hill was unwilling to face Thomas as a named accuser.
When Anita Hill first made her charge against Thomas, why did she demand anonymity so that Thomas could not even know the name of his accuser to defend himself? After claiming in her memoirs that she was waiting the entire summer for the FBI to interview her about Thomas’ alleged conduct, why did Ms. Hill repeatedly refuse to submit to an FBI interview?
HBO avoids these and other tough questions that destroy Anita Hill’s fragile narrative. HBO picked a fairy tale over a real examination of the facts. But then, I guess that isn’t that surprising for a network that enjoys such success with fantasy.
HBO’s Anita Hill film is about as realistic as its "Game of Thrones."
Mark Paoletta practices law in Washington, D.C. He served in the Bush 41 White House Counsel's Office during the Thomas confirmation hearings and as a chief investigative counsel for the House Energy & Commerce Committee for a decade.