One of them lied. Anita Hill's charges were as detailed as Clarence Thomas's denials were categorical. Now comes a book, "The Real Anita Hill" by David Brock, that dismantles the myth that Hill is a conservative Republican who was driven from Washington by sexual harassment. Brock assembles an avalanche of evidence that Hill lied-about her career and her relations with Thomas.
What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. Hill, who wanted to make her harassment charges against Thomas anonymously, and then confidentially, was pulled into the public arena when her written statement to the Senate was leaked by her anti-Thomas allies. But her misadventure began weeks earlier, when her friend Susan Hoerchner told Senate staffers that while living in Washington in the spring of 1981 she had been told in a telephone conversation with Hill that Hill was being sexually harassed at work by Thomas. But that was six months before Hill went to work for Thomas and 10 months before the alleged harassment began-at which point Hoerchner was living in California. When, during an interview with Senate staff, Hoerchner realized her contradiction, she quickly huddled with a lawyer representing Hill, then changed her story: she could not remember when or where she had the telephone conversation.
In the spring of 1981 Hill was working, and failing, at a Washington law firm. Asked about her departure from the firm, she testified under oath: "It was never suggested to me that I should leave the law firm in any way." A senior member of the firm swore in an affidavit that Hill was told that the low caliber of her work made it "in her best interests" to seek employment elsewhere. (Judiciary Committee Democrats blocked a Republican request to settle the conflict by subpoenaing the firm's records.) Thomas hired Hill at the Education Department, where several people remember her claiming to have been harassed at the law firm. Could those claims have been made to mask her professional failure?
Two people purported to corroborate Hill's claim to have been harassed by her "supervisor" after she followed Thomas to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1982. But they did not testify that she had named Thomas. And "supervisor" would have been an odd way for an assistant to refer to the chairman of a federal agency. One of her several supervisors at the EEOC had a reputation as a harasser.
Thomas's personal reputation was impeccable until autumn 1991, when Hill made her embroidered charges. (She swore that her testimony contained more lurid details than her FBI interview because the two agents had not asked for all details. Both agents disputed her.) By 1991 Thomas had been the subject of five FBI checks and the hostile scrutiny of four Senate confirmations. No one other than Hill has challenged Thomas's testimony concerning his comportment toward her. No one could be found to testify to ever having seen her exhibit the demeanor of a harassment victim. No one who had worked with the two of them on a daily basis testified to believing her.
Most harassers have a pattern of harassment. (So far 23 women have accused Senator Packwood.) Not one of the scores of women Thomas has worked with supported Hill's portrayal of Thomas. Most harassment victims avoid their harassers. Hill testified that she only once drove home with Thomas, who lived nearby. But a co-worker testified that Hill told him she did so several times and hoped for a more personal relationship with Thomas. Hill said she followed Thomas when he moved from Education to the EEOC because she thought that was necessary to stay employed. But she, a Yale Law graduate, had signed a document asserting that she had "career tenure." And a co-worker testified to telling Hill that she could keep her job at Education. Hill swore that she did not know who would be replacing Thomas. Thomas's replacement swore that she knew and that he offered her the same job she had under Thomas.
Telephone logs show that after she moved to Oklahoma she called Thomas many times. First she said the logs were "garbage." Then she said she was only returning calls from him. Then she conceded initiating some. She said one was "following up" another professor's letter inviting Thomas to lecture. But that "follow up" call was made three months before the letter was sent. She testified that a law dean asked her to drive Thomas to the Tulsa airport. The dean said Hill called the night before to ask if she could drive Thomas so she could show him her new car.
At the EEOC she irritated co-workers by trying to assert a special relationship with Thomas. Brock presents much evidence that she left the EEOC, and Washington, bitter with Thomas because of increasing hostility to his conservatism and because she was not given an appointment for which Thomas did not consider her competent. At the University of Oklahoma, Brock reports, she has been prominent in the shrill but conventional campus leftism of racial and sexual politics. Reporters rummaged in Thomas's garbage in search of damaging information; scrutiny of Hill was and has been less searching. The New York Times reported that even "her closest friends" know little of her political views. The Washington Post reported those views to be essentially like Thomas's. Accurate reports of her political and personal conflicts with Thomas would have suggested a motive for mendacity.
To believe that Hill told the truth you must believe that dozens of people, with no common or even apparent motive to lie, did so. Brock's book will be persuasive to minds not sealed by the caulking of ideology. If Hill is a "victim," it is not of sexual harassment or (in language she has used from a lecture podium) "the powerlessness of women" in "our misogynist society." Rather, she may be a victim of the system of racial preferences that put her on a track too fast for her abilities, that taught her to think of herself as a victim and made her fluent in the rhetoric of victimization.
Thomas's ordeal was a manifestation of the politics of character assassination, whereby political differences become occasions for moral assault. It worked against Bork. It almost worked against Thomas. Perhaps the unmasking of Hill will give the practitioners of such politics pause.