For the record, the best-selling author of The Real Anita Hill re-reports Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, a bogus new book by Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson.
BYLINE: David Brock is an investigative writer for The American Spectator and the author of The Real Anita Hill [Free Press].
I. Out to Lunch
CHARLIE ROSE: Make any mistakes?
JANE MAYER: I hope not. --from PBS's "The Charlie Rose Show," Nov. 7, 1994
Shortly after my book on the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, The Real Anita Hill, was published in April 1993, Wall Street Journal reporters Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson alleged in The New Yorker that my conservative politics had led me to intentionally fabricate, mis-report, and omit various pieces of information in writing the book. The New Yorker refused to publish an extensive rebuttal [it eventually ran in the August 1993 American Spectator]. The authors refused to discuss the review with me on national television [Larry King and Charlie Rose had called]. They have continued to duck me during their promotion of Strange Justice, though they agreed to answer questions for this review.
It wasn't always so unpleasant between us. In April 1992, following the publication of my American Spectator article on Anita Hill, Mayer and Abramson took me to lunch. One of the most memorable moments came when Mayer and Abramson described a trip to Oklahoma and their interview with Anita Hill. In Abramson's words, as I recall them, the two had found her "less than impressive." We spoke on the telephone occasionally in the subsequent year.
Otherwise, that's the last I've seen of them. So it came as a shock when I read in the prologue to Strange Justice [1.] that Anita Hill had declined to respond to two interview requests the authors had made prior to August 1993, when, following the publication of my book, Hill agreed to "break her silence." What had happened to the interview Mayer and Abramson told me about in early 1992? Had an inconvenient fact been glossed over for the sake of the narrative? [For the record, Mayer and Abramson say my recollection is "ridiculous."]
But one need not even crack open this book to discern the animus that drives it. The very title, Strange Justice, is an obvious double entendre. Its point is not only that the process for confirming Thomas was peculiar, which it surely was [though not in the ways the authors suggest], but that Thomas himself is somehow "strange." Those familiar with judicial confirmation fights of the past decade will recognize this adjective. During the last hotly contested Supreme Court nomination before Thomas's, Democratic Senator Howell Heflin of Alabama attacked Judge Robert Bork as a "strange individual" because he wore a beard and, according to a whispering campaign generated by the left, might be agnostic on the existence of God. Strange Justice is in the same disgraceful tradition.
Indeed, Strange Justice rivals the Washington Post's Janet Cooke episode and the October Surprise "scandal" as one of the most outrageous Journalistic hoaxes in recent memory.[2.]It accuses a sitting Supreme Court justice not only of sexual harassment but also by implication of committing perjury to attain Senate confirmation. Mayer and Abramson have made these accusations on the basis of accounts from sources who tell me they were either flatly misquoted or misrepresented, or refused to confirm information attributed to them. The list of these people who say they were misquoted includes the only woman whose allegations against Thomas have not been previously reported--and refuted--in prior books or articles. In addition to relying on fake evidence, doctored quotes, and unsupported hearsay, the book is brimming with anonymous and discreditable sources. Key figures were never interviewed. Where evidence does not fit the authors' point, it is ignored entirely. And a whole array of alleged facts--small and large--are simply wrong.[3.]
That others in the media have leapt to embrace the reckless assertions in the book only broadens the scandal. Mayer and Abramson's colleague Albert Hunt described this pastiche on national television as "meticulously researched." Frank Rich favored "meticulously reported." Martin Walker went over the top in The New York Times to describe it as "a fine and rational work, a cogent and persuasive account of the Thomas nomination and confirmation in which the rules of logic are observed, evidence is judiciously weighed and Justice Thomas is convincingly portrayed by named sources as a man with a penchant for pornography and for talking dirty." Mayer and Abramson don't even come close.
II. Pornography and Dirty Talk
The sections in Strange Justice on pornography are one of two parts of the book [the second being the so-called "other women" who have accused Thomas] that were presented as news in The Wall Street Journal excerpt of Strange Justice on November 2, the day the book was published, and on the now-defunct ABC newsmagazine "Turning Point" and "Nightline" that evening. How such august media institutions were snowed by Strange Justice is a subject for another day. Let us consider only the substance of the new allegations.
Whether a demonstrated interest in pornography on the part of Thomas makes it more likely that he sexually harassed Anita Hill is arguable. Writing about the pornography rumors that had reached the Judiciary Committee during the hearings in his book Advice and Consent, Thomas critic Senator Paul Simon conceded, "Even if we found them to be completely true, and we did not investigate them, I am not sure there is a direct tie-in between watching pornographic films and sexual harassment, at least I have not seen evidence of that."
Investigating and publicizing material about a nominee's private reading habits or his video rental records also raises civil liberties questions; when a reporter pursued the question of what movies Judge Bork was renting for home consumption, the Democratic Congress's reaction was to pass a law prohibiting video stores from releasing this type of information on privacy grounds.
Mayer and Abramson apparently disagree. They argue that the evidence they present shows not only that Thomas was capable of uttering the kinds of remarks that Hill claimed he made when he was her boss at a federal agency in Washington, but also that he demonstrated a pattern of conduct that corroborates her testimony. Going well beyond what is already in the record, the authors claim that Thomas "habitually" consumed pornographic videos into the late 1980s and that he regularly discussed their contents in the most graphic of terms.
Let us first take up the claim, made by surrogates for the authors like Michael Kinsley on "Crossfire" and Lincoln Caplan in Newsweek [which published an excerpt of the book alongside an enthusiastic news story], that Thomas may have committed perjury in denying that he had ever looked at or spoken about pornography. Thomas made no such denials. Rather, he adamantly refused to discuss his private life. He said only that he had never discussed pornography with anyone in the office and had never discussed pornography with Anita Hill at any time. In this regard, the following exchange with Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont is instructive:
LEAHY: . . . Let me ask you--she has been asked whether this happened--let me ask you: Did you ever have a discussion of pornographic films with Professor Hill? THOMAS: Absolutely not. LEAHY: Have you ever had such discussions with any women? THOMAS: Senator, I will not get into any discussions that I might have had about my personal life or my sex life with any person outside the workplace. LEAHY: I'm not asking -- THOMAS: I will categorically say that I have not had any such discussions with Professor Hill.
If the information on pornography is irrelevant to any perjury issue, it may still be argued that it is relevant as character evidence. The next question, then, is: What sort of information do Mayer and Abramson have? This section essentially relies on four named sources. Though their accounts are presented to appear otherwise, two of them are second-hand, a third comes from a supposedly important eyewitness who now says he was misquoted, and the fourth is based on a source who says a key quote has been intentionally cast in a completely false light.
That Thomas viewed pornographic videos in college and joked about their contents with his friends has been previously reported: prior to the Thomas-Hill hearings in U.S. News and World Report and The New York Times; in Capitol Games, a book co-authored by Timothy Phelps, the Newsday reporter who broke the story of Anita Hill's allegations simultaneously with Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio; and in my own book.
Some of the details Mayer and Abramson add to this previous reporting actually weigh in Thomas's favor. What, for example, did Thomas's purported habit of engaging in "crude sexual banter" during his college days specifically consist of? Mayer and Abramson paraphrase a male friend of Thomas's from Holy Cross College as saying, "He and [Gil] Hardy used to call each other 'bitch' routinely in a kind of rough, affectionate banter that would generate into gross excess as they tried to one-up each other in their insults."
"Bitch" is the most offensive word the authors are able to report Thomas as having uttered. Significantly, they present no evidence that Thomas ever used such language in the presence of women. The only woman quoted in this section of the book--an anonymous former graduate student--says that the young Thomas would "talk and laugh" about sex with his male friends, "then the men [not Thomas] would come and tell us about it."
Here is an early example of the way Mayer and Abramson put the worst interpretation possible on every aspect of Thomas's behavior. The fact that he excluded women from this sexual talk is "a sign that he couldn't relate to women," they write. They fail to note that at this very time at Holy Cross Thomas was steadily dating his college sweetheart, Kathy Ambush, whom he would marry on the day after graduation in 1971.
As for X-rated movies, the reports referenced above have established that Thomas, like many of his fellow students, attended such films as Deep Throat, shown on the Yale campus by the law school film society in the early 1970s. Yet the authors allege an "avid interest in pornographic materials" that went well beyond the law school films. The only evidence that Thomas ventured off-campus to a harder-core X-rated movie house in downtown New Haven comes from a single source--one Henry Terry, a Yale law school classmate of Thomas's--who also peddled this story in Capitol Games more than two years ago.
According to Terry, Thomas regularly attended pornographic movies--not with him, but with another student named Frank Washington. When Washington was contacted by Mayer and Abramson, he wouldn't talk to them, according to the notes. Nonetheless, the authors chose to publish Terry's second-hand allegation as if it were substantiated; Strange Justice is riddled with this sort of Journalistic sleight-of-hand. When I contacted Washington and read him Terry's account, he denied it.
Other than Anita Hill's and Angela Wright's allegations, only one piece of first-hand evidence is presented that Thomas ever spoke in a lewd fashion after his college days. This comes in "Joining the Club," the third chapter, which focuses on Thomas's experience working in the office of then_Missouri attorney general John Danforth, on Senator Danforth's staff in Washington, and in the early Reagan administration:
There was one jarring recollection in the generally positive picture painted by Thomas's colleagues in the attorney general's office. According to Andy Rothschild, now an attorney in St. Louis but then a friend and fellow lawyer, Thomas liked to taunt another [male] member of the office, who was prim and painfully shy, by making outrageous, gross and at times off-color remarks. "Clarence was loud and boisterous, kind of the office clown. He couldn't help himself but to needle the guy--he just liked to get under his skin," Rothschild recalled in an interview.
Note that Rothschild himself says nothing about gross or off-color remarks; those are the authors' words. The use of a tantalizing summary sentence to introduce a quote that doesn't support the introductory sentence is another common tactic throughout the book.
When I called Rothschild, who was unaware that he was quoted in the book, he told me of a conversation with Jill Abramson, who had interviewed him for the first and only time in July 1991 when she was covering the Thomas nomination for the Journal. "She called me and asked me if I knew anything about Thomas's views on abortion, and I said I didn't," Rothschild said. "Then I told her about Thomas's great sense of humor. I never said anything about gross or off-color remarks because to my knowledge Thomas never said anything gross or off-color." Indeed, it seems unlikely that Abramson would have even been asking about off-color remarks in July 1991, three months before Anita Hill's allegations were first published.
Thus Jane Mayer's oft-quoted rationale for publishing this material--that Thomas invited such an inquiry by saying in his testimony that if he had been guilty of the Anita Hill charge there would have been "bits and pieces" of it in his life--is entirely bogus. What Thomas actually said was, "If I used that kind of grotesque language with one person, it would seem to me that there would be traces of it throughout the employees who worked closely with me; there would be other individuals who heard it, or bits and pieces of it, or various levels of it." This book produces no co-workers who ever heard Thomas use foul language. The strongest evidence that he ever used a foul word at all comes from a college friend who described the harmless "bitch" banter at Holy Cross.
So much for talking dirty.
The case that Thomas exhibited an interest in pornography after his student days rests on the accounts of two people: Barry Maddox, the proprietor of a Washington, D.C. video rental shop, and Frederick Cooke, a Washington attorney. [A third source, Kaye Savage, who claims to have information linking Thomas to Playboy magazine, is discussed later in this review.] Mayer and Abramson write:
But the interest in pornography that Thomas first exhibited at Yale apparently continued through the early 1980s, when Long Dong Silver was a well-known figure among fans of X-rated movies. According to Barry Maddox, the proprietor of Graffiti, a video rental and equipment store just off Dupont Circle, a few blocks from the EEOC's headquarters, the store began to rent pornographic videos in 1982. Not long afterward, Maddox recalled, Thomas became a regular customer.
There are several problems with this account, including that the EEOC's headquarters at 18th and L Streets NW, a few blocks south of the Dupont Circle area, did not open until August 1989. Thomas worked at that location for only a matter of months, and during the entire time he was in the middle of a brutal confirmation fight for a seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which he won in March 1990. In the early 1980s, when Maddox claims Thomas was a regular customer, the EEOC's headquarters were at Columbia Plaza at 24th and E Streets NW--nowhere near Dupont Circle or Graffiti.
National Public Radio's Nina Totenberg has punched a far bigger hole in Maddox's account. In response to a question after giving a speech at Stanford University in the spring of 1992, Totenberg said:
Let me take first the primary rumor that I've heard about Justice Thomas. And that is that he was a regular renter of pornographic movies including "Long Dong Silver" movies, and that various news organizations have a list of the movies that he rented from a Washington video store and have suppressed it. As far as I know, this isn't true. There is an individual who called first me and then I think other news organizations telling us that Judge Thomas had rented pornographic videos at a particular store in Washington, that the owner of the store would corroborate that, and that they liked to talk about the details of the movies, and that they had, that the owner of the store, I talked to the owner, he denied remembering renting any particular pornographic videos to Judge Thomas who he did remember as a customer of the store, Thomas with his son, and in addition to that the owner of the store told me, and I corroborated this elsewhere, that the store routinely destroys its computer records of rentals every thirty days. So none exist. So that story evaporated like the morning mist.
I called Totenberg to find out if she had been referring to Barry Maddox of Graffiti in these remarks; she confirmed that she had. She further explained, "I got this tip, I think right after Thomas was confirmed. And I called the guy [Maddox] and he indicated on the phone that he may have rented pornographic videos to Thomas. But when I went into the store to talk to him, he kept changing his story. He denied it. So I didn't have a story. I wouldn't have used it anyway without written records--and as you know Graffiti doesn't keep records--because I thought the guy was scuzzy, not reliable."[4.]
Next, I called Maddox directly, who came to the phone and said simply: "I was misquoted in the book. I'm not talking to reporters. I was misquoted. That's it." He refused to answer other questions, but did confirm that he had been interviewed by Totenberg a few years ago on the subject.
About Frederick Cooke, the only other witness who purportedly could testify about Thomas's interest in pornography after the Yale Law School film society days, the authors report:
It was also in Graffiti that Frederick Douglass Cooke, Jr., a Washington attorney and the former D.C. corporation counsel, saw Thomas at the cashier's counter in the late 1980s with another "freak-of-nature" kind of film. Cooke thought it pretty amusing to run into the chairman of the EEOC, whom he had met once or twice on a social basis, standing with a triple X videotape entitled The Adventures of Bad Mama Jama.
These sentences appear on page 107 of the book, where, though he is not quoted directly, it appears as if Cooke himself has told the authors what he supposedly saw. There is no note indicating otherwise. Not until flipping to a note for page 330, where efforts by Thomas opponents to extract damaging information from Cooke are discussed, do we learn, "Reached on two separate occasions, Cooke would neither confirm nor deny the account."[5.]
In an interview with me, Cooke confirmed that he had been contacted twice by the authors, who had traced the source of the Mama Jama rumor back to him, but that he declined to confirm or deny anything. "They called and I told them just what I'm telling you. I'm not discussing anything with the media. I didn't tell them what you just read to me."
Mayer and Abramson also report that Cooke found the Mama Jama episode "unusual enough to mention . . . to a colleague at work." I asked Cooke if he could tell me who that was. "No, because I don't know what they're talking about," he said.
The authors identify John Payton, Cooke's "liberal Democratic" successor as the D.C. Corporation counsel, as one who was pushing Cooke to contact the Judiciary Committee after Anita Hill's story hit the papers. Payton, they write, "had thought the Mama Jama story funny when he first heard it, not long after the incident occurred." But Payton said in an interview, "No, that's wrong." Payton told me that Cooke had mentioned the story to him in passing a few days before Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1991. "It was just before everyone knew it was going to happen. It was in the cauldron of rumors," Payton said.
Payton hadn't thought anything of it until Anita Hill surfaced. When she did, despite the efforts of Payton and others, Cooke refused to confirm the story, as he has ever since, but it quickly made the rounds of the liberal interest groups trying to defeat the Thomas nomination. Mayer and Abramson describe a conference call involving Christopher Edley, a Democratic activist now in the Clinton Office of Management and Budget; Elaine Jones, the head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; and Cooke. "Cooke still declined to play a public role, as notes taken of this conversation [by Edley] show," they report. But as Mayer and Abramson quote them, the Edley notes do not even establish that Cooke confirmed the substance of the story, only that Cooke declined to say anything. [Edley did not return a telephone call about his notes.]
Though one can't quite determine the sourcing from the text, Payton confirmed to me that he was a source of this information in Strange Justice. One person's second-hand statement is a very thin reed on which to hang any allegation; certainly, neither Payton nor Edley nor Jones can say that Thomas ever rented even one pornographic video, let alone that he was a "habitual" consumer of pornography, as the authors repeatedly claim.
The authors contend that Cooke did not come forward because he would have been jeopardizing his career and entering a political maelstrom for which he had no stomach. How Mayer and Abramson would know this is a mystery, since Cooke wouldn't be interviewed. It's also possible that he didn't come forward because the rumor was wrong. Totenberg told me that she had been aware of the rumor during the Thomas-Hill hearings, but "Cooke wouldn't talk to me, so it wasn't a story." So much for Thomas the pornography addict.
III. The Devil in Clarence Thomas
If there is a discernible theme in Strange Justice, it is that Thomas and his associates, supporters, and friends are a collection of liars, cranks, crooks, and lunatics. The portraits are so relentlessly negative that even a reader who wishes to think the worst of Thomas is likely to regard them as crude caricatures. His dedication to the Dallas Cowboys [a rival of his hometown football team, the Washington Redskins] is described as "perverse." And Thomas is seen as "suspicious of romance" because at one point he enjoyed listening to a popular Whitney Houston song, "The Greatest Love of All," whose theme, we are told, is "self-love." Thomas just can't do anything right: When he helps set up Anita Hill's stereo, a friend of Hill's is found to proclaim that Thomas did a "lousy" job.
Cheap shots aside, the assault on Thomas's veracity is a key element of the book. This is only natural--everyone writing on the subject acknowledges that since there are no eyewitnesses to support Anita Hill's story, the Thomas-Hill case basically comes down to a contest over who was the more credible witness. What is unusual is the slipshod way the authors try to establish inconsistencies on Thomas's part. The reporting, is thin, inaccurate, and--in at least two cases--contains what Mayer and Abramson's own sources say are fabricated quotes. In the few other places where the sources can be identified, they turn out to be at best acquaintances of Thomas who don't like him or former employees who were fired by him.
The authors certainly aren't the first to try to find someone who would contradict Thomas's sworn claim to have never discussed the contents of the Roe v. Wade decision with anyone. Despite the fact that no one ever has, Democratic senators like Patrick Leahy continue to insist publicly that Thomas lied to the committee about Roe. In the category of the dog that didn't bark, the authors appear to settle this question once and for all by conceding that "no one recalled his expressing any opinion on the subject of Roe."
But they do claim to have caught Thomas in smaller lies. The authors write, "Although Thomas later praised his grandfather fondly, acquaintances said that in his early years he sometimes complained of the tough treatment at home"--as if the two statements were mutually exclusive! The authors also attempt to show that Thomas lied about growing up poor; they come up with a former neighbor who is quoted as saying that Thomas and his younger brother "always had pocket money."
Mayer and Abramson report that Thomas once told the story of how he had lectured his grandparents so persuasively in 1982, the year before they both died, that the lifelong Democrats finally voted Republican. The smoking gun here is a record from the registrar of voters in Hinesville, Georgia, showing that Thomas's grandfather, Myers Anderson, voted in the Democratic primaries in 1982. Left unconsidered is the distinct possibility that the conversation between Thomas and his father took place after the primaries and before the general election.
Mayer and Abramson acknowledge that the EEOC was in a state of managerial chaos when Thomas inherited it from Eleanor Holmes Norton. While they credit Thomas at one point with making the agency "more efficient," they later describe his managerial style as "authoritarian." Then Mayer and Abramson really get carried away, describing the Thomas regime as "one of Prussian order during which impropriety of any sort, sexual or otherwise, was simply not tolerated." How that statement squares with Anita Hill's story is anybody's guess.
This isn't the only place where the authors lose track of their argument and try to have it both ways. To show that Thomas was "ungrateful" to Senator Danforth for hiring him to work in the Missouri attorney general's office, a Thomas friend is quoted as saying, "he never wanted to be part of government, in fact he resented it." This was in 1974. Yet a few pages later, it is alleged that as early as 1981 Thomas was plotting to get a lifetime government job in the federal judiciary.
Thomas is characterized as so "aloof" that "while other lawyers in the firm [where Thomas once worked as a summer associate] used a form book to file motions--a universally accepted shortcut--Thomas insisted on writing every word of each motion himself." His performance in various posts is judged to be "admirable," and he is even referred to as "an achiever to the core." In other parts of the book, though, Thomas is seen as floundering and out of his depth, a lazy creature of right-wing speech-writers, fellow judges, and law clerks who never did his own thinking.
When Thomas is eventually nominated to the high court, Vernon Jordan advises Thomas to spend every waking hour studying Supreme Court cases as if he were preparing for the bar before his confirmation hearings. The authors duly applaud Jordan for this sage advice. Yet when Thomas follows the advice, Mayer and Abramson make fun of him for being so unqualified that he had to prepare.
The effort to describe Thomas's relation to the conservative movement is also confused and contradictory. Throughout the book the authors often slip into passive voice, perhaps to conceal their own ignorance of why an event occurred [if it occurred at all]. "But from 1985 on, Thomas's public stands were almost uniformly synchronized with those of the most conservative elements in the Justice Department," they report. Did Thomas change? Did the Justice Department conservatives coerce him? There is no support for dating any supposed shift in 1985.
In some sections of the book, Thomas is portrayed as a wanna-be operating on the periphery of the conservative movement while desperately doing anything necessary to pander to it. In 1988, we learn, "no one in the conservative community knew Clarence Thomas." The evidence for this? That year, at a dinner sponsored by the Council of One Hundred, a group of prominent black Republicans, Thomas didn't have a good seat.
In a particularly low blow, it is seriously suggested that Thomas married his second wife Ginni Lamp in 1987 for her "stronger Republican credentials." Yet within a page or two, the authors report that both Gary Bauer, President Reagan's domestic policy adviser, and conservative kingmaker William Kristol were big admirers of Clarence Thomas "from the time they first met during the Reagan administration." In 1986, they note, the supposedly invisible Thomas was asked to participate in Bauer's high-profile "report on the state of the American family."
Then there's the authors' confused account of a dinner conversation in the summer of 1988 between the conservative Free Congress Foundation's Patrick McGuigan, an influential voice in judicial selection during the Reagan years, and Thomas. Undercutting their own contention that Thomas was unknown on the right, they reveal that McGuigan was already a "huge fan" of Thomas's. Yet they are wrong that McGuigan "had never met" Thomas before the dinner. According to McGuigan, he first met Thomas in 1981 and saw him face-to-face several times before 1988.
More troubling is the distortion contained in the following passage:
Whatever else the two talked about that night remains private, but it seemed clear from the enthusiasm McGuigan demonstrated regarding Thomas's candidacy for the court that no disagreements arose about McGuigan's on-going crusades: the outlawing of abortion, the abolition of affirmative action, and the restoration of what he considered "family values"--including a war on pornography.
Clear to whom? Only to Mayer and Abramson: McGuigan told me that he discussed none of those issues with Thomas that evening--or ever--and that Mayer never asked him if he had. This dinner came shortly after the notion of a court appointment for Thomas had been mentioned for the first time by the Reagan Justice Department following Judge Bork's resignation from the circuit court. Thomas's name was only one of several mentioned, and he was not seriously considered by Reagan. Like Timothy Phelps before them, Mayer and Abramson claim that Thomas had been scheming to get on the Supreme Court since 1981, when he first joined the Reagan administration in the relatively low-profile job of assistant secretary of education for civil rights.
The claim is supported only by a couple of offhand comments attributed to Thomas by a couple of individuals who appear not to have known him well, to the effect that he was seeking to someday replace Thurgood Marshall. The same sources pop up to disparage Thomas on other grounds elsewhere in the book.
One of them is Kaye Savage. Another is Michael Middleton, who worked with Thomas at both the education department and the EEOC. Middleton, who was eventually dismissed by Thomas, surfaces later with a story about pubic hair. Early on he is quoted as saying: "The first day I met him [Thomas] in 1981, he told me he was going to be on the Supreme Court. . . . He'd point out that Marshall wouldn't last forever, and that he [Thomas] was the highest-ranking black lawyer in government." At least part of this recollection is almost certainly fake. It seems inconceivable that Thomas would have referred to himself as the highest-ranking black lawyer in government. That title belonged to Samuel Pierce, the secretary of housing and urban development, whose name surfaced well before Thomas's on lists of potential Supreme Court nominees.
The idea that Thomas was campaigning for a court seat is inconsistent with Thomas's pattern of behavior throughout the decade. Particularly notable are the vigorous and widely publicized policy battles that Thomas as EEOC chairman waged with the very Reagan administration conservatives--William Bradford Reynolds and Kenneth Cribb--who were doing the judge-picking. Mayer and Abramson take note of these disputes, but fail to draw the logical conclusions.
I have spoken to dozens of Thomas's friends and colleagues over the past few years--not one of whom believes that he wanted to be a judge before the subject was first broached with him in the late 1980s, let alone that he launched "an aggressive, canny" campaign to get on the court, as the authors have it. Richard Leon, a Washington lawyer and Holy Cross classmate of Thomas's with whom he had many discussions about career moves during the 1980s, called the suggestion that he positioned himself for a court appointment "sickeningly ridiculous." Clifford Faddis, a St. Louis lawyer and close friend of Thomas's for twenty years, said: "This is the kind of stuff we talked about all the time. He never wanted to be a judge until the appeals court was offered in 1989."
Michael Uhlmann, a Washington lawyer who directed the Justice Department's transition team for President-elect Bush, met privately three or four times with Thomas after the November 1988 election to discuss various jobs in the Bush administration. "I first called him about the deputy's job at Justice under [Richard] Thornburgh and he was interested. I ran it by Thornburgh, but I think he had basically already decided he wanted [Robert] Fiske," Uhlmann recalled.
"Then I tried to sell Clarence on a deputy slot in one of the other departments, like Transportation. It would be a move into a commercial area, and I think he would have been interested in that, but [Sam] Skinner had his own deputy in mind, too.
"It was clear to me that Clarence wanted to serve," Uhlmann recalled, "but it was also clear that he had not given much thought to any particular job. It wasn't until well into the conversation that I brought up the circuit [court]. If he was scheming to get on the court, he was so clever that no one else knew about it."
Judge Laurence Silberman, a close friend who served with Thomas on the D.C. circuit, corroborates Uhlmann's recollection. "At some point, Uhlmann mentioned the appeals court [to Thomas]," Silberman told me. "[Thomas] called me and told me that that wasn't what he had in mind at all. I had to persuade him that being a judge is a wonderful life, that the contemplative, academic side of it could be quite rewarding. I had to use considerable persuasion."
Neither Leon, Faddis, Uhlmann, nor Silberman was interviewed for the book. Moreover, Bush White House counsel C. Boyden Gray and his deputy Lee Liberman weren't asked by the authors about any supposed campaign for the appeals court. Since Gray and Liberman were the most influential voices in judicial selection, they certainly would have seen evidence of it [phone calls and the like], and they say they didn't. "It's nuts," Gray told me. "Mike was the first to bring it up and my response was he would be brilliant but would he take it? And we didn't know."
The authors address Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court in a chapter called "The Deal." They allege that conservative dissatisfaction with the choice of David Souter for the high court led the Bush White House to promise the Free Congress Foundation that it could dictate the next pick. "The Deal" was supposedly struck between White House chief of staff John Sununu, Souter's patron, and Tom Jipping, who had succeeded Patrick McGuigan as the director of Free Congress's judicial project.
The notes indicate that Sununu declined to be interviewed. Jipping told me he was available to be interviewed, but the authors never asked. "Jill called me to verify a quote that she said was in Tim Phelps's book. She read me one thing and said, 'Is it true?'"
The notes say that "correspondence between Jipping and Sununu confirms Jipping's account." Jipping's "account," however, was lifted by Abramson from Phelps, and she does not even credit it. Turning back to the text, the only cited correspondence is two memos from Jipping to Sununu; since there is no correspondence from Sununu, the word "between" is misleading. The only evidence for the "deal" consists in a one-sided conversation. In the ways of Washington, the Jipping memos were likely written in a self-serving manner, designed to foster just the impression that Mayer and Abramson have drawn: That he is more powerful than he is.
Most importantly, Mayer and Abramson ignore a crucial fact that undermines their notion of any "deal." On the day that Thurgood Marshall resigned, they report, "Sununu was on the phone to Jipping, asking for his advice on a replacement. That same evening, Jipping faxed back a detailed reply. . . . Jipping's candidate was a forty-three-year-old appeals court judge named Clarence Thomas." Yet Thomas had emerged as the frontrunner within an hour of Marshall's resignation late that morning. By 4:30 p.m.--hours before the Jipping fax arrived at the White House--Thomas was already meeting with Boyden Gray and Richard Thornburgh, firming up his place on the inside track. Sununu, it turns out, was not calling for Jipping's suggestions on a replacement for Marshall, but rather to build support in the conservative movement for a Thomas nomination. "Sununu was not in a position to deliver any deal," Gray said. "He wasn't very involved in the decision."
Much of the reporting on Thomas is anonymously sourced. In the rare instance when one of these anecdotes is actually sourced to a named person so that it can be double-checked, the material doesn't hold up:
At Yale he talked bitterly about the "light-skinned elite" blacks who he thought had it easier than the darker ones. His closest friends at Yale, such as Harry Singleton and Frank Washington, recalled how the three of them would spend hours around Singleton's kitchen table discussing the advantages that lighter, better-connected blacks in the school enjoyed."
The notes indicate "interview with Singleton" for this passage. Singleton, however, told me, "Frank and I were among the lightest-skinned blacks there. That is complete nonsense. No such conversations ever took place like that with me. . . . I don't recall Abramson asking about it, but I have a very clear memory of her sitting here trying to force words into my mouth about how Clarence supposedly only liked light-skinned women." Though the authors didn't interview Washington, he told me that the conversation described above never happened. As a way of explaining away the fact that scores of Thomas's friends and co-workers have sworn that they have never seen Thomas exhibit anything remotely like the qualities ascribed to him by Anita Hill, the authors posit a race-based theory: Thomas is a Jekyll-Hyde character who acts one way among whites and another among blacks, and then acts one way among light-skinned blacks and another among dark-skinned blacks. "Interestingly, all the people who recalled this [crude] side of Thomas are black," they report.[6.]
Judith Winston, a former Department of Education colleague of Thomas's who later worked for the Women's Legal Defense Fund, which strongly opposed the Thomas nomination [we do not learn this when she is first introduced], is presented as the only identified source who supposedly "confirms" that Thomas used foul language in front of blacks, not whites. Yet it is evident from the quote that Winston doesn't confirm this at all; she simply says, "He was more relaxed around blacks, as most of us are."
It is a fair presumption that Winston never saw Thomas say or do anything untoward: Though the authors conveniently overlook the fact, Winston was one of two women contacted by former Senator Howard Metzenbaum's staff when Hill's charge first reached them. Seeking corroboration of Hill's allegations, the staff learned from Winston that she had no reason to believe the charge was true, according to the report of Senate investigator Peter Fleming released in the spring of 1992. [Winston did not return a call seeking comment.]
Before her sexual allegations are disclosed, Angela Wright is introduced to say that she was disturbed when she saw Thomas attacking black recipients of welfare in front of "white conservatives." Later in the book Wright is trotted out again to observe, "He has more respect for light-skinned women. It's racist, but I think he definitely treats white differently than black, and among black women I have seen a real difference depending on skin color." The authors continue: "Wright pointed out that both she and Hill are dark, while most whom Thomas promoted and who testified on his behalf during the hearings were light, Hispanic or white."
Surely Mayer and Abramson know better. Thomas has been as critical of black welfare dependency in speeches before black audiences and in interviews with black-oriented publications as he has with predominantly white audiences. He has dated [and married] white women and black women, light-skinned and dark-skinned blacks. There were men and women, black and white, light-skinned and dark-skinned black men and black women, who supported and testified for Thomas. And there were dark-skinned blacks who said under oath that the Thomas they knew was incapable of speaking lewdly.
The authors inject their racial attitudes into the story through elaborate descriptions of Thomas's physical attributes and their purported effect on his personality--"big lips, nappy hair . . . if he were any blacker, he'd be blue. . . . [Thomas] felt inferior and wasn't attractive to women." The middle-class family of Thomas's first wife, according to an unidentified friend, "must have seemed to Thomas like a black version of Leave It To Beaver." [This last dig, of course, undercuts the earlier attempt to show that Thomas didn't really grow up poor.]
Race even creeps into the authors' analysis of Thomas's record on the Supreme Court. The suggestion that Thomas is not living up to a supposed commitment that "as a black man he would bring empathy to the high court" is not only a racist and non-legal critique but wrong as a factual matter. Thomas has confronted the ill-effects of left-wing judicial activism on his race--apparently not the kind of "empathy" Mayer and Abramson think fitting for a black justice. In United States v. Fordice, the court ruled that a state that had previously sponsored de jure segregation in its colleges did not satisfy its constitutional obligations by merely adopting racially neutral policies. In a separate concurrence, Thomas wrote that while eliminating discrimination in colleges is desirable, the court should be careful not to destroy historically black colleges in the process. In, an 8-1 case with Thomas dissenting, the justice wrote that a state should not be constitutionally barred from introducing as evidence at the capital sentencing of a defendant the fact that the defendant belonged to a racist prison gang known as the Aryan Brotherhood. And in Holder v. Hall, a powerful Thomas concurrence warned that racial gerrymanders has resulted in "racial 'balkanization'"--and the stereotyping of blacks.
The authors also insinuate throughout the book that Thomas is less than highly intelligent. We are told that Thomas is "not especially gifted," though no evidence is offered for the assertion. Thomas is said to have an unusual "reliance" on his fellow circuit judge Laurence Silberman, but the authors don't say what that means or how they know it.
They also seem automatically and patronizingly to conclude that because two justices agree with each other and one of them is black, ipso facto the black must be the one who is following. "[Thomas] frequently seemed content to let [Justice Antonin] Scalia write his dissenting opinions, to which he merely added his consent," they report. They revel in the statistic that Justices Scalia and Thomas vote together 85 percent of the time. The authors don't seem to realize that the overwhelming majority of non-unanimous cases involve only one dissenting opinion, usually from the most senior justice. Nor do they seem aware that Justices David Souter and Harry Blackmun voted together 81 percent of the time last term, and in their last six years together on the court, Justices William Brennan and Marshall ranged from a high of 100 percent agreement in 1984 to a low of 91 percent agreement in 1985. Some of the important opinions where Thomas wrote and Scalia joined him include Holder; Hudson v. McMillian; Foucha v. Louisiana; and Evans v. United States.
But to return to Mayer and Abramson's concern: If the subject of race is worth raising at all, it would be to show the reverse of what the authors contend: in the black community, lighter-skinned, better-educated, liberal, higher-income blacks were more apt to oppose Thomas; he drew his strongest support from darker-skinned, less privileged black men and women. During the Hill hearings, polls showed the clear majority of all blacks believed Thomas, not Hill.
Mayer and Abramson's final run at Thomas is an effort to show that none of his associates is reliable. They all take their lumps, beginning with his wife. Ginni Thomas is depicted as a psychotic: a sunny, trusting, sweetly naive, invariably warm and cheerful woman who spends her time taking homeless strangers to lunch and attending a church that was a "center of anti-abortion political activity." The church, as the authors see it, filled an emotional void opened when Ginni Thomas withdrew from Lifespring, depicted as a brain-washing assertiveness training group based on the use of ridicule and embarrassment to which she had lost "her balance."
Phyllis Berry-Myers, one of the supposedly non-existent dark-skinned black women who testified on Thomas's behalf in the hearings, allegedly stood on toilets in EEOC bathrooms eavesdropping for Thomas and "conducted animated conversation with herself over tea set for two." Not surprisingly, these charges are attributed to an unnamed "former colleague" of Berry-Myers. Berry-Myers told me that while she was interviewed by Abramson [who said she was writing an article for the Journal and never mentioned a book], she was never asked about these derogatory stories. "I've never stood on a toilet in my life, and if I had, who would know?" Berry-Myers said. "And I don't even drink tea."
Another witness for Thomas, Charles Kothe, the former dean of Oral Roberts University law school, is dismissed by anonymous sources as "something of an eccentric, a kind of elderly problem case who had to be kept busy and out of the way." Mayer did interview Kothe, who was so disturbed by the encounter that he wrote her a letter the following day. "My misgiving arose from your style and what appeared to be your mission. Your misquotation of what I said in several instances when you repeated my response . . . gave me serious concern."
Jeffrey Zuckerman is introduced as "a white lawyer and White House ally" who became Thomas's chief of staff in 1984. He is skewered for supposedly advancing the view that the Equal Pay Act "actually hurt blacks because it deprived them of jobs that employers would be willing to give them if they could be paid less than whites." Zuckerman told me that the argument was about the act's impact on women and men, not blacks and whites. "The Equal Pay Act has nothing to do with whites and blacks. On its face, that's a false statement. It's an impossible statement."
It is also reported that Zuckerman and Thomas made a habit of roaming the halls of the EEOC together as Zuckerman chanted, "Heads are gonna roll."
Zuckerman says: "I rarely walked the halls of the EEOC, and certainly not with Thomas. Thomas sometimes walked the halls to develop relationships with the professional staff who were trying to undo everything he was trying to do. He didn't take me with him. I was controversial and I would have been a liability. I defy a single person to come forward and say publicly that I ever said or did any such thing as Mayer and Abramson describe." The authors did not bother approaching Zuckerman for an interview, he says. And as it happens, no one has in fact publicly accused him of anything: the anecdote is simply not sourced at all.
A Thomas speechwriter at the EEOC, Ken Masugi, is introduced as having been a "law professor at the University of California at Irvine" before he joined the staff in 1986. But Masugi was a political science professor, not a law professor, and he taught one course at UCI in the fall of 1982, several years before meeting Thomas. UCI doesn't even have a law school. Masugi is described as a "follower of the arcane conservative legal thinker Harry Jaffa, a professor at Claremont College" [actually Claremont-McKenna]. Jaffa's first major book on constitutional law wasn't published until 1994--it consists largely of attacks on the conservative legal views of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Judge Robert Bork, and Edwin Meese.
Mayer and Abramson further assert that Masugi and Jaffa are among the "cult-like followers of the German philosopher Leo Strauss." What sort of "cult" is this? Leo Strauss was an American, a Jew born in Germany, in 1899, who went on to teach generations of political philosophy students at the New School for Social Research in New York and the University of Chicago, among other institutions.
Those who supported and handled Thomas's Supreme Court nomination are not spared this skewed treatment, either. The authors view "the right" as a monolithic, unthinking entity--a bunch of flying monkeys ready to be summoned at will by the Wicked Witch of the West. The Landmark Legal Foundation is described as "a legal group allied with the New Right leader Paul Weyrich." Clint Bolick, then the institute's director, told me, "We had no connection with Weyrich, but merely worked independently toward the same goal."
The authors report [not for the first time; Tim Phelps broke the story] that Bolick privately discussed with a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, Arch Parsons, who was friendly with NAACP executive director Ben Hooks, what position Hooks might take on the Thomas nomination. "According to Bolick, Parsons offered to suspend any pretensions to Journalistic objectivity and serve as an intermediary for Thomas between the White House and Hooks," the authors report. Bolick, who was interviewed for the book, told me, "Good grief. I never said that about Arch Parsons."
The authors rely heavily on the contention that White House efforts to win support for Thomas had an aura of illegality because the federal anti-lobbying act prohibits executive branch officials from encouraging members of the public to lobby Congress about certain matters. The authors theorize that the White House efforts were organized to skirt this law, but that in some instances they ran afoul of it. They draw an analogy between the pro-Thomas efforts and the Reagan administration's efforts on behalf of the contras, which were widely believed to violate another federal law, the Boland Amendment.
The problem with the authors' theory is that it is perfectly clear that the anti-lobbying act does not apply to nominations. By its terms, it covers only legislation and appropriations. Walter Dellinger, head of the Clinton Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, agrees with this interpretation, echoing a formal Justice Department opinion given two years before Thomas's nomination.
Ethics laws can be complicated, but this one isn't, and the authors' misrepresentation hardly appears an innocent mistake. In an unmarked note 170 pages after their accusations of illegality, the authors acknowledge that the White House effort "may have been legal." Citing the text of the act, they note the obvious fact that "a nomination isn't legislation or an appropriation." They also note that lawyers from the White House counsel's office told them that the act did not cover nominations, and they offer no contrary legal opinion from anyone. Their only named source for an interpretation of any aspect of the anti-lobbying law is David Demarest, a former White House official who is not a lawyer, whose job was public relations, and whose statements as quoted do not go to the question of whether the law applies to nominations, even though they are couched by the authors to appear to do so.
Finally, Mayer and Abramson report that former Reagan chief of staff Kenneth Duberstein, who was retained by the Bush White House as an outside political strategist, divulged the fact that Thomas's sister had once had an abortion to foster the impression that Thomas supported abortion rights. Leafing to the back of the book, we learn:
In a completely off-the-record conversation--which meant that the information was barred from ever getting into print--he [Duberstein] hinted at Thomas's open-mindedness concerning his sister to The New York Times, evidently in the hopes of softening the influential liberal paper's coverage of the nominee.
If the information was barred from ever getting into print, how did it get into print? "When Jane asked me about it, I told her first of all that I don't remember the interview," Duberstein told me. "Then I said, 'If it was off-the-record, how would you know about it anyway?' And she said 'I was dating the reporter.' At that point I terminated the interview. She's using material from an off-the-record interview from a paper where neither of them [Mayer or Abramson] had worked. It just showed me these two can't be trusted."
IV. St. Anita and Acolytes
"If there was ever a perfect person, it was Faye," one source confides to Mayer and Abramson about Anita Faye Hill. Once one gets beyond this kind of media boilerplate, the sections of the book dealing with Hill turn out to be surprisingly informative--though there is no sign that the authors comprehend the implications of what they've dug up. The new material redounds to the detriment of Hill's case against Thomas.
Or perhaps they really just don't get it: Readers familiar with the record of the hearings, as well as my book, will recall that at every point at which Hill's sworn testimony touches the real world, her veracity has been impugned or contradicted by the accounts of independent witnesses or publicly available records. Thus, the authors find themselves in the unenviable position of having to argue that everyone but Anita Hill is a liar. In dealing with Hill's testimony and her witnesses--the substance of the case--Mayer and Abramson leave the impression that they are simply not conversant enough with the record of the hearing to write intelligently about it.
The authors' argument, in essence, is that Hill's case was stronger than it appeared to be during the hearings. Hill supplies new explanations for some of the more troubling aspects of her Senate testimony. But in so doing, she raises new questions about her own veracity and credibility. Hill's witnesses are re-interviewed with an eye toward shoring up some of the weak spots in their testimony, but they end up in deeper holes. And we meet a few new "corroborators" for Hill who don't corroborate. One of them, in fact, turns out to be another smoking gun who proves indisputably that Anita Hill is a liar.
Mayer and Abramson dismiss out of hand any inconsistencies, contradictions, and falsehoods in Hill's testimony: "Questions can be raised, and were during the hearings, about the accuracy of her memory, the precision of her language, and even the clarity of her judgment about herself and others. But by all accounts, Hill had been scrupulous about being truthful all her life."
By all accounts? What about Clarence Thomas's sworn testimony? What about Harry Singleton, who replaced Thomas as the assistant secretary of education in 1982, and who has said publicly that Anita Hill lied when she testified that she followed Thomas from Education to the EEOC because she feared for her job and that she did not know who Thomas's replacement was going to be? Singleton says he specifically asked Hill to stay on as his attorney-adviser and Hill turned him down to go with Thomas.
The authors deal with this key discrepancy not by trying to find others who may have known about the Singleton offer [or, alternatively, by attacking Singleton's credibility] but taking Anita Hill's word at face value [as much of the media did during the hearings]. They seem to have little idea of how to go about proving their own case. We're just supposed to accept it on faith.
In the interview she gave the authors, we discover that "Hill said she recalled no such discussion with Singleton." Interestingly, however, the implication here is that Hill has backed off her sworn claim not to have even known Singleton. [Since publishing my book, I have found a corroborator for Singleton's version of the story: Patricia Healy, who worked as his deputy at the time.]
Among the other purported liars in this book are then_Judiciary Committee chairman Senator Joseph Biden and his senior staffers [Harriet Grant told special counsel Fleming that Hill wanted to make the charge without letting the nominee know her name; Hill, the authors write, "would dispute this assessment"]; the two FBI agents who said in sworn affidavits that Hill had been asked for all of the details of her allegations during the initial interview [the affidavits were filed after Hill said under oath that she hadn't been asked for all the details]; and John Burke, the liberal Democratic lawyer who filed an affidavit directly contradicting Hill's sworn claim that she had never been asked by anyone to leave the Wald, Harkrader & Ross law firm.
The authors' handling of the Burke controversy is a good example of their inability to rebut certain testimony impeaching Anita Hill's credibility. The issue is whether Burke, for whatever reason, counseled Hill that it would be in her best interest to leave the firm. Burke had described the conversation as a private one-on-one review.
In an effort to refute Burke, other Wald partners, one of whom coached Anita Hill in her testimony against Thomas [though the authors don't mention this], are quoted as saying they had no knowledge of Burke or anyone else asking Hill to leave the firm. Someone who worked in Burke's department is quoted as saying that he didn't recall Burke's ever having complained about Hill. Another partner says, "If Anita was having trouble, I probably would have known it." None of this conjecture, needless to say, "directly contradicts Burke," as the authors claim. Mayer and Abramson then go on to seriously suggest--with the racist tinge to which we have now grown accustomed--that Burke had Hill confused with another black associate. Burke, who wasn't interviewed by the authors, has strongly denied this to me and many other reporters.[7.]
The authors also expend much energy arguing that Hill's performance was not quite poor enough to have caused her to have been formally dismissed by the firm. But Burke never said she was dismissed by the firm, only that he advised her privately to seek work elsewhere because her opportunities for advancement looked poor.
Hill's personnel records--which the Senate Republicans had sought unsuccessfully to subpoena during the hearing, after Hill said no one had asked her to leave the firm and Burke swore otherwise--are described by the authors. To anyone familiar with law firm evaluations, Hill's reviews were pretty terrible. According to Mayer and Abramson, the Wald records show Hill was making "satisfactory but not outstanding progress. . . [T]here were more than a few criticisms. One partner complained that she was prone to disappear into the library and had left work altogether during one emergency assignment. . . . Her recorded billable hours--which law firms use as a measure of productivity--were among the lowest of all the associates." When the partners met for her first review, she was told that her work was "generally adequate" but "uneven."
It is now clear why the Democrats fought and voted down the subpoena: The records end up supporting, not hurting, Burke's credibility. The Democrats' suppression of these records is actually more of a cover-up than I had known until recently, when I learned that Burke had first contacted Senators Ted Kennedy and Howard Metzenbaum about Hill's statement before he approached Senator Danforth and swore out his affidavit. Kennedy used the tip not to investigate, but to engineer a party-line vote to shut down Republican efforts to get to the truth of the matter.
The authors' reporting on Hill's politics is also telling. At the time of the hearings, Hill was widely portrayed in the press [notably in The New York Times and Time] as a Bork-supporting Reagan Republican who couldn't possibly have had an ideological motive to derail the Thomas nomination. This was baloney, as every reporter who has looked into the matter subsequently has concluded, and as Hill herself has conceded in several interviews since the hearings.
At some points in the book, the authors seem intent on sticking to the old mythology:
That Friday, [Sen. Hank] Brown did succeed in posing a general question about whether there were areas of serious philosophical disagreement between the two of them when Hill worked for Thomas. When she responded that they had disagreed on certain issues and had discussed them, Brown interjected, "Would that be the case with regard to say, abortion, or Roe v. Wade?" The Caucus Room was utterly silent as Hill leaned forward to answer; then she paused and looked quizzically at Biden. The hearings, he had said repeatedly, were to stay within the narrow scope of Thomas's alleged sexual harassment, and the abortion question was clearly outside this boundary. Biden ruled the question out of order, but the inference that some disagreement had occurred between them was left hanging in the air.
There was more than an "inference" in the room. Mayer and Abramson have left out Hill's answer to Brown's question:
HILL: That I am not sure of his philosophies?
BROWN: Sure of his philosophy or do you perceive a significant difference between the two of you in that area?
It was at this point--after Hill had admitted to a philosophic difference--that Chairman Biden intervened and ruled the line of questioning out of order.
Mayer and Abramson can't seem to conceive of any issue other than abortion that could possibly provide sufficient motive for Hill. Thus they go on to concede that there were other political differences between the two, but portray them as insignificant. They confirm that Hill is a registered Democrat, a committed civil rights activist, and the chief faculty sponsor of a "hate speech" resolution at the University of Oklahoma [not Oklahoma State University, as the index wrongly indicates]. They further report:
Besides her troubling memories of Thomas's upsetting and perhaps unlawful behavior, she had reservations about the nomination for philosophical reasons. After she left the EEOC, Hill had watched Thomas harden from the independent thinker she had known into a man she regarded as a doctrinaire ideologue. When she was working for him, they had often argued about issues such as affirmative action, but Hill thought Thomas's mind was still receptive to other points of view. In the later Reagan years, she felt Thomas had ceased to have the open mind required of a judge.
It is now quite evident why Anita Hill has avoided for three years doing precisely the kind of interview she has done with Mayer and Abramson, commenting on the facts of the case. Though the interview was done under carefully controlled circumstances--lawyers for Hill were present, and she reserved the right to pre-screen the questions as well as review her quotations before publication--she wasn't quite careful enough to avoid shedding light on her motives. Worse still, some of her new statements can be proved false.
For instance, Hill offers a completely new explanation of why she followed Thomas from Education to the EEOC while she was allegedly being harassed. In her testimony, Hill stated that she had feared for her job, a claim later contradicted by Singleton. She now maintains that she followed Thomas because:
According to Hill and others, his relationship with [Lillian] McEwen was an on-and-off again affair that, at least when it began, in the spring of 1982, allowed Hill to feel "relief and hope" [that the harassment had ended].
Note that this is sourced from Hill and unidentified "others." Yet only one "other" is identified in the notes: Sukari Hardnett, who surfaces later to accuse Thomas of having been interested in her. Hardnett wasn't even working at the agency in the spring of 1982.
Why did Hill never previously mention that Thomas was dating another woman if that is what allowed her to believe she could safely follow him from one job to another? Perhaps because Hill is now seeking to counter inconvenient information divulged long after the hearings were over. For example, two sources in my book were quoted as saying that Thomas would not have asked Hill for dates because he was in a serious relationship with McEwen during the entire time that Hill worked for Thomas. Hence this twisted "on-again, off-again" story.
Harry Singleton, for one, confirmed to me in a recent interview that Thomas was involved with McEwen, then an aide to Senator Biden, before Hill went to work for him in September 1981--not 1982. Thomas, in fact, had already met McEwen by the time his marriage finally dissolved in August 1981. "The relationship was very serious from the time it began," he said. "Then it ended a few years later [in August 1985]. There was absolutely no on-and-off quality to it. We talked about this kind of stuff all the time, and I would have known about rocky periods. There weren't any." Other friends of Thomas and McEwen with first-hand knowledge of this history, including Barbara Lawrence, a former Biden staffer, and Carlton Stewart, corroborate Singleton's recollection and strongly dispute Hill's unsubstantiated suggestion.
The authors also appear to be attempting to strengthen the recollections of Hill's panel of witnesses long after they gave what was presented by Hill's lawyers as corroborating testimony in the Senate hearing. Most notable is the opportunity given Susan Hoerchner, the California workmen's compensation claims mediator who was given the honorific title of "judge" throughout the hearing, to correct the record on when she supposedly received a telephone call from Hill complaining about Thomas's harassing behavior. Hill testified that the behavior began three months or so after she first went to work for Thomas at the Education Department in September 1981.
Both in her interview with Senate Judiciary Committee staff and later in her testimony, Hoerchner said that she was unsure of the date of the conversation with Hill. Her best guess was that the call had occurred in the spring of 1981. This memory lapse is perfectly understandable, given that the call had allegedly taken place some ten years ago.
But in her interview with the Senate staff, Hoerchner was sure about one thing: She was living in Washington at the time the two had spoken. Hoerchner further stated that she had left Washington for California in September 1981, and at that point had no further contact with Hill until a chance meeting in 1984. Thus her testimony can't possibly corroborate Hill's account of harassment by Thomas.
In my book, I suggest that Hill had perhaps complained to Hoerchner not about Thomas but about a boss at Wald, Harkrader, where she was working during the time that Hill and Hoerchner were speaking regularly on the phone in Washington. Two sources had told me that when Hill joined Thomas at Education, she told co-workers she had left Wald because she'd been sexually harassed.
Mayer and Abramson try to confront the Hoerchner problem, but they don't seem to understand what the problem is. They therefore miss the target. On page 97, they report:
[Hoerchner] acknowledged that her recollection, particularly when it came to the timing of events, was hazy, but she said she distinctly remembered that at some point after Hill began working for Thomas, she had asked Hill in one of their many phone conversations how things were going.
That this is merely a clumsy patching job, however, is exposed in the prior paragraph, where we find this sentence: "As Thomas's behavior caused her increasing distress, Hill confided in one of her closest friends from law school, Susan Hoerchner, who was also working for the government in Washington." The fact that Hoerchner was working in Washington at the time of Hill's complaint, now reconfirmed by Hoerchner herself, is precisely the reason that her original testimony has been discredited. To repeat: Hill at that time wasn't working for Thomas, so how could he have been the one she told Hoerchner about?
Regarding another important discrepancy, the authors report from their interview with Anita Hill a new variation on her purported complaint to Hoerchner. "Hill later explained that she had hoped Hoerchner might have some ideas on how she could get Thomas to stop," they write. "Hoerchner confirmed this early discussion to congressional investigators, to the FBI, and in her testimony."
But Hoerchner did no such thing. Hoerchner stated just the opposite in her sworn testimony:
BIDEN: Did you advise her to take any action?
HOERCHNER: She did not ask for advice.
BIDEN: Did you say, you should complain? Did you give her any advice?
HOERCHNER: She did not ask for advice, and I did not give her advice.
Either Hill or Hoerchner is wrong about this, and the entire point is lost on Mayer and Abramson.
As with Hoerchner, the authors simply make matters worse for Anita Hill in writing about her other witnesses. For example, we learn for the first time that the witness John Carr--the New York corporate lawyer who was unable to state under oath that Hill had named Thomas as her victimizer in 1983, only that she had referred to an unnamed supervisor[8.]--had an ideological motive in concluding a decade later that Hill has been referring to Thomas all along.
Reporting on their interview with Carr, Mayer and Abramson write: "He remembered that rather than thinking less of Hill, he decided that this proved he had been right all along about how strange Thomas was. Apparently Carr had enjoyed teasing Hill about Thomas's contrary ways; it was odd, he believed, for a black man to be so conservative, Republican, and outspoken against traditional civil rights remedies."
The sections on the witness Joel Paul, the American University law professor, further underscores the sheer idiocy of what is passed off as serious reporting in this book. Paul, who is gay, apparently harbored fears about being "outed" by the Republicans during the hearings. Here is how our credulous reporters describe the moment:
Soon Paul had even more reason to worry. A friend of his lawyer's who was close to Republicans on the Judiciary Committee called with a warning. He said the Republicans behind the campaign to confirm Thomas had compiled briefing books, which he described as being two inches thick, filled with detailed information on the backgrounds of Hill's potential witnesses, including Joel Paul.
The notes indicate no better sourcing for this passage than the unidentified sources of an unidentified friend of Joel Paul's lawyer. There's no indication the authors made any effort to confirm any of this with Republican staffers--even the existence of the dossiers, let alone the information about Paul's personal life. I have spoken with most of the Republican staff in preparing this review and have found no evidence whatsoever to support these allegations. One GOP aide on the Judiciary Committee told me: "We had no such dossiers and almost no information on these witnesses--only what their depositions revealed, i.e., very little. Until reading it in the book, I never suspected--or would have cared about--Joel Paul's alleged homosexuality. The Republican staff then--and now--contained gay staffers; it is a completely unremarkable fact." [When I reached Paul, he said, "We have nothing to talk about," and hung up.]
The ironies abound. In order to demonize the Republicans for allegedly plotting to "out" Paul, Mayer and Abramson go ahead and "out" him. Then, in a subsequent description designed to paint Paul as a committed civil rights activist, the authors wreck their own plot line:
Paul was open about his sexuality to his friends and family and in the past had championed a number of gay rights issues, including the effort to admit gays to the military. In 1984, when he supported the presidential candidacy of Gary Hart, he had attended the Democratic National Convention as a gay delegate. And before that he had headed a gay bar association in San Francisco, called Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom.
In other words, the entire "outing" issue was phony to begin with: Paul isn't a closeted gay.
The authors have about as much success trying to find new corroborators for Hill.
First up are two former EEOC colleagues who claim to remember a story about pubic hair and a Coke can making the rounds at the office. One is Marguerite Donnelly, a former EEOC attorney who "distinctly recalled being told by a co-worker in the early 1980s that Chairman Thomas 'had said--and I thought it was in the presence of several people--that there was a pubic hair on his can of Coke.'" Donnelly says she told her husband, Allan Danoff, also a former EEOC attorney, about the comment contemporaneously. "We certainly did hear about it back then," Danoff says.
Michael Middleton, a former Thomas aide whom the authors misidentify as a professor of law at Missouri North Central University [there is no such institution], also describes a "quite hazy" memory. "I have this vision of Clarence at the EEOC picking up a Coke and saying, 'Who put this pubic hair on my Coke?'" Middleton is quoted as saying. In the next paragraph, however, we learn that Middleton "can't say for sure whether he witnessed Thomas's saying it or just had it described to him back then. He also worked with Hill, and it is possible she may have told him about it herself--although he doubted it and she had no recollection of it."
After conceding that the foregoing statements "do not necessarily corroborate [Hill's] account," the authors conclude:
What seems unlikely, however, is that three senior lawyers in the agency could remember the same statement coming from a man who says he never uttered it to Hill or anyone else.
But by their own reporting it is clear that three senior lawyers did not remember the statement coming from Thomas. None of the three claims to have heard the remark personally or to recall exactly how the remark came to their attention. One lawyer, Danoff, heard about it only from his wife. His wife, Donnelly, remembers only an unnamed individual telling her that Thomas had said it. And Middleton isn't sure whether he remembers the statement coming from Thomas or Hill or someone else.
There are other problems with these passages that go unacknowledged by the authors. The first is that Anita Hill testified that the remark was made to her by Thomas when the two were alone in his office, and that she never told anyone about it. If either Donnelly or Middleton witnessed it; if someone else had witnessed it and told them; or if they were told about it by Hill, then Hill's account of the incident is false.
The second problem is that both Danoff and Middleton were fired by Thomas, and so they aren't the best witnesses against him. The Danoff firing was one of the most celebrated firings during Thomas's stormy tenure--he fired lots of people in a bid to professionalize the agency--and the matter ended up in the courts. Danoff's firing isn't mentioned in the book, nor is the fact that Danoff was quoted at the time of the Supreme Court nomination battle harshly criticizing Thomas's record at the agency.
Middleton's firing is noted, but only much later in the book. A far more curious aspect of Middleton's history, however, is not treated. Mayer and Abramson report that during the hearings, Middleton supposedly turned to his wife "and asked her if she remembered the [pubic hair and Coke] story, and she told him that she did." The question this raises is why Middleton didn't say something about it at the time.
It turns out that while Middleton didn't say anything about the pubic hair remark, he did have quite a bit to say to the press after he heard Hill's testimony about the remark and Thomas's denial of ever having made it. The quotes don't indicate that he knew anything about the pubic hair remark in 1991 that would implicate Thomas in any way. Take the following passages in the Chicago Tribune:
University of Missouri law professor Michael Middleton, who worked with Thomas and Hill at the Department of Education and the EEOC, said he cannot reconcile the conflict between the stories. "It is as muddy to me as it is to anyone," he said. "She is as credible as she appeared on TV, and he is as credible as he appeared in the hearings."
Middleton said that during the time Hill worked at the Education Department and the EEOC she was "totally loyal" to Thomas. "She was his confidential assistant and she performed her job in an exemplary fashion. There was no inkling of anything beyond a professional relationship. It was almost unusually professional."
He said the idea of Clarence Thomas describing the viewing of a pornographic movie as part of a come-on was "almost ridiculous. My impression of him was that he was one of the most upright people around."
From these quotes, we can deduce that Middleton was either misleading the press in 1991--surely he would not be as perplexed as he professed to be about which witness was telling the truth if he had seen or heard Thomas make the gross pubic hair remark--or he now sees it as in his interest to allow Mayer and Abramson to present a faint recollection of a story about Thomas, pubic hair, and a Coke can as support for Hill's allegations. One conceivable motive for the latter possibility: It has been publicly reported that Middleton has been under consideration to be named general counsel of the EEOC under Clinton, though the authors don't say so. [He didn't return a call seeking comment.]
In any event, the evidence about this anecdote, such as it is, could be entirely valid and still bring us no closer to proving that Thomas ever said it. A story about pubic hair and a Coke can may have made its way through the EEOC gossip mill in the early 1980s. A decade later, Thomas denied having made it when Hill attributed it to him. Nobody but Hill recalls Thomas saying it, and nobody claims Hill told them of it.
We are now told that Donnelly may have heard something about such a story, and so may have Middleton. Maybe Hill did too. Maybe that's the origin of the bizarre story in the first place: Hill heard the story just as Donnelly and Middleton did: as it made the rounds of office gossip. Ten years later she seized on it, claiming to be its original source, thinking that it would be somehow corroborable. But despite Mayer and Abramson's best efforts, it still isn't.
Next we meet Bradley Mims, who is presented as one of two new "witnesses" for Hill. Mims and Hill had met in 1982 in a night class for federal employees who wished to improve their writing skills. Mims was working on Capitol Hill for a Democratic congressman and Hill was working for Thomas at the education department. As Mims tells it, only a couple of weeks after they met, Hill confided to him that Thomas had begun saying "really crazy stuff to her--talking wild." Mims says that he "knew" that "talking wild" meant using explicit sexual language. Ten years later, during the hearing, he was working in a civil service job at the Smithsonian Institution and stayed quiet because the "Republicans headed the government," according to Mayer and Abramson.
One of the many cheap aspects of this book is that supposed new evidence is presented by a "witness" who has never appeared under oath to have his story cross-examined. Soon enough it's also clear that Mayer and Abramson will conduct no such cross-examination. The "witness" then goes into hiding, never to be heard from again. Mims refused to be interviewed for this article.
On its face, Mims's account doesn't add up to much. He makes the leap from Hill's alleged comment about Thomas's "talking wild" to the conclusion that Hill meant Thomas was using sexually explicit language. Mims is apparently unable to corroborate any of the specific language Hill attributed to Thomas in her testimony, let alone to state that Hill told him Thomas was using sexually explicit language. After Hill's testimony, such recollections as Mims's are inevitably tainted by what she said; he may now intend for the words "talking wild" to take on a meaning that they may or may not have had at the time Hill allegedly spoke of them. There is also the inconvenient fact that Anita Hill said in her affidavit to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then to the FBI, that Susan Hoerchner was the only person she had told of Thomas's harassment between 1981 and 1983.
When other witnesses came forward of their own volition before the hearing, contradicting what Hill had told the FBI, she then claimed that she had "repressed" the fact that she had told others of the harassment contemporaneously. In her Senate testimony, she said: "It is only after a great deal of agonizing consideration that I am able to talk of these unpleasant matters to anyone but my closest friends." But Joel Paul was not a friend of Hill's; she barely knew him when she supposedly told him of the harassment in the summer of 1987. Likewise, according to Mims's account, he had just met Hill when she supposedly told him of Thomas's "talking wild."
Odder still is that Hill apparently did not even recognize Mims's name when Mayer and Abramson asked her about him. "Hill had forgotten that she had also confided in a fifth person. . . . And once reminded of him, Hill confirmed his account," they report. Corroboration usually works the other way.
Perhaps Hill did forget telling Mims something about Thomas, but the second new witness presented in Strange Justice is one Hill is not allowed to have forgotten: Linda Lambert Jackson. When she was first interviewed by Metzenbaum staffer James Brudney in September 1991--six weeks before her public testimony--Anita Hill appears to have told him that in 1983, soon after leaving the EEOC, she told her friend and former EEOC colleague Jackson about Thomas's "two-year-long campaign of sexual harassment." Mayer and Abramson have obtained the notes of Brudney's conversation with Hill. Jackson is quoted by Hill as having said in 1983, "I don't believe it." The authors further report:
This conversation with Lambert became seminal in her thinking about whether to discuss the experience with anyone ever again. As she told Brudney, she "felt if my friend reacted this way, others on his side would react [the] same way." So, for nearly a decade, she "never brought it up again."
Mayer and Abramson seem unaware that they've stumbled on a significant revelation. This is an entirely new explanation by Hill of why she stayed quiet for ten years: the conversation with Jackson traumatized her. She did not mention this conversation--when she testified under oath just a few weeks after she told Brudney about it--in any of her various explanations as to why she stayed quiet: that she feared for her job; that she feared Thomas would exact retribution on her when she returned to Oklahoma and worked for Dean Kothe, a Thomas associate; and that despite prior Senate confirmations of Thomas, no one had ever asked her for information about the nominee until Brudney did in 1991.
Jackson, it may be recalled, testified for Thomas at the hearing: "Anita referred to Clarence with admiration. . . . It seems that she would have mentioned something if she were having problems at the office, even if she did not name a specific person. Subsequent discussions I had with Anita also yielded no mention of anything improper on the part of Clarence Thomas." Hill tells Mayer and Abramson of her reaction to this testimony: "I don't know how people can go to sleep at night having lied as some of them did. Certainly I couldn't. But in the end, they have to live with themselves."
Here we have an allegation of perjury lodged against Linda Jackson. Mayer and Abramson report:
Later, Jackson, who still worked for the EEOC during and after the hearings, refused to comment on the telephone when asked whether Hill hadn't told her of the harassment years before. She then quickly hung up.
Jackson told me this isn't how it happened at all. According to her, Abramson telephoned and said that she wanted Jackson to confirm or deny something that Abramson had heard. Abramson didn't say what it was. Jackson said she didn't want to be interviewed but would be willing to answer questions in writing. The conversation ended and no questions ever arrived. Thus the implication left by Mayer and Abramson--that Jackson was informed of the substance of what Hill had said and hung up rather than deny it--is entirely false. [For the record, the entire encounter that Hill described is also fake, according to Jackson.]
Finally, the authors don't seem to appreciate the issue raised by this new information about Brudney's conduct during the hearings, much less about Hill's credibility. At some point after Hill first named Jackson to Brudney as a corroborator and before she went on to tell another Senate staffer and the FBI that she had told only Hoerchner, Jackson disappeared from the story. The only plausible explanation for this would be that Hill never intended the original conversation with Brudney to go as far as it did; at that point, she was hoping to take out Thomas with an anonymous charge and needed it to sound as convincing as she could make it. Later, when told by the Biden staff that she would have to name herself and allow her witnesses to be interviewed by the FBI, Hill, knowing that Jackson would not back her up, said only Hoerchner knew of the harassment.
If the account in the Brudney notes is correct, Hill's "repression" explanation--which could conceivably cover Carr, Paul, Ellen Wells, and even Mims, since they all contacted Hill, offering to testify--doesn't work for Linda Jackson. Not only does Hill claim that the 1983 conversation with Jackson was so memorable that it kept her silent for a decade. There is now evidence that Hill had told Brudney of a second person mere weeks before saying on three different occasions--a sworn affidavit, an interview with the FBI, and her sworn Senate testimony--that she remembered telling only one person.
Brudney--a friend of Hill's from Yale who spoke to her more than a dozen times before she filed her allegations with the Senate--watched Anita Hill testify under oath without mentioning Jackson. Surely if he was interested in investigating the truth of the allegations rather than conspiring with Hill in a false account, he would have forwarded those notes to his colleagues in the Senate and seen to it that both Hill and Jackson were asked about the supposed conversation when they appeared to testify. Instead, he covered up his knowledge of Anita Hill's perjury.
V. The "Other" Women
The final attempt to bolster Hill's case consists of the testimony of four "other women," whom the authors present as providing proof that Thomas exhibited a pattern of behavior consistent with Hill's charges of sexual harassment. They imply that the four were generally unknown to the public at the time of the hearings and were prevented from testifying by a sinister conspiracy of pro-Thomas forces. Each of these claims is false.
The accounts of three of these women--Angela Wright, Rose Jourdain, and Sukari Hardnett--had been reported and refuted before the appearance of Strange Justice. Nonetheless, it is worth combing through them once more to dispel the notion that there is anything even approaching a pattern of sexual harassment in Thomas's personal history. [Indeed, the authors themselves admit at one point, "No one else has come forward during the hearings or since to accuse Thomas of sexual harassment."]
Of the three, only Woman Number One--Angela Wright--claims first-hand knowledge that Thomas ever did anything untoward in the workplace, though she does not believe she was ever sexually harassed by him. A former EEOC employee who now works as a Journalist, Wright was the first "other woman" to surface in the case.
A few days after Hill's charges first broke publicly, Wright wrote a draft column for the Charlotte Observer in which she said that personal experience led her to believe Thomas capable of doing what Hill was claiming. While the column was never published, it was leaked to the Democratic Judiciary Committee staff, which then interviewed Wright and subpoenaed her to testify. While her possible appearance made front-page news and network headlines throughout the country--thanks to a briefing given for numerous reporters by Senator Joseph Biden, then the chairman of the Judiciary Committee--she never testified.
In retrospect, this was unfortunate, because it was inevitable from the very moment that Wright did not testify that Thomas's opponents would forever promote her story as the one that would have changed the course of history. This book sets out to advance the strongest such revisionist claim yet.[9.]
In her interview with Senate Judiciary Committee lawyers, Wright stated that Thomas had asked her for dates and made comments about the size of her breasts. She also said the comments did not disturb her. She reprises that interview in this book, maintaining that she took Thomas's alleged conduct so much in stride that she never once "ruminated" on it. "I was never afraid of Clarence Thomas," Wright is quoted as saying.
Mayer and Abramson believe that Wright's account is strong corroboration for Hill's, because Wright was interviewed before Hill testified. In fact, [a] Nina Totenberg had gone on the air three days before the Wright interview and read Hill's detailed statement virtually verbatim; [b] Hill held a nationally televised press conference the next day in which she publicized her charges; and [c] the Judiciary Committee lawyers who were prompting Wright with questions had already read Hill's statement.
Woman Number Two, Rose Jourdain, was an EEOC co-worker of Wright's who makes no first-hand claims about Thomas's behavior. She says that she can corroborate Wright's story. But in her interview with the Senate staff, Jourdain remembered Wright telling her about comments Thomas made about different parts of her anatomy [her legs], and that Wright was very upset by these comments. In the book, Jourdain takes this a bit further, describing how Wright allegedly came to her office in tears on several occasions seeking her advice on how to get Thomas to stop. Mayer and Abramson either don't notice the plain discrepancies between the Wright and Jourdain statements, or they pretend not to.
The question of why Wright and Jourdain didn't testify has been a matter of heated debate ever since they didn't. One of the explanations for their failure to appear has to do with their credibility as potential witnesses, an issue that gets short shrift from Mayer and Abramson.
Before working for Thomas and being fired by him, Wright had been fired from two jobs and had quit the Agency for International Development just as she was about to be fired. After learning that she was about to be fired at AID, Wright made an unsupported charge of racism against her boss, Kate Semerad, which later made its way to a Senate committee when Semerad was up for confirmation to a new post. These incidents are glossed over in a couple of sentences.
There is also a good deal of evidence in the public domain that after she was fired by Thomas, Wright promised several former colleagues she would get revenge. Phyllis Berry-Myers has said that she received a telephone call on the day Wright was fired in which Wright had told her to tell Thomas to "watch his back." Nancy McPhail, an EEOC colleague of Wright's, also recently confirmed this to me: "I remember Phyllis saying back then that she had gotten this call, the weirdest call, from Angela, threatening Thomas." Thelma Duggin, a mutual friend of Thomas and Wright, told the FBI that as recently as two months before Hill's charges were made public, Wright told her that she was looking for a way to avenge her firing. Neither of these incidents is mentioned in this book.
Armstrong Williams, yet another former EEOC colleague of Wright's, had disclosed that in 1989 he had dinner with Wright, and she told him that someday she would get back at Thomas for the firing. Typically, the authors never confront the Williams story. They allow Angela Wright to deny Williams's account entirely and create a very different conversation in which Williams essentially threatens her to keep her mouth shut about Thomas. Though the authors interviewed Williams about other matters, they never asked him about this supposed conversation. Williams told me it's an utter fabrication. [Wright did not respond to messages left at the Observer.]
Though a side issue during the hearings, the circumstances of Wright's firing by Thomas take on a new importance here. Thomas testified that he fired Wright because she had called a co-worker "faggot." If Wright is to be viewed as another Anita Hill, of course, the idea that she uttered an insensitive remark must be expunged from the record. On the word of a single source with only second-hand knowledge of the alleged remark, Mayer and Abramson identify former EEOC employee John Seale as the person to whom Thomas was referring when he testified that Wright had called someone on the staff "faggot." They call Seale, who tells them that he has no recollection of being called "faggot" by Wright. Wright is then quoted as saying, "The faggot line was made up out of thin air. I'd never say that--I'd put my hand on a stack of Bibles."
Seale may be right about this, but Wright surely isn't. Mayer and Abramson apparently have the wrong "faggot." I have now located the only source to emerge so far claiming to have been an eyewitness to the events surrounding Wright's firing, including the anti-gay slur. Jaime Ramon, now a lawyer in private practice, was the chief legal adviser to EEOC commissioner Tony Gallegos during Wright's tenure at the EEOC. He told me that Wright, the public affairs director, had angered Thomas one morning by failing to invite certain commissioners, including Gallegos, to an important commission press conference. "Afterwards Thomas stopped me in the hall and said, 'Why weren't you guys there?' I told him because we weren't invited."
Later in the day, after speaking again with Thomas on the matter, Ramon was standing outside Thomas's office when Wright emerged. "He had called her in to chew her out about the press conference. She came flying out, looked at Denaro Sims, and said, 'You faggot.' Thomas wrote out a note firing her right then and there and put it on her chair. She found it the next morning," Ramon said. Sims, a male secretary who worked for Thomas, was known within the agency to be sick with AIDS at the time Wright insulted him. [When he died, Thomas attended the funeral].[10.]
Senator Biden and Angela Wright continue to offer conflicting accounts as to why Wright wasn't called to testify, with each wishing to lay the ultimate decision on the other. Mayer and Abramson add little to what has been previously published about this subject; they depict Biden as the initiator of the decision and imply with no basis that he was doing the bidding of the Republicans, who are said to have feared Wright's testimony. But asserting this won't make it so; the fact remains that the Democrats [i.e., the Thomas opponents] controlled the Senate and the Judiciary Committee, and established all of the rules and procedures that governed the hearings. It was thus a combined decision of the Democrats [who had legitimate fears that Wright's manifest credibility problems would hurt Hill] and Wright [who wished to spare herself the personal embarrassment of cross-examination] that stopped Wright's testimony.
No conspiracy was necessary.
So much for Wright and Jourdain, the sole corroborator for Wright, who was also fired by Thomas.
There is also nothing new in the statements of Woman Number Three, Sukari Hardnett, whose affidavit hit the Associated Press wire at the time of the hearings: Hardnett stated that there was a "sexual dimension" to serving on Thomas's EEOC staff, but she didn't define the situation further. We now learn she spoke in more detail to Biden staffer Mark Schwartz at the time, telling him that she was "forced to have coffee with Thomas," according to the contemporaneous notes of Schwartz, which Mayer and Abramson obtained. These conversations with Thomas made her uncomfortable, she said. Once again buried in the notes, however, there surfaces a witness to the Thomas-Hardnett conversations, one Aysa McCullough, who did not consider the informal "chitchat" before or after working hours to be inappropriate at all. [Hardnett was also dismissed by Thomas.]
Woman Number Four is Kaye Savage, the only woman presented in the book who tells a story that had not been previously published. Thus Savage holds a very special status in Strange Justice; the Wall Street Journal's excerpt of the book led with her story. Moreover, in light of the baselessness of the foregoing indictment against Thomas, Savage's account is the only thing standing between Thomas and total vindication.
A civil service worker in the Carter years, Savage accepted a low-level staff job in the Reagan White House on civil rights matters, which brought her into contact with both Thomas and Hill, first at the education department and then at the EEOC. Savage's allegation boils down to one incident on a Saturday in the summer of 1982, when she says she volunteered to pick up Thomas at his Southwest Washington apartment and take him shopping for running shoes. [Thomas had sold his car to pay for his son's tuition.]
Thomas had moved into the apartment soon after his marriage ended the prior summer. Here is how Mayer and Abramson describe the scene:
He had only recently set up housekeeping, and the place, as she recalled, was still underfurnished: there was little more than a mattress on the floor and a stereo. But one feature made a lasting impression on Savage. Thomas had compiled and placed on the floor "a huge, compulsively organized stack of Playboy magazines; five years' worth of them, organized by month and year." The walls of the apartment were also memorably covered. There was only one main room, but all of its walls--as well as the walls of the little galley kitchen and even the bathroom door--were papered with centerfolds of large-breasted nude women.
When Anita Hill's allegations became public, Savage, after first speaking with Joel Paul's lawyer [she had met Paul through Hill in 1987], contacted the Judiciary Committee. Like Hardnett, she spoke to Schwartz. And Schwartz made notes of this conversation, too, which Mayer and Abramson obtained. They then approached Savage for confirmation and published the above passage.
Astute viewers of ABC's "Turning Point," which featured an interview with Savage, noticed that the story she told wasn't the same as the one that had appeared that very morning in the Journal excerpt, whose language tracked closely with the above passage. In the TV interview, suddenly the pinups plastered all over the apartment had become only one pinup, in the galley kitchen.
I telephoned Savage for an explanation. Unlike the phantom "corroborator," Bradley Mims, Savage was available for an interview. We met at the downtown Marriott for lunch.
According to Savage--who five days later faxed a written statement to me from her office summarizing our discussion--Mayer and Abramson substantially distorted the information she had reported to the Judiciary Committee back in 1991. She said she had told Schwartz of the Playboy magazines and two pinups, one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom. She told me the apartment walls were not covered in pinups, as Mayer and Abramson report her having said.
Savage said that she confirmed on an off-the-record basis the existence of two pinups and the Playboys to Jane Mayer in 1992, because Mayer already had Schwartz's notes. In the summer of 1993, Savage said, Mayer sent her page proofs of Strange Justice that contained a colored-up, sensationalized interpretation of what she had told Schwartz. Savage said she objected and was then presented with a second set of page proofs that she found more accurate. But when she saw the book, the apartment was wrongly described as having been covered in pinups.
Mayer and Abramson have informed me that "all of the named women who were in contact with the Senate Judiciary Committee as possible witnesses but were not called, were given the opportunity to review the sections in this book about themselves in advance, and to correct any factual inaccuracies. In every case that a correction was requested, it was made. Documentation of this process exists, and has been reviewed by Houghton Mifflin." Mayer and Abramson and their publisher have refused to give me access to these documents and to the Schwartz notes. When I asked Savage if she'd kept copies of the proofs, she became visibly nervous; later, she said she couldn't locate them.
The Schwartz notes would establish what sort of allegation Savage made to the committee in the first place. According to Savage, she reported Playboys and two pinups to Schwartz and to Mayer and Abramson [and now to me], and Mayer and Abramson grossly distorted her observations in their book. They do not quote Savage directly, which may be a sign that they've embellished her story. The difference between the two versions, of course, is immense. It is the difference between the bachelor apartment of any young heterosexual man and the apartment of a sex-obsessed weirdo. If Savage is right, maybe Mayer and Abramson should find another line of work.
Mayer and Abramson say Savage signed off on the description of the completely covered walls. Either they can prove this or they can't; yet even if they can prove that they reported Savage's account accurately and to her satisfaction, they still have a problem in that Savage has told me in writing that the story as it appears in Strange Justice isn't true. In other words, if Mayer and Abramson are right, then Savage has lied to me and they don't have a witness worth fighting over anyway.
However this dispute between the reporters and their source gets resolved, there is another problem with Savage's story even as she now presents it in a much scaled-down form: It is not clear that there is any truth to it.
I have spoken to a number of people who were in Thomas's apartment in the summer of 1982, each of whom has denied to me seeing any pinups or Playboys: Harry Singleton, Armstrong Williams, Clifford Faddis, and the Thomas witnesses J.C. Alvarez, Carlton Stewart, and Stewart's wife, Barbara. Most of them mentioned that Thomas's son Jamal, then nine, was a frequent visitor to the apartment and that Thomas would not have exposed his son to that sort of environment. And most of them challenged the description of the apartment as barely furnished. "My wife and I had dinner there several times during that period and we sat at a table on chairs," Stewart said. "There was a bed on a frame, not on the floor. There were posters on the wall, one of a Rolls Royce. There was a Soloflex machine. And there were lots and lots of books. Literary books. I wouldn't have exposed my wife to the apartment [Savage] describes."
Of this group, only Singleton and Williams were interviewed for the book, and neither recalls being asked anything about the contents of Thomas's apartment. Savage is the sole source--and she does not appear to be a credible one.
Savage seems unsure of whether there were one or two pinups. On "Turning Point," she spoke of only one, in the kitchen. In our interview, she seemed certain of one as well, but it was in the bathroom. Her written statement to me a few days later then claimed two, the number she had used in her statements to the Judiciary Committee.
If the pinups are in question, so too are the Playboys. Within the space of a couple of minutes, Savage gave me three answers as to how she knew the stacks of magazines were all Playboys, going back five years. She told me that she asked Thomas about them and that's what he told her; she told me they were in five separate stacks so she assumed there were five years' worth; and she told me she bent down and flipped through the stacks.
There is also the matter of Savage's statement in the book and on "Turning Point" that she was "aghast" at seeing the pinups and Playboys, and found it "a little crazy." She told me she was so offended that she ended her acquaintanceship with Thomas. Yet in the book we find this passage:
In January, Hill made a New Year's resolution: to get a new job. According to her testimony, she began making discreet inquiries about other employment. Kaye Savage confirmed this, saying that she recalled Hill's confiding that she was looking for work elsewhere and even thinking about returning to Oklahoma--a plan that to Savage, at least, seemed to make no sense, given Hill's terrific position.
If Savage was really "aghast" at Thomas's "crazy" behavior, why would she think Hill's position working closely with him was so "terrific"?
Yet even if the claim of Savage of a couple of pinups and some Playboys is accepted as valid--despite the fact that it is completely uncorroborated and indeed flatly contradicted by a half-dozen others--it seems hardly enough to prove anything, certainly not anything like Anita Hill's allegations. Thomas was a 34-year-old bachelor in 1982 and we are, after all, talking only about Playboy, not hard-core pornography.[11.] And Savage was never a Thomas employee.
A final issue bearing on her credibility as a witness concerns Savage's views about Thomas's politics--which seem to mirror those of Anita Hill, who had maintained a friendship with Savage for more than a decade. Savage told me that Mayer pushed her to identify herself as a Republican so she would appear more credible in attacking Thomas. But Savage is no Republican. During our interview, she became emotional in telling me that Thomas "was against everything he should have been for" in the Reagan administration. "He was our only hope and he was against us," she said. "He was against everything--minority set-asides, goals and timetables--everything." At another point, she snapped, "He's no Thurgood Marshall, you know." [12.]
VI. 99-Percent Fact-Free
If all of Mayer and Abramson's key points are riddled with errors, there remains the question of how careful they were to get the smaller points right. As Mayer has said in justifying her assault on Thomas, "All of the evidence points one way."
Many of the errors concern the public record of the hearing. The authors report that after testifying Friday morning, Thomas "repaired to Danforth's office" where he remained during Hill's testimony. Later they write, "For much of the day he had been closeted in Danforth's office." Wrong on both counts. The press reported that Thomas actually returned immediately home to Virginia upon finishing his testimony, where he smoked cigars in his driveway with a security guard as his wife watched Hill's testimony on television in an upstairs bedroom.
The authors allege that GOP Senator Orrin Hatch "coordinated" his line of questioning on pornography and the negative stereotyping of black men with Thomas. Hatch mentioned to Thomas that he was going to bring up the subject, but the questions were far from coordinated; this was evident, as the authors themselves later note, when Thomas took such a long time to understand where Hatch's questioning was going. The authors also state that this important exchange took place on Friday evening, when in fact it occurred on Saturday morning.
The claim that Senator Howell Heflin bungled his questioning of Thomas regarding the latter's possible familiarity with Long Dong Silver is also wrong. "The gentlemanly southern judge stumbled badly, referring to the character as Long John Silver," it is reported on page 305. Yet on page 106 the authors themselves give an account of the same exchange in which they show Heflin correctly propounding the question about "Long Dong Silver" and Thomas answering it.
given some papers by an aide to Boyden Gray," the book says. The papers contained the affidavit submitted by John Doggett. A well-known photograph was taken of this event: it was Gray himself, not an aide, who handed the papers to Bush.
The authors describe Hill as a "civil rights scholar," but as she testified she teaches contracts and business law, also the subjects of her scholarly articles. And she currently lives in Laguna Beach, not Los Angeles, which is 65 miles away.
One also finds several interpretive mistakes, which are particularly surprising in the case of Abramson, who is purportedly a lawyer. "One theory that seemed especially appealing to Thomas was the idea that God-given 'natural law' should take precedence over man-made law," the book explains. ". . . At a time when Attorney General Meese was encouraging conservative politicians to disregard liberal Supreme Court rulings if they disagreed with them, this view of a higher legal authority than the written law was radical indeed." However, Meese's notion had nothing whatsoever to do with natural law. It had to do with the separation of powers. Meese argued that the president has an independent authority and responsibility to carry out his duties as he believes the law requires.
As EEOC chairman, Thomas had taken the position that certain affirmative action plans were illegal. The Supreme Court upheld them, and Thomas went along. The authors portray this as an unprincipled reversal of position on Thomas's part, when in fact he was simply upholding the law.
The authors report that Thomas's Supreme Court votes rarely go against the position of "the state." They fail to note that the U.S. government's or state's position rarely loses at the Supreme Court, or in lower courts for that matter. The statement is also wrong, as Thomas's votes in Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, United States v. Burke, United States v. William, Rowland v. California Men's Colony, and Evans v. United States demonstrate.
In discussing the infamous pubic hair affidavit from Hill's former students, the authors report that "Senate aides arranged for [Lawrence] Shiles to make his statement legally binding with a notarized signature." This is completely incorrect. In no jurisdiction does the notarization or lack of notarization of a statement affect its binding nature. Notarization's purpose is to answer any doubts as to the identity of the person who signed, should that become an issue.
Nor would its later notarization make Angela Wright's committee interview "an affidavit," as is claimed; at best it would be a retroactively created deposition.
The rest of the bloopers--and this is by no means an exhaustive list--may owe to sloppiness.
The Senate, supposedly repentant for abusing Anita Hill, is said to have passed legislation "aimed at helping women--overriding President Bush's veto of family leave legislation." The veto wasn't overridden.
The claim that a private swearing in for Thomas at the Supreme Court was "the first such in 50 years" is also incorrect. Chief Justice William Rehnquist was sworn in that way as an associate justice. There is also nothing unusual about this practice, as the authors imply. Clinton appointees Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer also had private swearings-in.
The authors report that Lovida Coleman, a friend of Thomas and the daughter of William Coleman of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, prevailed upon her father to write a letter endorsing Thomas's circuit court nomination. Lovida Coleman told me, "I had nothing to do with that letter. They [Mayer and Abramson] never called me and asked."
"As soon as the news broke, [Boyden] Gray's deputy, Mark Paoletta, arranged for [Phyllis] Berry to speak to the nation's most influential newspaper, the New York Times," Mayer and Abramson report. Paoletta, however, told me, "I don't know anyone at the New York Times. That never happened." Berry-Myers also denied this account.
Janet Brown, who testified for Thomas, is listed in the index as referenced on page 345, but she is nowhere to be found on that page or anywhere in the text. Another woman who testified for Thomas, Pam Talkin, is also listed in the index as appearing on page 345. She isn't there either. Their testimony must have ended up on the cutting room floor.
The book says that when Ginni Lamp first moved to Washington she took a job "in the Senate office of Republican Hal Daub of Nebraska." Daub was a representative, not a senator. Senator Hatch, according to the book, is "known for his Savile Row suits." Not so. Hatch buys all of his suits at Mr. Mac's, a well-known high-volume off-the-rack discount store in Utah, and he makes a point of publicly touting this fact at election time.
Gil Hardy, we are told, died in a diving accident off the coast of Aruba. It was Morocco. William Clark was nominated by Reagan to be the deputy secretary of state, not the secretary. A young White House intern who drove to National Airport to ferry one potential Thomas witness to the hearing is called a member of the "prestigious White House Fellows program." He wasn't.
Kenneth Duberstein's office is on Pennsylvania Avenue, not K Street. Gary Bauer and Bill Kristol are shown plotting confirmation strategy at the beach in July 1991. They were actually doing it in August.
On Saturday night in her hotel room, the authors report Anita Hill turned the channel on her TV to a basketball game for relief. There was no basketball game on television that night. It would either have been football or baseball.
Former White House aide Ede Holiday's first and last names are misspelled twice. Jim Dire should be Jim Dyer. And Nat Turner's rebellion was in 1831, not 1832.
Finally, a note to the epilogue reads: "Suzanne Garment, 'Confirming Anita Hill?,' American Spectator, January/February 1993." No such article appeared in the Spectator, nor was Garment cited or quoted in the Spectator on Hill--then or ever. There wasn't even a Spectator issue bearing that date.
Need I say more?
[1.] Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, Houghton Mifflin, 406 pages, $24.95.
[2.] The parallels to the October Surprise are of more than passing interest. ABC's News ["Nightline" in particular] promoted the story, as did the Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt, who referred at one point to the "respected" Gary Sick, the former Carter NSC aide who originated the allegations in the New York Times. Sick, of course, has now been completely discredited.
[3.] The notes to the book are a scandal in their own right. Since they are not flagged in the main text [as in a typical footnote or endnote], the reader must flip back to the notes section upon completing each page to see if any of the information on it has been documented. Assuming there is a note, the reader must then go back to the page by locating the first three words of the sentence to which the note refers. Much of the material presented as fact in the main text is refuted, contradicted, or substantially weakened by material buried in the notes.
[4.] Totenberg did not directly fault Mayer and Abramson for publishing the information. She argued that there is a different journalistic standard for a book than for a news story. In Capitol Games, Timothy Phelps reported that the video store story was "unsubstantiated" and therefore not publishable.
[5.] The Wall Street Journal excerpt did not indicate that the anecdote was second-hand. Cooke later wrote to the newspaper protesting the "clear and false impression that I provided the account to the authors." [The Journal ran this and other critical letters on the Friday after Thanksgiving, a day when far fewer readers see the Friday after Thanksgiving, a day when far fewer readers see the paper.] Mayer and Abramson concede that the Journal excerpt "left the sourcing of the Cooke anecdote ambiguous [and] should have made it explicit that Mr. Cooke would not comment for the record on the anecdote involving him, as our footnote [sic] in the book does." They do, however, stand by the anecdote. "The publisher at Houghton-Mifflin is entirely conversant with the provenance of the Cooke anecdote, and the documentary evidence supporting it," they wrote me. They declined to provide me with this purported evidence, however.
[6.] For more on the authors' attitude on race, see the December 1994 issue of Mirabella magazine, in which Abramson speaks of the difficulties and frustrations she encountered dealing with what she called "black interview subjects."
[7.] At an earlier point in the book, we are told inexplicably that Hill also looked like Angela Wright, so much so that they could be sisters.
[8.] Hill had an EEOC supervisor other than Thomas in 1983 who was a known sexual harasser.
[9.] Shortly after the close of the hearings, Spy magazine and the "Doonesbury" comic strip started arguing that history would have been different had the Judiciary Committee called Wright and her corroborating witness, Jourdain. On the one-year anniversary of the hearings, U.S. News and World Report published a cover story that gave prominent play to Wright, Jourdain, and Hardnett. Both Timothy Phelps and Senator Paul Simon made the same claim in their books. The behavior of Simon, who announced his retirement as soon as the Republicans took control of the Senate, is especially noteworthy. When Hill's initial charges against Thomas were leaked, Simon, in order to force a further hearing, claimed that he had not known about them at the time the Judiciary Committee voted and that he would have sought a postponement had he been told of them. It turned out this was a lie: Simon later admitted that he not only had read the FBI report about Hill's charges, but had actually interviewed her over the telephone before voting. Similarly, on ABC's "Turning Point," Simon claimed that had he known that Wright had a corroborating witness, he would have insisted that Wright and Jourdain be called. This must be another lie: It is impossible that Simon did not know of Jourdain, who was mentioned in various news accounts and referred to as "your corroborating witness" in Biden's letter to Wright regarding her decision not to testify, which Biden read aloud to the committee. Simon's remarks have been wrongly construed, by the Journal's Al Hunt, among others, to mean that he would have switched his vote on the confirmation if Wright had testified. This makes no sense, since Simon had come out against Thomas even before Anita Hill appeared.
[10.] Florence George Graves made the same misidentification in reporting about Wright's case in the October 9, 1994 issue of the Washington Post.
[11.] More than 2.6 million copies of Playboy go through the U.S. mail each month. Attorney General Edwin Meese, who headed a pornography commission for President Reagan, said in 1987 that he had read both Playboy and Penthouse, determined that they were not obscene, and did not believe efforts should be undertaken to thwart their sale. In October 1994, a U.S. District Court in California struck down the banning of Playboy magazine on the premises of a Los Angeles firehouse on the grounds that it did not contribute to a sexually harassing environment.
[12.] The hatred that many liberal blacks feel toward Thomas can't be emphasized enough. Julianne Malveaux, a PBS commentator, recently said of Thomas: "I hope his wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter and he dies early, as many black men do, of heart disease."
Brock, David. "Strange Lies." The American Spectator, January 1995, 30-41, 68-77.
The following appeared in The American Spectator’s “Correspondence” section of its March 1995 issue (p. 10).
Jane and Jill Letters
may be wondering what, if anything, Jan Mayer and Jill Abramson have done in
response to David Brock’s review of their recent book Strange Justice: The
Selling of Clarence Thomas (“Strange
Lies,” TAS, January 1995).
So far, other than the two brief letters to Mr. Brock printed below, we
have not heard from them, though we continue to hold out hope that they will
send in a serious rebuttal.
For the record, Mayer and Abramson’s claim that Mr. Brock supposedly
told them that “The American Spectator
has no intention of printing our rebuttal” is, as we said in a letter to them,
preposterous, “inasmuch as we do not model ourselves on the New Yorker.”
(The New Yorker is the publication that declined to give Mr. Brock space to reply to
the Mayer-Abramson review of his book The Real Anita Hill
that it ran back in 1993.) —Ed.
purported “re-reporting” of our book consisted of trying to bully our
sources into recanting.
When that failed, you then made up negative statements that they tell us
they never made.
Your review is built
on the errors that have become your hallmark.
There are such a dizzying number that it is fruitless to enumerate them
all—particularly since you have already told us that The
American Spectator has no intention of printing our rebuttal.
You write that we never interviewed sources with whom we’ve talked
repeatedly and you have us meeting with people we’ve never laid eyes on.
It is particularly
egregious, since we were happy to oblige your request for an interview, that you
didn’t bother to ask about most of the outlandish claims in your article.
Your gross mischaracterization of your dealings with Kaye Savage and her
purported statements about our book is but one item you didn’t dare raise in
the terse written questions you sent us in lieu of an interview.
Suffice it to say
that from the beginning (with your “out to lunch” claim that we had some
secret, earlier interview with Anita Hill, which we clearly informed you, before
your article was published, never took place) to the end (Abramson is not an
attorney, a fact you could have easily checked had you bothered to ask) your
piece is entirely false.
This is sham journalism.
But it’s exactly the kind of faux investigative reporting that we’ve
come to expect from you and The American
—Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson
The Wall Street Journal
Mr. Brock wrote back requesting specific examples of the errors he’s accused
of (Ms. Abramson, incidentally, if not a practicing attorney, is a graduate of
the Harvard Law School), he received this reply:
We see absolutely
nothing productive about continuing this tedious exchange of accusations.
We have all made our differing points, we have all received copious
attention, and we are all busy people.
Moreover, after falsely likening us to Janet Cooke, a woman who was
notoriously fired and drummed out of the profession for fabricating a news
account, you can’t possibly be serious in bellyaching that it is your
reputation which has been injured by our response to your completely wreckless
—Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson
The Wall Street Journal