CBS' 60 Minutes offered no rebuttal to Clarence Thomas' claims about Anita Hill

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

The September 30 broadcast of CBS' 60 Minutes featured an interview with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, which coincided with the October 1 release of his memoir, My Grandfather's Son (HarperCollins). During the interview, Thomas again denied Anita Hill's allegations in 1991 that he sexually harassed her, saying of Hill: "She was not the demure, religious, conservative person that they portrayed. That's not the person I knew." In October 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on Hill's allegations during Thomas' confirmation proceedings. 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft reported: "In the book, [Thomas] remembers Anita Hill as an average employee whose behavior could sometimes be irritating, rude, and unprofessional, which he attributed to her youth. He was asked to write a number of recommendations for her and helped advance her career, and he speculates that she got swept up in events and succumbed to a combination of ego, ambition, and immaturity." Kroft offered no challenge to Thomas, and CBS gave no indication that it had contacted Hill or anyone else to respond to him.

On the October 1 edition of CNN Newsroom, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin faulted Kroft, saying: "Anita Hill wasn't just someone making accusations. There were corroborating witnesses. There were facts and allegations that he could have responded to and Steve Kroft could have asked him." Toobin also noted that Thomas was allowed to "simply assert his innocence, and, you know, disparage Anita Hill." Toobin is the author of the recently released book, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (Doubleday).

From the September 30 broadcast of CBS' 60 Minutes:

KROFT: Most Americans know very little about the workings of the U.S. Supreme Court or its members, but mention Justice Clarence Thomas, and you're likely to start an argument. He is the court's only African-American and its most conservative member. He is arguably the most influential black man in the country, yet reviled by many in his own race for his opposition to government programs intended to help minorities.

Most people know very little about him, their opinions shaped by his bitter confirmation battle, in which he was accused of sexually harassing a former employee named Anita Hill. Now, 16 years later, he's written a memoir called My Grandfather's Son, which lays bare a remarkable life and the events that shaped it. Supreme Court justices are private people who rarely give interviews, and Justice Thomas doesn't think much of the press. But he gave us seven days of his life to talk about all of it.

[...]

KROFT: Thomas spent three and a half months preparing for the hearings and survived a five-day grilling by the Senate Judiciary Committee about his conservative views on affirmative action, welfare, capital punishment, school prayer, and abortion. The nomination was sent to the full Senate, where it appeared Thomas had enough votes to be confirmed.

And then what happened?

THOMAS: The next round of attacks that I could never have anticipated took place.

KROFT: Anita Hill?

THOMAS: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Here she comes.

KROFT: Anita Hill, a former employee of Thomas', had submitted a confidential statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee alleging that Thomas had sexually harassed her 10 years earlier when both of them were single. The FBI had already investigated the allegations and given the Judiciary Committee what was called an "inconclusive report." The committee decided not to pursue the matter. But two days before the full Senate was expected to confirm Thomas, Hill's statement was leaked to the media.

THOMAS: It was only after they had been leaked, illegally, to the public, to the -- in the press, that then it's out of hand. It's in the feeding frenzy.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA) [video clip]: At the minimum, we need to see a delay, a delay of this nomination.

KROFT: Under pressure from women's groups and congressional Democrats, Anita Hill was summoned before the Judiciary Committee to testify before live television cameras. More than 20 million households tuned in to watch the proceedings, which were more titillating than the soap operas.

HILL [video clip]: After a brief discussion of work, he would turn the conversation to a discussion of sexual matters. His conversations were very vivid.

KROFT: You've denied all of the allegations.

THOMAS: Oh, absolutely, from day one. It didn't happen. I mean, some -- if somebody makes a broad allegation against you, what would you do?

KROFT: Ask them to prove it, I guess.

THOMAS: Yeah.

KROFT: Was the Anita Hill that testified on the hill the Anita Hill that you knew at EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission]?

THOMAS: She was not the demure, religious, conservative person that they portrayed. That's not the person I knew.

KROFT: Who was the person you knew?

THOMAS: She could defend herself, let's just put it that way, and she did not take slights very kindly. And anyone who did anything, she responded very quickly.

KROFT: Didn't take 10 years?

THOMAS: It didn't take 10 minutes.

KROFT: In the book, he remembers Anita Hill as an average employee whose behavior could sometimes be irritating, rude, and unprofessional, which he attributed to her youth. He was asked to write a number of recommendations for her and helped advance her career, and he speculates that she got swept up in events and succumbed to a combination of ego, ambition, and immaturity.

THOMAS: It did not occur.

KROFT: When it came time for him to publicly respond to the allegations, Thomas turned the tables on his interrogators and, for all intents and purposes, ended the debate.

THOMAS [video clip]: This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. It is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves. And it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.

KROFT: Why did you use that language? And why a "high-tech lynching"?

THOMAS: If somebody just wantonly tries to destroy you, if somebody comes in and just drags you out of your house and beats the hell out of you, what is it?

KROFT: What do you want people to think about those allegations? What's it -- what is it important for people to think?

THOMAS: I -- really, at this point, I think most well-meaning people understand it for what it was. It was a weapon to destroy me, clear and simple.

From the October 1 edition of CNN Newsroom:

KYRA PHILLIPS (co-host): You mentioned Anita Hill -- of course, a lot of people wanting to know his thoughts about that, all these years later. He talked about it. Let's listen.

[begin video clip]

KROFT: You've denied all of the allegations.

THOMAS: Oh, absolutely, from day one. It didn't happen. I mean, some -- if somebody makes a broad allegation against you, what would you do?

KROFT: Ask them to prove it, I guess.

THOMAS: Yeah.

KROFT: Was the Anita Hill that testified on the hill the Anita Hill that you knew at EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission]?

THOMAS: She was not the demure, religious, conservative person that they portrayed. That's not the person I knew.

KROFT: Who was the person you knew?

THOMAS: She could defend herself, let's just put it that way.

[end video clip]

PHILLIPS: What'd you make of that?

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, I think that's a real unfair to Anita Hill. I mean, Anita Hill wasn't just someone making accusations. There were corroborating witnesses. There were facts and allegations that he could have responded to and Steve Kroft could have asked him.

You know, what about the incident here? Did you ever go -- were you -- was she ever in your apartment? Were you ever -- was she ever alone in your office? Did you ever see her after hours? I mean, those are the kind of questions 60 Minutes sometimes asks the people they're interviewing. They didn't -- he didn't ask that time. So all he was allowed to do was simply assert his innocence, and, you know, disparage Anita Hill.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Gender, Government, The Judiciary
Network/Outlet
CBS
Show/Publication
60 Minutes
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine
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