NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO
OCTOBER 6, 1992
BOB EDWARDS, host: This is "Morning Edition." I'm Bob Edwards.
One year ago today, National Public Radio and New York Newsday reported Anita Hill's allegations of sexual harassment against her former boss, US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. In an interview with NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, Hill accused the Senate Judiciary Committee of disregarding her accusations. She explained why she decided to go public just two days before the Senate confirmation vote on Thomas.
ANITA HILL (ACCUSER): Here is a person who is in charge of protecting rights of women and other groups in the workplace. And he is using his position of power for personal gain, for one thing, and he did it in a very--just ugly and intimidating way, but he is also really in spirit, and I believe in action too, violating the laws that he's there to enforce.
EDWARDS: Following public disclosure of Anita Hill's allegations, the Senate vote on Thomas's confirmation was delayed so the Judiciary Committee could hold hearings into Hill's allegations. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll among registered voters shortly after those hearings found that 47 percent believed Thomas and only 24 percent believed Hill. A year later, 44 percent of those surveyed by the same organization now believe Hill, only 34 percent believe Thomas. We asked Nina Totenberg and Ruth Mandel, director of the Center For The American Woman and Politics at Rutgers University, to revisit the controversy.
NINA TOTENBERG (NPR CORRESPONDENT): You'll recall that up until October 6th, Judge Thomas was easily going to be confirmed, and, in fact, I'm told that there were about 60 votes for his nomination. Then on October 6th, we broke our story about Anita Hill, and Anita Hill the next day had a press conference. As a result of that and the phones ringing off the hook on Capitol Hill and the faxes vaporizing in all the offices, there was chaos in a lot of the offices and suddenly there were 52 votes against Clarence Thomas's nomination if the vote were to take place on schedule that Tuesday. And the Republicans realized that they did not any longer have the votes for confirmation. The Democrats realized the same thing, but rather than using this as leverage to get a long-term postponement to investigate the charges, the pressure really was just to have some kind of a hearing. Many of the votes who'd switched were not really switched votes. They just wanted some face-saving device and, therefore, the leadership did not do anything that would have forced a long-term postponement. As a result, the Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings two days later, had three days of hearings and then a vote the following Tuesday and--and, of course, we know what happened as a result of that is that we had sensational hearings but resolved very little and left a lot of doubts in people's minds about Anita Hill, about Clarence Thomas and about the whole confirmation process.
EDWARDS: Professor Mandel, what impact has the Thomas/Hill hearings had on women in the political process?
PROFESSOR RUTH MANDEL (DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR AMERICAN WOMEN): Well, it's had an enormous impact on the atmospherics for 1992 and it's had a concrete impact on candidates and on organizations in the women's political community. There are more women running for the Congress than ever before and a greater increase in the numbers of candidates. Now I would have to say that they didn't come into politics because of the Senate hearings a year ago. They were in politics, they were in the pipeline for the most part. What happened as a result of the hearings was that some of them might have moved a little faster to make the race that they're going to make this year. Others who had decided to run, who entered primaries might have benefited and, in fact, I shouldn't say might because I believe they did benefit in many cases from an increased interest on the part of voters in selecting the woman on the ballot and sending her to Washington. Now some of that interest is not connected to Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, but some of it is.
EDWARDS: Now according to the polls, most people believed Clarence Thomas's testimony and felt he should be confirmed, so what was it about those hearings that galvanized women?
MANDEL: Women were galvanized because the image of a woman coming to the highest law-making body in the country, confronting them with a complaint, and being received as someone who was not believed as someone who was talking about an issue that the senators seem mystified by, the drama of the confrontation gave people a visual image of a government that was run by a rather homogeneous group of powerful men who did not seem to have any knowledge of or sensitivity to an issue which affected countless women's lives.
TOTENBERG: When you think of this hearing and the picture in your brain, what you see is 14 white guys and one black woman alone. Now you may also see one black man alone, but he wasn't alone, he had a coterie, at least, of White House folks around him.
MANDEL: Yeah, and I think what it did--I think there was a theme all through the year, beginning in October of 1991 and the incidents which were played out for the American public following Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, included the William Kennedy Smith trial, the Mike Tyson trial, the Tailhook incident. Over and over again the public was treated to images of women who were in the powerless position either as victims or as supplicants or as people with complaints and the place to take those complaints was a place that was controlled entirely by men in leadership. Those images reinforce the emotion that we saw emerge in October at the hearings.
TOTENBERG: That may be true, but I must say I--I--I think women were very much divided on many of these issues, such as the Tyson trial, the William Kennedy Smith trial. So I think that may be, in my view at least, overstating it. I'm not quite sure I fully understand why the Hill/Thomas hearings had such a resonance for so long. I certainly never anticipated that it would. In modern American society, most big events like this evaporate very quickly. Why a year later this should be more powerful than the Persian Gulf War, I have to say still escapes me to some extent.
EDWARDS: What if Clarence Thomas hadn't been so conservative, what if he had been a liberal judge, would they have had this big a deal?
TOTENBERG: Well, it certainly would have been as big a deal initially. I think it's fair to say that had he voted differently than his liberal critics expected and his conservative supporters hoped, some of this furor would have been dissipated. If, for example, he had voted to uphold Roe vs. Wade instead of to reverse it, the balloon might well have been pricked and the air started to come out of it, but because he lived up to expectations of both liberals and conservatives, there remains, I think, this cloud over his head because, after all, even in his first round of hearings, he maintained that he had no views on many of these issues, that it now appears that he did have fairly strong views on, and so I think it's rebounded against him in some ways.
EDWARDS: NPR legal affairs Nina Totenberg. We also heard from Ruth Mandel, director of the Center for the American Woman and Politics at Rutgers University.
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Excerpt from Nina Totenberg’s National Public Radio report on the first anniversary of Anita Hill’s sexual harassment charges against Clarence Thomas. October 6, 1992.
Credit: Totenberg, “Hill’s Sexual Harassment Charges 1 Year Ago”, Morning Edition, NPR, Oct. 6, 1992. Used with permission of National Public Radio.