Nina Totenberg’s journalism ignites the Anita Hill hearings.
Nina Totenberg, National Public Radio’s legal affairs correspondent, entered the Russell Senate Office building on October 11, 1991 expecting a routine working day—Round II of the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. But the tangle of media reporters, microphones, and television cameras alerted her that something very different from routine was happening: the story she had reported only a few days before had ignited a media firestorm.
Totenberg found her scoop by looking for the story that wasn’t in other reporting. Anita Hill had informed the Judiciary Committee in September about her charges of workplace sexual harassment, but its chairman, then-Senator Joseph Biden, refused to investigate unless she was willing to go public with her testimony. Biden asked the White House to have the FBI interview both Hill and Thomas, but there was no follow-up by the Committee.
Totenberg convinced Hill to be interviewed, and the correspondent filed her report on NPR on October 6. The hearings that began on October 11 lasted for three days and riveted the nation. The topic of sexual harassment had never before been raised and discussed so publicly. As Totenberg wrote later, “The hearings ripped open the subject of sexual harassment like some sort of long-festering sore. It oozed over every workplace, creating everything from heated discussions to an avalanche of lawsuits. In 1992, the number of sexual harassment charges filed through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Fair Employment Practices Agencies had increased by nearly 72% from the number of charges brought in 1990.”
Totenberg has been NPR’s legal affairs correspondent for decades. NPR received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for its gavel-to-gavel coverage—anchored by Totenberg—of both the original hearings and the inquiry into Anita Hill's allegations, and for Totenberg's reports and exclusive interview with Hill.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Nina Totenberg’s journalism ignites the Anita Hill hearings. ." (Viewed on March 7, 2021) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/oct/11/1991/nina-totenberg-s-journalism-ignites-anita-hill-hearings>.