History becomes myth, myths become legends, and legends become unquestionable. And if a biased media is writing the story, even dubious tales can turn into unassailable “fact” with the right combination of narrative and time. This has been the case with Anita Hill.
Hill’s testimony alleging that Clarence Thomas, then a nominee for the Supreme Court, repeatedly harassed her in the workplace made for explosive politics back in 1991. It’s reemerging as an issue in 2019 thanks to the new presidential candidacy of Joe Biden. As senator, Biden chaired the Judiciary Committee, and in the eyes of the Democratic voters he hopes to court, he permitted too many tough questions attempting to ascertain the truth from Hill.
To be clear, Biden voted against Thomas’ confirmation. There’s even good reason to think he conducted the hearing in such a way as to give Hill every advantage, including leaving witnesses of highly dubious credibility, who would have likely undermined her own, off the roster. This act has been transformed over time into a claim that Biden stacked the deck against her.
Apparently, even a favorable hearing in front of the whole world is not enough for a woman alleging that a man has sexually wronged her. Asking basic questions and cross-referencing contrary evidence, as the committee did, is not acceptable in the era of “Believe All Women” hashtags.
While Biden initially insisted on “The View” that he had not personally “treated [Hill] badly,” he has since backpedaled given Hill’s refusal to accept his soft apology and blowback from the left. By Monday, Biden was ready to do his full mea culpa, telling a Pittsburgh town hall audience he took responsibility for her purportedly unfair treatment.
But Hill’s story was hardly incontestable. Her testimony to the committee was markedly different—and more salacious—than what she had given to the FBI just days earlier. She changed key points of her narrative before and after a lunch recess.
After the date she claimed harassment had taken place, Hill followed Thomas to another office, routinely called him even to exchange pleasantries, and volunteered to drive him to the airport. Colleagues asserted that she had praised Thomas’ nomination before accusing him. An officemate—whom Hill denied knowing until she was forced to acknowledge familiarity under questioning—told The New York Times that the allegations were the result of Hill’s unrequited sexual pursuit of Thomas, not the other way around.
Yet today the allegation that Thomas harassed Hill is treated as fact by the majority of mainstream media outlets, and she is hailed as the godmother of the Me Too movement. Questioning her story, as Biden’s capitulation shows clearly, is no longer an option in polite company.
Despite Americans’ low opinion of the media, a repeatedly advanced narrative can still take its toll. When Hill first testified in 1991, almost 60 percent of those listening believed Thomas, with fewer than a quarter saying they trusted Hill’s story. Just a year later, those numbers had shifted to 44 percent for Thomas and 34 percent for Hill. After human rights awards, accolades from the fashion industry, and even a movie starring Kerry Washington lauding Hill as a brave Me Too pioneer, those numbers have undoubtedly shifted further against the justice.
Justice Thomas has received no Hollywood invitations to tell his side of the story. For almost 30 years, he has had to endure the permanent stain that the media circus has left on his good name, and when his term as justice is recorded in the history books, it will always bear an asterisk on one side of the aisle. It’s a fate that likely awaits Justice Brett Kavanaugh as well, and it will not be surprising if polls in ten years show overwhelming support for his accuser Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, while all contradictory evidence is brushed off and forgotten.
Sexual crimes perpetuated against women are an intolerable injustice, but so is smearing an innocent man’s name in perpetuity. The shift in public opinion over allegations fairly perceived as dubious at the time is yet another hard reminder of what’s at stake in the battle over diminishing standards of proof.
For the feminist left in 2019, mere allegations of sexual impropriety are enough to destroy a man’s reputation forever, and even conducting an investigation into those allegations demands an apology tour. Daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers who recognize the danger to the men they love should raise their voices against this terrifying new standard.
And Biden should direct his apologies to someone more appropriate: Justice Clarence Thomas.