But Hill never alleged that Thomas did anything either violent or criminal - and polls taken at the time (USA Today, October 14, 1991) showed the public sided with Clarence Thomas over Hill by a nearly two-to-one margin (47% to 24%). Despite the public's verdict, journalists have never cast the Hill case as that of a politically-motivated accuser engaged in a high-profile act of character assassination.
Sciolino summoned that view Sunday when talking about French reaction to Strauss-Kahn's alleged attack:
Anita Hill challenged Clarence Thomas when he was up to become a Supreme Court justice back in 1991. She claimed that he had sexually harassed her. He was confirmed, but the episode opened up a discussion in the United States. Sexual harassment laws were expanded, and there were new laws of conduct that were imposed in the workplace. The same thing is happening in France....A few minutes later, ABC's Cokie Roberts endorsed Sciolino's point:
Elaine's point is so well taken on, is that we really did change after Anita Hill, and it made a difference in terms of electing women to office, all of that. And one of the things that we have been way too slow to change on, but finally slightly getting there, is listening to women when they make these complaints. And the fact that this fancy French hotel paid attention to a chambermaid instead of the powerful Frenchman is really a change that is very, very welcome.Of course, since the discussion was about powerful men accused of sexual crimes, the panel could have chosen to remind viewers of the sexual harassment charges Paula Jones brought against then-President Bill Clinton in 1994 (in an actual lawsuit, not last-minute testimony on the eve of Thomas's confirmation vote), or Juanita Broaddrick's charge (documented on NBC's Dateline in 1999) that Clinton raped her when he was a candidate for Arkansas governor in 1978.
Here's more of the transcript of the exchange as it took place towards the end of the May 22 This Week on ABC:
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Extraordinary falls from grace for two larger-than-life politicians this week, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, both engulfed in sordid scandals. When it comes to sex and politics, very little shocks us these days, it seems, but these stories have struck a chord, and we want to sort out the implications.Strangely, the Sciolino article host Amanpour refers to appeared not in the Times but in Time magazine. That sometimes suggests the article is too hot for the original publication to handle, though Sciolino's "Viewpoint" piece is no more biased than what Sciolino has written on the news pages of the New York Times:
ABC's Cokie Roberts and her husband, journalist Steve Roberts, joins us. And joining us from Paris, Elaine Sciolino of the New York Times. Her book is called "La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life." Thank you all for joining me.
I want to start by saying, obviously, these are two very different issues. One is an alleged crime; the other is a full-blown sex scandal. So on the alleged crime, Elaine, I want to go to you first, because you've written this week that this is France's Anita Hill moment. What do you mean by that?
ELAINE SCIOLINO: Anita Hill challenged Clarence Thomas when he was up to become a Supreme Court justice back in 1991. She claimed that he had sexually harassed her. He was confirmed, but the episode opened up a discussion in the United States. Sexual harassment laws were expanded, and there were new laws of conduct that were imposed in the workplace.
The same thing is happening in France. This is a moment in which all French - I mean, everybody from the commerca - the merchant in the store - to the top politicians, are saying, is this the way we should be behaving? Is this a moment of truth for us, consciousness raising? Should we indeed think about changing our own rules?
France is having its Anita Hill moment. When the law professor testified before a Senate committee in 1991 that her former boss Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her, he denied everything and was elevated to the Supreme Court. But the hearings were a turning point. Women suddenly said that the Mad Men style of behavior they had put up with for so long at work - the leering, the inappropriate touching, the sexual banter - was not acceptable.
In her 2007 "news" coverage from Paris of the French election, Sciolino routinely vilified tough-on-crime French president Nicholas Sarkozy for his criticism of violent immigrants in the Paris slums, which she called his "ruthless, us-against-them attitude."
Clay Waters contributed to this post.