Will 1998 Be the Year of "That Woman"?

One of the most intriguing questions of the 1998 campaign will center on the partisans who flew the flag of Anita Hill en route to victory in 1992, the so-called "Year of the Woman." Will the same female politicians who defeated male Democrats in primaries or climbed the Capitol steps to challenge the clueless males who "didn't get it" about Hill's never-substantiated charges face the music in the Year of "That Woman"? Or will national and state reporters go easy?

An early indicator of the media's continuing Hill blindness came in March, when Hill announced on Meet the Press that even if Kathleen Willey was groped by the President, it wasn't sexual harassment, since it did not result in any employment discrimination. By that standard, she had no claim of harassment, either. [See box.] On August 28, Hill "watched from the front row" (reported The Washington Post) as Clinton appeared at a Martha's Vineyard celebration of Martin Luther King and vaguely joked about getting forgiveness practice.

Hill, newly installed at Brandeis University and an organizer of the Martha's Vineyard event, drew almost no media attention for her front-row seat. In the only remarks found on the Nexis news data retrieval system, she told the New York Daily News: "There are some things he has to do" to earn forgiveness, suggesting a presidential statement on what women "are going through, whether in the home or on the street or in the workplace."

On the other hand, Charles Ogletree, the Harvard law professor who led the charge on Clarence Thomas's reputation in 1991, drew a modicum of attention for his remarks on CBS, in a Bill Plante Evening News report and two Saturday Morning reports by CBS Radio White House reporter Mark Knoller: "It was the first time Mr. Clinton was heard to ask for forgiveness in the Lewinsky matter. Even so, the words 'I'm sorry' or 'I apologize' still have not crossed his lips. But the audience to which he spoke was so friendly and supportive, as were some other speakers, it was clear he didn't have to say he's sorry." Ogletree proclaimed this was not a fair-weather crowd: "And now in difficult times, I want you to know that the people here understand and feel your pain, believe in redemption, and are here because of you and are here with you, through thick and through thin." The Post showed Ogletree and others holding hands with Clinton singing "We Shall Overcome."

Rewind to May 3, 1993, when NBC's Today provided the only network interview with author David Brock on his book The Real Anita Hill. NBC couldn't have Brock on alone (as they did when he called conservatives a "neo-Stalinist thought police"). They invited Professor Ogletree to denounce Brock as a liar and a dupe: "He makes countless errors of fact, he makes outright lies, he refers to statements which have been proven false. It's a dupe....He's relied on lies, on distortions, on manipulations, on inaccuracies, and has put them in a book."

One of Brock's "distortions"? Ogletree claimed: "He's wrong about calling her an ultra-liberal...She supported Judge Bork...She worked with Reagan, she worked under Clarence Thomas, a known conservative ideologue. She's never been involved in any national or regional or local political activity. She's not known to be a political person." Hill's reactions to Kathleen Willey and Monica Lewinsky surely put that lie to rest. - Tim Graham