MediaWatch: October 1997

Vol. Eleven No. 10

Janet Cooke Award: All Hail Anita Hill, Millionaire Victim

The liberal media see the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton as a politicized publicity stunt that does little more than cause pain to the Clinton family. So why do these same media outlets keep running the propaganda films of Anita Hill?

Not one witness before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 would confirm they witnessed any part of her wild charges against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Not one "corroborating" witness could even claim she’d ever named Thomas as her harasser.

But media liberals do not care if rehashing these charges again multiply the pain to Justice Thomas and his family. When Newsday reporter Timothy Phelps wrote a pro-Hill book in 1992, ABC and NBC interviewed him. When Wall Street Journal reporters Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer wrote a pro-Hill book in 1994, all the networks interviewed them, and ABC devoted a one-hour special and a Nightline to their attacks on Thomas. Now in 1997, NBC aired two Today interviews and two Dateline segments to help sell Hill’s book — a financial bonanza Hill swore before the Senate she would never undertake. For presenting yet another tribute to Hill’s "courage" without the inconvenience of an opposing view, Dateline earned the Janet Cooke Award.

In Dateline’s two promotional segments on September 29 and 30, host Jane Pauley presented Hill as a victim, making almost no reference to Hill’s post-hearing career, of dozens of speaking appearances for a fee of $10,000 to $12,000 per event, or her two-book deal for $1 million. At the end of the second segment, Dateline’s only mention of Hill’s good fortune was used to further glorify Hill’s image. Stone Phillips announced: "Some of the profits from Hill’s book are going to a scholarship fund for survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing."

After beginning with a new poll showing more people now believe Hill than Thomas, Pauley used old pictures and current staged photo-ops of Hill standing on her old Oklahoma farm to create maximum sympathy. "Speaking Truth to Power, Anita Hill’s just released autobiography tells how the thirteenth child of a poor black Oklahoma farmer came to face fourteen white Senators and an audience of millions on a weekend in October few will ever forget."

Pauley’s questions never reflected the possibility that Hill had made up a story for partisan gain: "She had liked the work and got on well with her boss until, she said, he started pressuring her for dates and when she declined began to torment her with crude and suggestive remarks. Ten years later, she waited for Senate investigators to track her down as reporters already had. She agonized over what she’d tell them." She asked Hill: "Courage came slowly, didn’t it?" Later, as Hill expressed surprise that Thomas denied her charges, Pauley cooed: "I can see the steel in your spine even as you say that."

For two nights, Pauley presented Hill as the victim of a smear campaign — and never as the creator of one. Take this sentence: "Though her charges were explosive and potentially fatal to Clarence Thomas’ career, it was Anita Hill who faced the firing line." As if Thomas never faced a firing line that weekend.

Pauley recycled the charges made against Hill by Republican Senators, who were asked to cross-examine Hill on her credibility with only a couple of days to search for affidavits. For example, Sen. Alan Simpson was quoted saying: "So if we had 104 days to go into Miss Hill [as the Democrats had to investigate Thomas and his personal life], to go into her background, her proclivities..." Pauley jumped in: "Conservative columnist William Safire shared the common interpretation that in fact ‘proclivities’ was in fact a veiled suggestion that she was a lesbian."

But if NBC had considered David Brock’s book The Real Anita Hill, they would have found what Simpson said he was talking about: a former student of Hill’s at Oral Roberts University who told Simpson that weekend that Hill had once approached him at ORU and said in a suggestive manner "I know your favorite color is chocolate." On an another occasion, Hill asked teasingly "Who do you think you are, Long Dong Silver?" The student told Brock he thought of her as "the world’s kinkiest law professor," but his father objected to requests for an affidavit, saying it would hurt his son’s career. Brock added that Hill’s friend at EEOC, Diane Holt, couldn’t believe Hill was presented as a prim Baptist, when they often discussed men and sex at EEOC.

Pauley also noted: "In the end, she’d be called a liar for the record." NBC aired Sen. Arlen Specter claiming he suspected Hill of perjury. But Thomas was also accused of lying, not only about Hill, but about his claim he’d never discussed the Roe v. Wade abortion decision. Liberals took out ads looking for people to discredit Thomas on that claim, but no one came forward.

By contrast, on pages 380 and 381 of Brock’s book, he lists 13 separate occasions where Hill lied or differed with dozens of other witnesses. For example, she claimed she moved from the Education Department to the EEOC because she thought she’d be out of a job, despite repeated explanations that she was a "career" employee, and despite Thomas’s successor, Harry Singleton, saying he asked her to stay on. But Pauley was too busy creating a sympathetic victim to review the actual case.

Pauley mentioned Sen. John Danforth. She told Hill he "says there was a mission of destruction, but you weren’t the victim he was thinking about, Clarence Thomas was." Pauley aired Hill’s reaction before asserting: "Danforth never wavered in his support of Thomas but now admits he ‘fought dirty’ and that his connivings to disseminate the dirt about Hill even months after the hearings went too far." Pauley returned to that thought when she concluded the second Dateline story, referring to the first story’s beginning, with the idea of Hill’s parents being shocked at the scandalous allegations hurled in the hearing room: "Former Senator Danforth, Justice Thomas’s Senate sponsor said, ‘I make no apology for trying to defend my friend. He went through a wretched ordeal. Never again should we allow this to happen in America.’ In fact, the thing Anita Hill wants most is an apology, but not to her — to her parents."

Aretha Marshall, producer of the NBC segments, did not return MediaWatch phone calls. To complete their promotion, NBC excerpted the Hill book on the MSNBC Web site. Despite all the liberal media help, Hill thinks she’s the victim of an unfair press: "The media’s lack of sensitivity about harassment, the brevity of coverage allotted, along with media manipulation by White House staff members and consultants may explain the faulty coverage. And these factors may shed light on why, throughout the process, an independent press went along with the Republican perspective." No surprise the Republicans wondered whether she was divorced from reality.