After last-minute accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Anita Hill is back in the spotlight, and Boston Globe reporter Stephanie Ebbert got prime front-page space Wednesday for an incredibly fawning interview of Hill, who accused her boss Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment near the end of his Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991.
Ebbert’s story is headlined like a lament, and both the headline and the story itself assume the guilt of both Thomas and Kavanaugh, who each happen to be conservative Republican nominees: “Happening again? Hill’s not surprised”:
Who could have guessed this would happen again? That the imminent confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee would be upended by an allegation of sexual misconduct, setting up a potential showdown in the Senate Judiciary Committee and a cultural flashpoint in an already polarized nation?
Anita Hill did.
The law professor whose 1991 allegations of sexual harassment by a Supreme Court nominee foreshadowed the scene now playing out in Washington had long ago urged the Senate to establish a protocol to better assess sexual misconduct claims that emerge during the confirmation process. It didn’t.
In her first interview since a sexual assault allegation emerged against Brett M. Kavanaugh, Hill said that the Senate is no better prepared to vet claims against a nominee today than it was 27 years ago.
It's clear why Hill would talk to Ebbert first, besides mere proximity (Hill is a professor at Brandeis University, close to Boston):
The landscape has changed, of course. In 1991, when Hill was testifying, people could barely define sexual harassment. Now, nearly a year into the #MeToo movement -- as legions of women have divulged stories of sexual harassment or assault, resulting in men being ousted from positions of power -- the issue is at the forefront of many people’s minds.
Twenty-seven years ago, the lurid spectacle of Hill’s interrogation on sexual matters by an all-male panel of senators inflamed women’s sense of injustice and fueled political candidacies in the following election year, dubbed The Year of the Woman.
The prospect of a similar grilling is politically fraught in 2018, when a record number of female candidates are already running in the midterm elections.
Hill found her own credibility and reputation on trial during Thomas’s confirmation hearings, where the all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary Committee tested her account of sexual harassment. The optics now are slightly different -- four women serve on the committee -- but it’s unclear how the committee members will handle the limelight, as the #MeToo movement suddenly threatens a conservative nominee who seemed to be sailing to confirmation.
“One hypothesis would be, we’re in the #MeToo moment so all the men are going to be cautious about how they talk about this,” said Kelly Dittmar, project director at Gender Watch 2018, a nonpartisan project launched by the Center for American Women and Politics and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation to analyze gender dynamics through the 2018 election cycle. “But there are certainly politicians who have instead been saying . . . ‘This is unfair, an overreaction, an overcorrection.’ ”
Ebbert also portrayed Hill as a heroine and former Democratic Sen. Joe Biden as a villain (which, in the eyes of the media, will presumably be brushed under the rug presuming Biden runs of president in 2020).
While some senators grilled or dismissed Hill, former vice president Joe Biden, who led the Senate Judiciary Committee during Thomas’s nomination, was criticized for failing to protect Hill from hostile questioning and failing to allow four women to testify in her support.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement last year, Biden, a Democrat, said he owed Hill an apology.
Hill has little comfort to offer Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who said she had been sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh in high school. As many as 60 percent of those who file sexual harassment complaints face retaliation, Hill said.
Ebbert seemed uninterested in due process, or the possibility that Kavanaugh’s reputation risks being ruined over a false charge – only that “Ford is believed”:
Hill said she will not be upset if Ford is believed, 27 years after she was not. That is, in fact, her hope.
Ebbert also hailed Hill in July 2017, posing the question, “25 years after ‘The Year of the Woman,’ what’s changed?” She implied Donald Trump ushered in an era of sexism by defeating Hillary Clinton, without mentioning Clinton’s gross flaws as a candidate, or Bill Clinton’s own voracious sexual appetites, while lumping contentious policy debates over ObamaCare as assaults on women’s rights.