NBC Boosts HBO Film With Softball Anita Hill Interview

In a softball exchange with Anita Hill on Monday to promote the new HBO film commemorating her sexual harassment claims against Clarence Thomas, co-host Savannah Guthrie touted the law professor as a “reluctant witness” during the 1991 hearings that attempted to sink the nomination of the future Supreme Court justice.

Guthrie proclaimed: “That epic battle ultimately led to Justice Thomas's confirmation by one of the most narrowest margins in history and it also transformed how we talk about sexual harassment in the workplace. Well, now, the landmark hearings are the subject of a new HBO movie, Confirmation...”

In her first question to Hill, Guthrie sympathized: “So you’ve seen the movie, is it hard to relive those memories? We just played a piece of tape where we see you in that testimony. Or in some ways, is it always with you?” Hill replied: “It's always with me.... But it's important for us, I think, to relive the story and continue to learn the lessons from it....an entire generation has grown up and has never really witnessed this event.”

Guthrie worried that a younger audience would see the controversy as a he said/she said matter: “I watched the film. I thought some people who aren't familiar with these events might say, ‘Well, gosh, maybe we'll never know what really happened there.’ If people think that, does that sit right with you?”

Hill argued:

It doesn't sit right with me because I think that sends a really wrong message for people who are going through some of these same things today. This idea that we can never know the truth is just not accurate. We can know the truth if we have the right processes in place. And what I think the film shows very clearly is that the wrong processes can lead us to confusion. I think that's exactly what happened in 1991.

At no point did Guthrie bother to challenge the credibility of Hill’s accusations against Thomas. In 2011, National Review explained the suspicious circumstances under which Hill’s claims went public:

Initially, Hill didn’t want to testify before Congress. The FBI had promised her anonymity, and the bureau had briefed the ranking members of the Judiciary Committee on her allegations.

“Biden had already signed off on the FBI report as not cause for any delay in the proceedings,” says Boyden Gray, then counsel to the president. Hill’s allegations didn’t add up: The FBI determined that “what she was complaining about had occurred – based on her own timeline – two or three months before she had ever met Thomas.” Nonetheless, “once it was leaked to the public, it started the whole thing all over again.”

[Senator Orrin] Hatch tells National Review Online he knows who leaked the report to the media. It was an “extremely liberal staff member for one of the members of the committee” who wanted to destroy Thomas’s chances for getting on to the Court.

On Monday, Guthrie continued to tee up Hill: “When you think about that atmosphere and how difficult it was, and you look at our political atmosphere now, it makes you think 1991 almost looks genteel by comparison. And yet, to be in the middle of it must have been terribly difficult.” Hill declared: “Oh, it wasn't at all genteel. It was quite vicious at times and I think the film shows that very, very well, very clearly.”

Guthrie wrapped up the interview by wondering: “Are you at peace with him being on the Supreme Court and your role in history?” Hill responded: “Well, I'm really at peace with my role in history. I don't think I have to become at peace with him being on the Supreme Court. I think what we have to do, though, is to understand why my testimony and my experience...was so important to the integrity of the Court and why it spoke directly to the character of the nominee at the time.”

On Friday, fellow Today co-host Matt Lauer surprisingly pressed actress Kerry Washington (playing Hill in the movie) on whether the film was merely “political propaganda” designed to “support Anita Hill.”  

Here is a full transcript of the April 11 segment:

7:43 AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: She called herself the reluctant witness. Nearly 25 years ago, Anita Hill appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and laid out allegations of sexual harassment against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

ANITA HILL: I took no initiative to inform anyone. But when I was asked by a representative of this committee to report my experience, I felt that I had to tell the truth. I could not keep silent.

GUTHRIE: That epic battle ultimately led to Justice Thomas's confirmation by one of the most narrowest margins in history and it also transformed how we talk about sexual harassment in the workplace. Well, now, the landmark hearings are the subject of a new HBO movie, Confirmation, with Kerry Washington portraying Anita Hill.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Anita Hill One-on-One; Supreme Court Scandal Revisited in New HBO Film]

And here to talk about the film and the legacy of her testimony is Anita Hill. Good morning to you, Professor Hill, it’s good to have you here.

HILL: Good Morning, it’s good to be here.

GUTHRIE: So you’ve seen the movie, is it hard to relive those memories? We just played a piece of tape where we see you in that testimony. Or in some ways, is it always with you?

HILL: It's always with me, but there are moments when I relive it more strongly. And of course, seeing it in film brings that back to me. But it's important for us, I think, to relive the story and continue to learn the lessons from it. So that's why the film is important and having a younger audience, 25 years is a long time, an entire generation has grown up and has never really witnessed this event.

GUTHRIE: Kerry Washington not only portrays you, she's one of the executive producers of the film and you met with her. What was that experience like? What kinds of questions was she asking you?

HILL: Most importantly, I think she just wanted to know not only how I felt during the confirmation hearing, but what was I thinking. And that really was encouraging, to have someone wanting to know, what was my thinking pattern? What was going on in my mind during this whole episode?             

GUTHRIE: I watched the film. I thought some people who aren't familiar with these events might say, “Well, gosh, maybe we'll never know what really happened there.” If people think that, does that sit right with you?

HILL: It doesn't sit right with me because I think that sends a really wrong message for people who are going through some of these same things today. This idea that we can never know the truth is just not accurate. We can know the truth if we have the right processes in place. And what I think the film shows very clearly is that the wrong processes can lead us to confusion. I think that's exactly what happened in 1991.

GUTHRIE: When you think about that atmosphere and how difficult it was, and you look at our political atmosphere now, it makes you think 1991 almost looks genteel by comparison. And yet, to be in the middle of it must have been terribly difficult.

HILL: Oh, it wasn't at all genteel. It was quite vicious at times and I think the film shows that very, very well, very clearly.

GUTHRIE: We of course reached out to Justice Thomas, who had no comment on the film. In the past, he’s written a memoir, he’s certainly stated that he continues to say he’s innocent of all of the allegations. Have you ever had occasion in all these years to run into him or have any kind of interaction?

HILL: No, no.

GUTHRIE: Would you ever want to?

HILL: Well, it’s not something that I’ve actually thought about or interested in doing. I don't think there’s any real need. I think he’s stated his position, and I certainly hold to mine.

GUTHRIE: Are you at peace with him being on the Supreme Court and your role in history?

HILL: Well, I'm really at peace with my role in history. I don't think I have to become at peace with him being on the Supreme Court. I think what we have to do, though, is to understand why my testimony and my experience – and not only my experience, but the other three women who weren't called – why that was so important to the integrity of the Court and why it spoke directly to the character of the nominee at the time.

GUTHRIE: Professor Anita Hill, it’s good to have you here. Thank you for your story, we really appreciate it.

HILL: Thank you.

GUTHRIE: And once again, Confirmation premieres on HBO on April 16th.

NB Daily Appointments Judiciary Conservatives & Republicans Liberals & Democrats NBC Today Video Savannah Guthrie Anita Hill Clarence Thomas

Sponsored Links