'60 Minutes' Too Easy on Thomas? They Were Very Easy with Anita Hill

October 1st, 2007 4:36 PM

Those people who thought Steve Kroft’s interview with Clarence Thomas on Sunday’s 60 Minutes was not tough enough should remember that Anita Hill received a very gentle 60 Minutes treatment on February 2, 1992. Ed Bradley drew out the disclosure that she was a Democrat, but went on with a set of gooey questions about whether she has Eleanor Roosevelt quotes on her office wall.

CBS made no attempt to investigate Hill's unproven claims. The purpose was public relations. Bradley began: "We haven't heard much from Anita Hill since those hearings, but she's heard a lot from people around the country: more than 30,000 letters of support, many from women who shared their stories with her and let her know she's not alone."

Bradley began by asking Hill: "You've been described as someone who is conservative in your positions. Is that a fair description of you?" In a clever, roundabout answer that any politician would envy, Hill agreed: "I think I am conservative to a number of people because I do have a religious background. I do go to church. I'm very close to my family. I have a strong belief in the family structure. And I work in a very conservative profession. As a law professor, generally, it's a conservative profession, so I think in that sense it is fair to say that on some issues or in some respects I am conservative."

Bradley pushed further: "How would you describe yourself politically?" Hill admitted "I'm a Democrat." That's the only revelation the interview produced. Instead of following up, Bradley embarrassed himself with Barbara Walters-style couch talk: "I'm told you have a picture of Eleanor Roosevelt on your office wall, with a quote from her that says: `You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do things you think you cannot.' Is that...you do have that?" She said yes. He then asked "What were the costs" of her testimony, and she complained about her loss of privacy.

When Bradley attempted to press, it came gently: "Let me ask you two difficult questions. Now it's not an effort to rehash the hearings, but these are the two questions that I think I heard in conversation more than any other. People say, ‘well, I watched her, and I wanted to believe her, but I don’t understand how she could say nothing for ten years. I don’t understand how she could stay with him. I don’t understand how she could follow him to another job.’ How do you make those people understand?" She said she couldn’t, and changed the subject to how women are demeaned as a whole. Bradley did not follow up on any detail from her testimony.

The second "difficult question," or at least the next question was "Do you think that's what, in--in essence, happened to you--that you came forward, and they didn't believe you, that in some ways you were made to be the culprit?" Bradley also asked : "Do you think it would have been different if there had been a woman on the [Senate Judiciary] committee?"

In conclusion, Bradley stole another question from the Barbara Walters playbook: "When someone looks at you and sees Anita Hill, what do you want that to mean?"

It's not an exaggeration to note that "60 Minutes" asked tougher questions of Barbra Streisand in an interview a few months earlier. Get a load of Mike Wallace: "You were totally self-absorbed back thirty years ago...Twenty or thirty years of psychoanalysis. What is it that she's trying to find out that takes 20 to 30 years? Twenty years you've been in psychotherapy off and on....You know what your mother told me about her relationship with you. She says you haven't got time to be close with anyone. To anyone. That's your own mom." Why would CBS be tougher on Streisand, an entertainer, than Hill, who stepped forward (first anonymously) with the intention of forcing the second black nominee to the Supreme Court to step aside?

By refusing to investigate Hill or ask her any tough questions, CBS allowed her to control the interview, hardly a regular practice with conservatives on "60 Minutes." Bradley's refusal to push on his best discovery, that Hill was not a conservative in any truly political sense, took all the news value away from the segment.

Note how differently Hill answered the question of her supposed conservatism in an interview with Essence magazine, safely isolated from a mostly white media and viewing audience: "There is this sense that I was an absolute staunch conservative, that I was opposed to affirmative action, that I supported Robert Bork. A lot of that has been misunderstood. First of all, I have never been against affirmative action, and while I was extremely uncomfortable with the way the hearings were conducted, I did not support Robert Bork on the issues. My position is that the man should not be judged on his personality. We decided we didn't like him as a person, that he was strident, arrogant, and therefore he was not a good person for the Supreme Court position. My position was that he should stand or fall on the issues."

Essence magazine also asked about Hill's tenure at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): "I reviewed EEOC policy, and I consistently pursued an approach consistent with the longstanding policy of the commission, which was often antagonistic to the position of the Reagan Administration."

Essence asked: "Were you really an archconservative duped by the liberal Senate?" Hill replied: "Oh, that's absolutely absurd. First of all, I wasn't an archconservative. Second, I wasn't duped by the Senate."