Confirmation, HBO’s new “fact-based dramatization” of the October 1991 Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill clash, reminded Jill Abramson, a former New York Times Washington bureau chief, managing editor, and executive editor, of “more recent congressional proceedings” that featured both “a lone woman witness” and copious Republican misogyny.
“Hillary Clinton was the star of this show trial, the Benghazi hearings last fall,” wrote Abramson in a Friday column for the U.S. edition of the liberal British newspaper The Guardian. “Both sets of hearings were billed as fact-finding exercises, but turned out to be poisonous displays of partisanship. The Republican attack machine was turned, full force, on both witnesses. With stoicism and poise, both Hill and Hillary withstood the onslaught to fight other, more important battles.”
In 1994, Abramson and Jane Mayer co-authored Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, which claimed that “the preponderance of evidence suggests” that “Thomas did lie” when he denied having sexually harassed Hill. HBO’s premium-cable rival Showtime based a 1999 movie on the book.
From Abramson’s column (bolding added):
The tableau of the lone woman testifying before a congressional committee of white men has become iconic. It is the dominant image in Confirmation…
…Confirmation brought to mind more recent congressional proceedings with a lone woman witness facing a mainly white, male set of inquisitors…Hillary Clinton was the star of this show trial, the Benghazi hearings last fall.
Both sets of hearings were billed as fact-finding exercises, but turned out to be poisonous displays of partisanship. The Republican attack machine was turned, full force, on both witnesses. With stoicism and poise, both Hill and Hillary withstood the onslaught to fight other, more important battles.
Over the years, the two women have become feminist icons. Hill brought the issue of sexual harassment into the American consciousness…Hillary made bettering the lives of women and children the centerpiece of her work, from her days as first lady of Arkansas to serving as secretary of state…
Confirmation ends with Hill being overwhelmed by the avalanche of supportive mail she received when she arrived home. In reality, there were bomb threats and calls for her ouster from the faculty of the University of Oklahoma law school. Then came a vile book, The Real Anita Hill by David Brock, portraying her as a liar who was “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty”…
Clinton has been grist for what she once called “the vast, rightwing conspiracy” since her husband became president…With no illusions about how politics operates, her hide had to toughen…and she has become a pretty good knife-fighter herself...Brock has changed his political stripes and become a trusted member of Clinton’s inner circle. He also apologized to Anita, to me and to Jane.
What Confirmation reminds us is that Washington DC has rarely been a place that respected women’s words, or their authority. Perhaps this is the year that finally changes.