Why I believe Anita Hill: or at least disbelieve Clarence Thomas

Why did Clarence Thomas’s allies fight to keep his video-rental records from becoming public? Almost certainly because they would have included a film starring “Long Dong Silver.”

Now that Clarence Thomas’s wife has decided to take time out from her ethically-challenged fundraising to raise the question again, here’s what I regarded at the time as brass-bound proof that Thomas acceded to the Supreme Court only by repeated acts of perjury:

One of the memorable parts of Hill’s testimony was her claim that Thomas harassed her by discussing hard-core porno movies, including one that starred “Long Dong Silver.” Thomas insisted that he’d never even seen such a film. Some Democratic staffer came up with the idea of subpoenaing Thomas’s video-rental records. Either a film starring “Long Dong Silver” would appear on the list, or it wouldn’t. One way or the other, it would have been pretty clear who was telling the truth.

Thomas’s friends on the committee, led by Arlen Specter, raised a terrific fuss about the invasion of Thomas’s privacy, as if the issue were his viewing habits rather than his veracity. Joe Biden folded like a house of cards, and the records were never produced.

When there are two sides to a dispute, each of which knows the content of a piece of evidence, and one side demands that the evidence be produced while the other demands that it not be produced, the inference that the evidence is unfavorable to the latter side is, I think, a very strong one.

Now it’s possible that both Hill and Thomas were lying: perhaps he was a porn-watcher and she knew about it, but in some way that didn’t involve his use of film criticism as a tool of sexual harassment. That would make me think worse of Hill, but not better of Thomas. Perjury is still perjury, and he almost certainly committed it in order to join the court he now disgraces.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

41 thoughts on “Why I believe Anita Hill: or at least disbelieve Clarence Thomas”

  1. Well, maybe "Long Dong Silver" was not on the list, but "Big Busted Mamas" volumes 1 and 2 were. The specific truth is settled one way, and the larger truth settled another.

  2. I always believed Hill because when I started in the working world in 1973 the kind of talk she described was common. Most of the men I worked with talked that way, at least occasionally, and they got a special delight in talking to me that way because I was 18 and new to the office. They enjoyed seeing me react to it. Other women told me it was much the same in their offices. My mother and grandmother, who had both worked for most of their adult lives, said it had always been that way; my uncle, when I asked him how to handle it, told me if I couldn't cope with normal office talk I should just get married and stay home.

    At that time the term "sexual harassment" did not exist, so women either ignored the talk or found a job in a different office (where they might well run into the same thing).

  3. I'm still waiting for a consensus theory to emerge as to why Mrs. Thomas did this. So far I've heard

    1) misdirection for some kind of impending scandal

    2) some kind of obscure bank-shot GOTV effort, on the theory that people who'd otherwise stay home will go vote Republican to avenge Clarence Thomas… again.

    3) drunk–as in, the kind of drunk that makes ill-advised phone calls at 7:30 on Saturday mornings

    4) "Hey! Look at me! Hey! Hey! Look at me! Hey! Look at me! Look at me! Hey! Hey! Hey!"

    5) after two decades, some of the rationalization and denial is starting to break down, and this "acting out" is a way to shore up the defense mechanisms

    6) She genuinely has no idea why people find this bizarre behavior.

    The last four boil down to some crippling combination of dumb and deranged; the first two just won't work. Anyone have any other suggestions?

  4. No need to speculate about perjury when we have a fine solid example of proven perjury in the impeachment of Slick Willy Clinton. Since we're taking a walk down memory lane, let's stick to the facts as were proven.

  5. Another way to evaluate a case is, when you post about it and your opponents, instead of answering on the merits, say "Look! Bill Clinton!"

  6. Mark's idea of "proof" is pretty weak. It's possible that Specter and Thomas were worried about political viability and not perjury. Disclosure that Thomas viewed pornographic or even non-pornographic but otherwise controversial videos might have ended his nomination.

    As I understand your last paragraph, the accusation of perjury is not only unfounded, you don't care that it's unfounded and even if it were disproven you'd not retract it.

  7. I don't know what has been happening in the personal lives of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas that would have inspired her to do the unusual act of contacting Anita Hill about this issue at this time. In any event, Clarence Thomas has been on the Supreme Court for over 20 years. Nobody was going to impeach him because of what the Anita Hill scandal at this point.

    Also, Mark has mentioned this in the past, but that was only in the context of when Clarence Thomas mentioned it himself.

  8. Matt: (6) isn´t a motivation for the action; it´s reason for not refraining from it as anyone sensible would. Faulty brakes are just a precondition for the skid. I go for (4) or (5). Drunk at 7.30? Surely not. Hard-core alcoholics might need booze that early, but are they getting any kind of high on it? The lady is jsut a bit nuts. Which is not a reflection on her husband, who has at least stayed with her. He doesn´t deserve his high office, but that´s another matter.

  9. If Bux were able leave off from his nostalgic fapping long enough to consult the constitution, he would learn that an impeachment is an indictment, not a conviction. Yes, Clinton was impeached by the House; and at his subsequent trial, the Senate acquitted him.

    As Bux is obviously fiercely opposed to perjury, and obviously opposed only on the highest principles rather than for mere partisan reasons, I feel sure he will join me in urging the House to impeach Thomas for perjury (yes, Bux, justices can be impeached, too). Thomas's confirmation hearings lie far in the past, it's true, but SFAIK the House is not bound by the sort of statute-of-limitations nonsense that might tie the hands of a professional court. Doubtless all the relevant facts will come out when the Senate then tries Thomas. And hey, the innocent have nothing to fear (a sentiment that Thomas must surely endorse, given his criminal-procedural jurisprudence; and perish the thought that such a principled, impartial, intellectually honest jurist would think things different if they might apply to him).

  10. Mrs Tilton, please, go on and tell us more about Thomas's crim-pro jurisprudence. Maybe start with Crawford. (When I say that, I mean you might want to start your reading on the subject with that.)

    James, if you're going to offer psycho-ananlysis, maybe you can offer it for Hill, who responded to an innocuous voice mail message by involving her employer and the FBI before contacting the NY Times.

  11. innocuous: "not likely to give offense or to arouse strong feelings or hostility : inoffensive"

    So, out of the blue, Thomas's wife calls up Hill and implicitly calls her a liar and this is not likely to arouse strong feelings or give offense?

    No, not innocuous by a long shot.

  12. Bux: ". . . let’s stick to the facts as were proven."

    You have not cited any "facts."

  13. David, I'm looking at merriam-webster.com, and it has, as the first definition, "harmless." Do you think someone was harmed? More, do you think the fact that Hill got the FBI involved is evidence that the call was likely to cause someone to react that way?

  14. Since you are so into "first definitions," which is of course a meaningless argument, since you could have used "harmless" if in fact you meant the first definition:

    harm 1. Physical or psychological injury or damage. 2. Wrong; evil.

    psychological 2. pertaining to the mind (can't really use #1, since that is pertaining to psychology, which doesn't fit the context)

    injury 3. wrong or injustice done or suffered (which is a widely used meaning)

    So, yes, most people consider one to have created "harm" when one causes psychological distress by making a false accusation.

    Certainly those who believe and defend Thomas believe he was "harmed" even though Hill's mere making of statements (since your position seems to basically be "words will never harm me") was no more "harmful" to Thomas than Ms. Thomas's statements to Hill were to Hill.

    So, if you believe Thomas was harmed by Hill, you must believe that Hill was harmed by Thomas's wife.

    Do you believe Thomas was harmed by Hill, Thomas?

    Thomas's wife certainly seems to thinks so – does one apologize for something that is "harmless?"

  15. Gee, it appears that Sabl in fact used "injury" in just this way (2:21 PM post) earlier today: "I don’t care if Rand Paul’s been injured. I’ve been injured."

  16. David,

    For the sake of argument, I'll stipulate that Thomas was harmed by Anita Hill's testimony. If I understand what you're saying correctly, Hill should not have testified before the Judiciary Committee because her testimony was harmful to Thomas.

    By extension then, no one should ever testify in any proceeding if their testimony is harmful to someone else. Do I have that right?

    For the sake of argument, I want you to stipulate that Thomas did in fact sexually harass Anita Hill with references to Long Dong Silver and the like. She shouldn't testify to that because her truthful testimony is harmful to Mr. Thomas. Are we well served by Hill holding her peace? Does she have an obligation to the greater society to present these truths? Or does the proximate harm to her harasser outweigh any obligation she has to the citizens of the nation? Suppose she knew for a fact that Thomas had accepted bribes? Should she remain silent about that?

  17. David, if you believe that Hill was harmed by the fact that G. Thomas left a voice mail for Hill privately stating a view that Hill must have known that G. Thomas held to, you must believe that Hill is unusually vulnerable. (Was Hill also harmed by the fact that G. Thomas thought ill of her?)

    The difference between a wrongful accusation and a rightful one seems obvious as a distinction between what Hill did and what G. Thomas did. And certainly the fact that G. Thomas's phone message was private (or was until Hill played it for the FBI and the NYTimes) while Hill's accusations were public seems another obvious distinction.

  18. I believe that they were both telling the truth. Admittedly I did have a fever the entire week that I watched the hearings. Thomas did not remember anything. His testimony may have been an inspiration for Alberto Gonzales. I think that he did everything that she said and that he regarded it as totally normal, unimportant and forgettable.

    At one point either Spector or Hatch (I get them mixed up) started talking about how he could not imagine anyone talking that way unless they were insane. Either he was lying or EXTREMELY innocent; I knew lots of people who talked dirty at the office.

    I thought it was nice of Biden to inquire whether her extremely nice old boyfriend was married but she did not seem to take advantage of this knowledge. I wonder what became of him.

  19. Shh, everyone. Thomas clearly never got the memo that David Brock admitted he made everything up.

  20. I think that he did everything that she said and that he regarded it as totally normal, unimportant and forgettable.

    Right. Hell, if I had to remember EVERYONE whose Coke I adorned with one of my pubes, I wouldn't have any brain cells left!

  21. Damn. Brett should be here, explaining why we're terrible people for even discussing Ginnie's drunk-dialing habits.

  22. I have to agree with Thomas' first comment. I think that if the Senate obtained a list of videos rented by Clarence Thomas, there is a reasonable chance that the list would have been leaked, which might cause embarrassment even if it didn't show perjury.

    Also, I strongly doubt that Clarence Thomas told any of the Republican Senators that Anita Hill's accusations were true. It seems apparent that Clarence Thomas never told his wife that the accusations were true, so either the accusations were false or Thomas is pretty good at keeping a secret. Either way, it's hardly likely he would admit anything to Republican Senators.

    Note that the public record was enough to raise suspicions about Clarence Thomas' truthfulness. Thomas gave an implausible answer when asked about Roe v. Wade, and his testimony was in direct contradiction to that of Anita Hill. So even if we accept the argument that Republicans opposition a subpoena shows that Republicans thought that Clarence Thomas might have committed perjury, that wouldn't show that the Republicans were privy to any information not available to the rest of us.

  23. "With," said Virginia Thomas to Anita Hill's answering machine. "What you did with my husband." Not TO my husband. "With my husband."

    To me, that seems like the strangest detail in this bizzare story. A "high-tech lynching" is what you do TO somebody, not WITH somebody.

    Surely I'm making too much of a perfectly normal colloquialism, as when one woman asks another, "What have you done with my handbag?" That's perfectly normal usage which implies no sort of participation on the part of the handbag. "What did you do with my husband?" might even seem perfectly normal in some circumstances, as when a woman has temporarily mislaid her husband at a cocktail party, and is asking a perfectly innocent question of the last person she saw him talking to.

    Still and all, in the Thomas/Hill context, "what you did WITH my husband" pricked my ear a bit.


  24. "Note that the public record was enough to raise suspicions about Clarence Thomas’ truthfulness. "

    Note that it's also enough to raise suspicions about Anita Hill's truthfulness: She followed Thomas to a new job. After the supposed incident. Nor did she report the 'sexual harassment' at the time.

    We, as a society, give women an enormous amount of power by crediting their words in "he said, she said" situations. It's a simple fact that some women take advantage of that to lie, knowing they'll be believed. It's not hard to come up with examples of men who've had their lives ruined by lies, a certain lacrosse team, for instance.

    I don't think we'll ever know the truth of the matter, but I think as a general principle, if women want such accusations to be believed, they damned well should level them at the time, not years later.

    Indeed, is this not what they owe to other women, as well?

    Not going out of their way to stay around their supposed harasser, that would help, too.

    So, given the circumstances, no, I don't believe Anita Hill. But I'm not morally certain about it.

  25. I believe (Ju)Anita. You know, because a woman would never lie about this sort of thing, and because, as Gus points out, there's a pattern here.

  26. "We, as a society, give women an enormous amount of power by crediting their words in “he said, she said” situations."

    Ha ha ha! Brett gets the clueless award of the day.

  27. "She followed Thomas to a new job. After the supposed incident. Nor did she report the ‘sexual harassment’ at the time."

    Victims of domestic abuse (conduct that is far more serious than sexual harassment) frequently stay with their abusers and don't report the conduct. This clearly is enough to put claims of domestic abuse in doubt, and if women want such accusations to be believed, they damned well should level them at the time, not years later.

    Anyway: Angela Wright, Rose Jourdain, Sukari Hardnett.

  28. We need not assume that everything that Hill said was true in order to reach the conclusion that Thomas was lying. Hill said that lots of things happened. Thomas said that nothing happened. Even if some or many of the things that Hill claim to have happened did not happen, it is plausible to suppose that Thomas was lying in claiming that nothing happened.

    We must also ask: who had the greater incentive or motivation to lie? The question answers itself.

  29. Brett, at the time this all happened, there was nothing to accuse Clarence Thomas OF. We barely even had the idea that what Thomas did, or was accused of, was an offense, let alone a name for the offense or a system for dealing with it.

    As for following him to another job, as I mentioned earlier and you don't seem to have read, this kind of conduct was so common back in the day (when I started my first job in 1973 and for years thereafter) that a woman had an excellent chance of running into it no matter where she worked.

    And in what universe is the woman's word usually taken in these matters? Not the one I live in.

  30. Brett: "Nor did she report the ‘sexual harassment’ at the time. . . . I think as a general principle, if women want such accusations to be believed, they damned well should level them at the time, not years later."

    She did, to several people.

    "Four individuals (Ellen Wells, John W. Carr, Judge Susan Hoerchner, and Joel Paul) testified that Hill had been upset at the time she worked for Thomas about what she had said was sexual harassment by him." – source: Wikipedia

    Furthermore, it does not appear from the record that Hill sought the attention, but rather divulged the information in response to pressure from activist groups or questioning by governmental officials. She'd already made the accusations to friends earlier, so assuming she's telling the truth, stating the contrary to the FBI could have subjected her to perjury charges and there was no way to stop the ball from rolling forward.

    Finally, there possibly was no law against it at the time since the "hostile work environment" interpretation had not yet been adopted and the alleged actions of Thomas did not include any claim at any time of "discrimination" against Hill (denial of any work privilege or promise of such a privilege in return for responding to the alleged sexual advances), so why would an official report have been made? People don't generally officially report lawful incidents of objectionable conduct because nothing can or will be done about it.

    "Anita Hill agreed to take a polygraph test which found that her statements were true." – source: Wikipedia

  31. "Victims of domestic abuse (conduct that is far more serious than sexual harassment) frequently stay with their abusers and don’t report the conduct."

    Victims of domestic abuse are typically married to their abusers, and financially dependent on them. Anita, who was neither, didn't merely "stay with" Thomas, she followed him.

    David, that's not what I mean by "report", And I'd like to see come contemporaneous evidence, rather than recollections collected once they're politically convenient.

  32. Really? She followed *him*? Are you sure she wasn't following a salary or an advancement opportunity?

    Have you ever done something for more than one reason? Have you ever taken an action when there was both a reason not to, and also a reason to go forward? Do situations have a variety of conflicting advantages and disadvantages?

    Do you think that women aren't used to being in a continual series of situations where their autonomy and self-respect are challenged more or less constantly? Do you think that when we encounter widespread discrimination and disregard, verbal abuse, and just general lack of respect, we can just choose to change venues to some place where we won't get that anymore? And what imaginary realm would that be?

    If you do think that, would you let me know where that setting is? Because I'd really, really like to "leave the situation". I'm ready! Not going to be a victim of gender anything anymore! No one will be able to blame ME for my own oppression!

    No, sirree, I am one empowered woman! Empowered for positive change! I'm ready to live on that planet, and free myself from harassment, pay inequity, fear of rape and assault, catcalls, and everything else women are responsible for putting up with all the time — as soon as you tell me where it is and how to get there!!

  33. "Victims of domestic abuse are typically married to their abusers, and financially dependent on them. Anita, who was neither, didn’t merely “stay with” Thomas, she followed him."

    Solid effort, but you left out several other possible distinctions that don't make a difference.

  34. Anniecat and David would have what Thomas was accused of doing by Hill both legally inconsequential and legally offensive, depending on which part of the conversation you come in at. We should at least be clear that the hostile work theory had already been adopted by the EEOC by the time in question.

    Alan has even lower intellectual standards than Kleiman. If you invent something about Alan, he think at least some of it is plausible.

  35. Hasn't Thomas's record on porn-like decisions always been in favor of the smut?

    Wasn't one of the few times he spoke was at a porn-style trial?

    someone with super search should document this. My memory is very good, but it has been a 20 year duration.

  36. Mark, there is no reason for me to add any more rationale to what your few sensible commentators have already said. This was a weak post, not worthy of you or your intellectual stature, and all too typical of the left's preference for backslapping from their fellows for the assumptions they live by than for fact finding. God help any of us on the right if we ever tried to subpoena some Obama nominee's rental records or telephone bills. Funny how privacy rights are seen clearly through the penumbra when it comes to sexual issues and family planning but disappear when they stop you from exposing your intended victims. And the right is equally inconsistent on that score, I admit.

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