Law in Popular Culture

Anita Hill's credibility problems aren't explored in HBO movie, former reporter says

  • Print

A journalist who covered the Supreme Court nomination hearings of Clarence Thomas says an HBO movie about the event fails to highlight credibility problems of Anita Hill, the lawyer who accused him of sexual harassment at work.

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.), former reporter Stuart Taylor Jr. says the movie Confirmation leaves out details to portray Hill as completely truthful and Thomas as “a desperate, if compelling liar.” Taylor is now a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

”While it is hard to believe Anita Hill simply made the whole thing up,” Taylor writes, “she was far from credible—and the behavior that she alleged was inconsistent with everything else we know about Clarence Thomas.”

According to Taylor, the movie:

• Ignores that Hill left out some of the most shocking allegations against Thomas in her initial written statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee and in her initial FBI interview. Hill claims FBI agents said she didn’t need to discuss things that were too embarrassing; the agents denied it.

• Fails to mention that Hill denied five times that a Democratic staffer told her she might be able to force Thomas to withdraw without being publicly identified. After conferring with her lawyers, Hill agreed that she had been told this.

• Doesn’t mention Hill’s “implausible claim” that she followed Thomas from the Education Department to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission because she feared losing her job. “Avoiding this problem,” Taylor writes, “the film mentions only her alternative, and less than plausible, claim that Judge Thomas’ offensive behavior had suddenly ended, only to begin again at the EEOC.”

• “Takes at face value” Hill’s claims that the 11 phone calls she made to Thomas after leaving the EEOC were for professional matters or to return his phone calls. The movie didn’t include a message taken by Thomas’ secretary: “Just called to say hello. Sorry she didn’t get to see you last week.”

• “Tries to erase the fact” that no one else has accused Thomas of sexual harassment or dirty talk.

• Presents another former EEOC employee as a credible witness who decided not to testify. In reality, then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Joe Biden feared the woman’s testimony would backfire because of credibility problems.

Another journalist who co-wrote a book about the confirmation hearing, Jill Abramson, has a different opinion, Fortune reports. She reviewed the script of Confirmation for accuracy, and she found it to be accurate.

“The movie remains studiously neutral of who was telling truth,” Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times, says in a Q-and-A with Fortune. “But Jane Mayer and I, in three years of reporting, found the weight of it proving Hill to be the truth teller.”

“The reason we wrote the book was because we weren’t satisfied with the fact that all of the leaders at the time were saying that it was ‘he-said, she-said,’ that you could never get to the truth. We found that wasn’t the case.”

A New York Times review of the film is here.

Hill, now a professor at Brandeis University, spoke with Essence about the movie and her experience during the hearings.

“What if the Senate had actually taken me seriously?” Hill asked Essence. “What if they decided that they were going to use this as an opportunity to reflect best practices in the workplace? I think they would have done a thorough investigation, not a rushed investigation led by the FBI, which had, as far as we know, very little experience investigating sexual harassment. It would have meant calling qualified experts in sexual harassment. It would have meant throwing out irrelevant testimonies and calling all the witnesses who were testifying to similar patterns of behavior. What if they had reflected best practices? How much pain and anguish could they have saved American women?”

Hat tip to How Appealing.

Updated at 8:55 a.m. to include additional coverage.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.