ABC Sympathetically Spins ‘Withering’ Media Attacks on Anita Hill

On Tuesday’s "Good Morning America," ABC host Robin Roberts sympathetically interviewed Anita Hill and asserted that her 1991 testimony in front of the Senate resulted in the law professor enduring "withering scrutiny from the press." Roberts also pointedly noted that Hill "passed a polygraph test. Clarence Thomas refused to take one. You passed one." An ABC graphic defiantly observed, "Anita Hill: ‘I Stand by my Testimony’"

The segment on GMA stood in stark contrast to the mostly positive and fair coverage Thomas received on Monday’s "Good Morning America" and "Nightline." (The Supreme Court justice has been promoting his new autobiography.) Reporter Jan Crawford Greenburg allowed Thomas to tell his side of the story and attack accusers, such as when Greenburg noted, "Thomas says he faced more racism in the confirmation fight than he did as a child in the segregated south."

As the MRC’s Tim Graham wrote on Monday, Hill, who accused then Supreme Court nominee Thomas of sexual harassment, hardly suffered through "withering scrutiny" from many media outlets, especially in the wake of the hearings. In early 1992, "60 Minutes" reporter Ed Bradley gingerly asked Hill, "When someone looks at you and sees Anita Hill, what do you want that to mean?"

In an interview that same year, "Today" host Katie Couric didn’t exactly grill Thomas’s accuser when she asked, "Twenty years from now, fifty years from now, when people look back at these hearings, how do you want them to think of you?"

Although Roberts did ask a few tough questions, many of her queries were of the softball variety. She tacitly seemed to accept the validity of Hill’s testimony and invited the law professor to comment on whether the workplace situation is "better" 16 years later. The GMA host claimed that Thomas’s accuser has "done a lot of work where you are over the years. Is it better now in the workplace for women?"

Roberts closed the segment by informing viewers of Hill’s op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times. And while the ABC host allowed Hill to get away with describing Thomas as still being a "very angry" person, Roberts didn’t mention that Hill herself lashed out at the Supreme Court justice in the Times piece. She referred to Thomas as "nasty" and the purveyor of "outright smears."

In a 1991 edition of Notable Quotables, the MRC catalogued the vicious attacks from the media on Clarence Thomas and the sympathetic portrayal of Anita Hill. One quote, from the October 21, 1991 edition of Time, shows the absurdity of claiming Hill suffered "withering" scrutiny:

"And then there was Anita Hill, the poised daughter of so many generations of black women who have been burned carrying torches into the battle for principle. The cause of civil rights and social justice has so often fallen to them to defend. Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth were slaves by birth, freedom fighters by temperament. Rosa Parks was a tired seamstress who shoved history forward by refusing to give up her seat on the bus....The latest to claim her place in line is Anita Hill, a private, professional woman unwilling to relinquish her dignity without a fight."

-- Time Associate Editor Nancy Gibbs, October 21 issue.

A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:12am on October 2, follows:

7am tease

Robin Roberts: "Fighting back. Anita Hill, the woman who stood between Clarence Thomas and the Supreme Court now facing new questions and new criticisms. Her story and what she has to say to Clarence Thomas now. She joins us live in a GMA exclusive."

7:12

Robin Roberts: "The new book by Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas has not just given us a window into one of the most mysterious figures on the court, the book take us back 16 years to those explosive confirmation hearings that rocked the country, deepening the fault lines of race and gender here in America. On Monday, you heard what Justice Thomas had to say about that tumultuous time and what he had to say about his accuser Anita Hill. This morning, we’ll hear from her. But first, a look back at those hearings."

Clarence Thomas: "–This combative, in your face person, suddenly, this demur person. And it's just not that person."

Roberts: "16 years later, Clarence Thomas still says Anita Hill is a liar. In his new book he called her ‘my most traitorous adversary,’ once again, raising the question just who was telling the truth all those years ago?"

Unidentified voice [1991 file footage] "Professor, do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"

Anita Hill: "I do."

Roberts: "Hill was a professor at the University of Oklahoma when she was called before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Before she even testified, she was accused of being a political pawn."

Hill: "The idea that this is somehow a political ploy that I am involved in, nothing could be further from the truth."

Roberts: "She had not worked with Clarence Thomas in eight years, and yet Hill testified that her memories of their alleged interactions were vivid and vulgar."

Hill: "He spoke about acts that he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes."

Roberts: "As a result of her testimony, Hill faced withering scrutiny from the press and hours of questions from Republican senators."

Alan Simpson (file footage: R-WY): "If what you say this man said to you occurred, why in God’s name would you ever speak to a man like that the rest of your life?"

Hill: "That's a very good question. And I'm sure that I’m sure that I cannot answer that to your satisfaction."

Roberts: "So many of us riveted by the law professor versus the Supreme Court nominee. And Anita Hill, now a law professor at Brandeis University, join us this morning. Thank you for willing to come and talk to us. [sic] We certainly do appreciate it. How are you?"

ABC Graphic: "Anita Hill: ‘I Stand by my Testimony’"

Hill: "I'm well, thank you. It's a pleasure to be here with you."

Roberts: "You see the senator at the very end. Still 16 years later, that is a question that many people, especially men pose the question, if, indeed that dd happen, why did you continue to work with him? How could you even talk to him?"

Hill: "Well, it is amazing how much we tolerate in the workplace, workplace abuse. And I think men can understand it if they think about some of the bad behavior that they witnessed and that's been heaped on them. But still, they go back to the job because it's their job and either they want very much to do the job that they're hired to do and to prove that they can do it, or they really need the money. And so it's a combination, I think, of factors. Personal factor, financial factors. Just in some ways, it may even be ego involved. You really want to do the work that you're hired to do and you're going to do it even in the face of abuse."

Roberts: "Many of us are scratching our heads and saying it can't be 16 years. And looking back, is there anything that you would have done differently? I know you maintain, still, that your testimony was completely truthful. After the hearings, you passed a polygraph test. Clarence Thomas refused to take one. You passed one. But is there anything you, looking back, you would have done differently?"

Hill: "I did take the polygraph test in the midst of all that turmoil in Washington, D.C. and I don't know what I would do differently now. I've looked back and tried to think what could I have done that would have made this less combative, that would have made it less tumultuous and I can't think of anything I could have changed that at all. I do say, though, you know, hindsight always has 20/20 vision."

Roberts: "Sure."

Hill: "And in the 16 years that have passed, and I live every day of those 16 years and think about it probably every day, but in those 16 years that have passed, I've heard from so many people who say those hearings taught me. They allowed me to come forward. They've allowed me to reconcile what happened in my life. And so with hindsight, I can't think that I should have done anything differently."

Roberts: "Of course, we're talking about it now, again, 16 years later because of Supreme Court justice Thomas's memoir. And he has some very pointed things to say about you that I'd like to get your response. In his book, he describes you as ‘touchy and apt to overact.’ He says your work was ‘mediocre.’ And he calls your testimony ‘extravagant fiction concocted as to have the maximum possible impact on the public.’"

Hill: "I have heard all of those things. I understand that he is very angry. But– And he wants to vindicate himself. But, in fact, when I testified in 1991, I was truthful. What I described happened, actually did happen, and what I've learned over the years is that it's happened to many people in the workplace. I don't have the imagination to come up with the things that occurred to me. I wouldn't even think of those things in talking about them. And I certainly wouldn't put myself in a position of testifying before the whole world about them. So they did happen, as I said."

Roberts: "His wife was also interviewed, and I want to play a portion of what she said. Because she had something that was directed directly towards you and needs a response."

Virginia Thomas: "I'm sure she got swept up into something bigger than she may have understood at the beginning of whatever she was doing, but I think she owes us an apology and I look forward to receiving that phone call or that visit one day."

Roberts: "Is that going to happen one day?"

Hill: "No. You know, I don't have a quarrel with Virginia Thomas and I don't want to be drawn into a fight with Virginia Thomas. I was there in 1981 and for almost two years and worked with Clarence Thomas and I know what happened. I'm sure she wants to stand by and support her husband, but she wasn't there in the workplace with me."

Roberts: "Is it better in the workplace now 16 later [sic], because you've done a lot of work where you are over the years. Is it better now in the workplace for women?"

Hill: "It is better now. But I'm really concerned that the approach that Clarence Thomas is taking now is really so typical of people who are accused of wrongdoing. They trash their accusers. They come up with characterizations that are as far from the truth as possible. And I don't want this to become the model for how we react to bad workplace behavior. I think we can move forward on these issues. We have begun to do that. And I think we can continue to do that. But we have to face them looking at all of the evidence and move forward and resolve these claims without this kind of rancor."

Roberts: "Anita Hill, thank you very much. Appreciate you coming forward. She has op-ed in he New York Times explaining more."

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org