Hill teaches much of our nation about harassment, a costly lesson


October 13, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- Tell me she lied.

Tell me Anita Hill made the whole thing up.

Tell me you believe her to be a schemer, a vixen, a liar and a tramp.

You cannot. Deep in your heart, you cannot.

It was not only what Anita Hill said, but the way she said it that has doomed Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

Hill was not only composed, she was unshakable. Time and again, she was a rock upon which hostile senators foundered.

After hours of nitpicking, they could not lay a glove on her. The tedious cross-examination of Hill by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., might have made sense in a court of law, but it made no sense in the court of public opinion.

He scored no points. Thousands of Americans listened to him and realized why they were so happy they had never become lawyers.

And what of Clarence Thomas? It was not merely Anita Hill's charges he attacked, which was certainly his right, but the fact that Hill was allowed to make the charges at all.

He called it a "national disgrace" reserved for "uppity blacks." It was, he said, a "lynching."

But if it was a lynching, I think you will find Thomas' fingerprints on the rope.

Given, however, that the testimony amounts to a he said/she said dispute, what did Hill really accomplish?

She has caused this country to go through the nearest thing we have ever had to national group therapy.

Sexual harassment has, for the first time, been made a national priority. It is now something not only to be discussed and understood but to be rooted out and destroyed.

A price was paid.

It was not an easy week for anyone and there are many to feel sorry for -- including Clarence Thomas. But I could not help feeling the most sorry for two people who sat silently behind Anita Hill in the Senate Caucus Room hour after hour: her parents.

Elderly, dignified, people who had lived their entire lives tilling the soil of rural Oklahoma, they sat in the glare of the TV lights and heard their daughter forced to say the words "penis" and "pubic hair" and "oral sex" and "Long Dong Silver."

It is easy, in a certain sense, to say things before all of America, because you never really see all of America.

But it is very, very hard to say certain things before your own parents. And it must have been agony for Anita Hill.

So why did she do it? Why did she testify? Why did she accuse Clarence Thomas when it would have been so much easier not to?

Because she believed it was right. She believed truth was important.

He said it was not the truth. He said it was a pack of dirty, filthy lies. So how can we really know?

I know a judge, a man of wisdom and experience, who once told me how he judged the credibility of conflicting witnesses.

"It's one of the phrases they teach you in law school," he said. "Cui bono? Who benefits? You ask yourself who benefits from the story they tell."

So who benefits here? Clarence Thomas made an impassioned denial, his baritone voice vibrating with anger. How does he benefit from doing so? He stands a chance -- though seemingly slim -- to be elevated to the highest court in the land.

What is Anita Hill's benefit from accusing him? Publicity? Attention? Did she look like she enjoyed saying the things she said in public? Do we expect to see her next week making a commercial for No Excuse jeans?

Or is she a liberal zealot, hell-bent on keeping Thomas off the court? This is hard to believe. She was, after all, a professor of law at Oral Roberts University, one of the most intensely right-wing institutions in the land.

Perhaps, as some tried to charge, she is caught up in a world of fantasy, making up wild charges from the twisted depths of her )) imagination.

But when she was asked questions under enormous pressure, did she seem to be inventing or did she seem to be remembering? Did she seem to answer honestly, even when her answers could have been improved?

At the end of her testimony there was some warm praise for her. Praise for the "service" she performed.

But that service was like the service that comes because of a fatal plane crash: It takes a tragedy to move us to action.

BTC For many days now, women have been saying the same thing about men and sexual harassment: "They don't get it. They just don't get it."

I don't believe it. I think sexual harassers get it just fine. They have gotten it for years. They know what it is like to repeatedly talk dirty to a woman in order to see her squirm or to see her nervously laugh in an attempt to be "one of the boys."

They know what it is like to touch a woman employee or pat her or maul her in order to see the fear and helplessness in her eyes.

Men who sexually harass women understand sexual harassment very well. They understand it and they revel in it. I have never met a reptile who did not know he was one.

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