Just let me say this about that

Kevin Cowherd

October 30, 1991|By Kevin Cowherd

THERE HAS been some talk recently about why this column did not weigh in with its usual shrill and hyperbolic commentary on the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill controversy.

The answer is quite simple. I wanted to see which way the wind was blowing first.

If the polls had indicated overwhelming support for Judge Thomas, you can bet your bottom dollar this space would have carried a snappy piece excoriating Professor Hill, topped by the kind of shrieking 120-point headline unseen since "JAPANESE BOMB PEARL HARBOR!"

On the other hand, if the Gallup people or the ABC News-Washington Post pollsters had reported that a vast majority of Americans believed Anita Hill, my lead sentence would have been something along the lines of (I'm thinking out loud here): How can we allow this lying little weasel a seat on the Supreme Court?

Oh, I would have hung that man out to dry. Or that woman, depending on who most people thought was telling the truth. Because that's my style. When I see someone who's wounded, reputation-wise, I want to finish him (or her) off.

It's the first thing they teach you when you get a column. Go for the jugular. Kick 'em when they're down. Then run 'em over with the car.

So that, basically, is the dilemma I faced in the wake of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings.

Day after day, I waited for some momentous shift in public opinion, a clear signal from the masses that would guide my thoughts and propel my word processor keys in one direction or another.

Believe me, I did my homework, too. I read a half-dozen newspapers a day. I listened to talk radio. I watched all the news programs on TV and tuned in to the bickering on "The McLaughlin Report" and "This Week with David Brinkley."

I even ended each evening with "Nightline," hoping Ted Koppel, who is only the most influential media person in the world, would help nudge public opinion solidly behind either the judge or his accuser. The man has that kind of clout.

Of course, the consensus never came. Sure, most polls indicated that more Americans believed Judge Thomas than believed Anita Hill. But it wasn't the kind of overwhelming majority that I craved, the kind that makes for a nice "safe" opinion piece where you don't have to worry about starting your car the next morning.

So I thought: Hmmm, I better keep my mouth shut on this whole thing. Don't want to rattle anyone's cage. Don't want to get the right-wingers or the feminists stirred up unless we've got some heavy numbers, public opinion-wise, on our side.

Subconsciously, too, I was probably saving my thoughts for the piece that now sits before you, or perhaps lines your cat's litter box, as the case may be.

Today we'll look at whether the relationship between men and women in the workplace will change significantly as a result of Professor Hill's sexual harassment charges.

My own feeling is: it will not change one iota. At least it, uh, won't change that dramatically.

I mean, OK, it might change a little bit. Hey, I'm not The Amazing Kreskin. If you want prescience, well, you've come to the wrong place, pal. I don't do prescience. Hell, I have enough problems distinguishing between the active and passive tense.

It just seems to me that once this furor from the Clarence Thomas Affair dies down, life in the workplace will go on as always.

The decent guys will continue to comport themselves in gentlemanly fashion. Unfortunately, the sexual harassers will continue to sexually harass. And reasonable women -- and, just so there's no misunderstanding here, let me go on the record as saying most women are reasonable (whew) -- will be able to discern between the two, just as they always have.

Let me add this, though. I don't want to live in a world where a man can't tell a woman in the office that she's wearing a nice outfit, or where a woman has to think twice before she compliments a man on his after-shave.

Not that this has ever happened to me, but you hear things.

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