Title notwithstanding, the real Anita Hill is nowhere in these pages

May 16, 1993|By Lyle Denniston


David Brock. Free Press/Macmillan. 387 pages. $24.95. America's public discourse is being cheapened (it may already have lost most of its basic value) because of the barren superficiality of its content and the heavy-handed intolerance of its moral judgment. Now comes more proof: this new book by David Brock, which has quickly become the new political manifesto of America's Right.

Abundantly blessed by the Right-thinking intelligentsia, from columnist-TV commentator George Will to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, the Brock book is an important political document -- partly because of its emerging role as a call to ideological arms, but mainly because it illustrates in a blatant way all that has gone wrong with what passes for the discourse of public affairs today.

The book is inspired by a wholly familiar complaint of the Right: the "dirty tricks" quality it has perceived in the Cultural Left's campaigns against conservative nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. David Brock, a writer for American Spectator magazine (where he first critiqued Anita Hill) and a former Washington Times newspaper editor, leaves no doubt at any point in the book that he shares that complaint. But the book only originates with that; it goes well beyond, and itself becomes an ultimate dirty trick.

It is no surprise at all that this book would emerge or that it would gain such an adoring endorsement from the gurus of the Right: They have been aching for six years (since the defeat of nominee Robert H. Bork) to find some hero/heroine of the Left to trash, as they believe Mr. Bork was trashed. They can be satisfied with Mr. Brock's invention: a creature he chooses to call the "real" Anita Hill.

Ms. Hill, possibly everyone knows, is the Oklahoma law professor who accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991 of abusive sexual misconduct toward her when he was her boss in the government. In some circles, she has become a national heroine, the woman who almost single-handedly made America embarrassingly aware of the pernicious and chronic problem of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The political and moral intent behind Mr. Brock's book is easy to detect: His aim is to destroy that heroine's image by proving that there was never anything to her stories about Mr. Thomas. "The weight of evidence," Mr. Brock concludes, "is such that no reasonable person could believe that sexual harassment occurred in this case."

Along the way toward that conclusion, the author works mightily to resuscitate the personal reputation of Clarence Thomas. It is clear, though, that Mr. Brock has operated on the assumption that Mr. Thomas' candle can burn more brightly only if Ms. Hill's is extinguished altogether. In that sense, the book is not exactly flattering to Justice Thomas.

In search of an Anita Hill who could be as totally demonized as the Right felt Justice Thomas (and Robert Bork) had been, Mr. Brock scoured the gutters. The result is an almost astonishing display of political meanness, masquerading as objective investigation. George Will praised Mr. Brock for assembling "an avalanche of evidence." The book, in reality, is more akin to an avalanche of something more earthy than evidence.

The two main characteristics of Mr. Brock's work are its breathtaking leap to conclusions, and its clumsy -- sometimes even brutish -- use of innuendo.

Although there was, and still remains, much that is equivocal about the Hill vs. Thomas controversy, Mr. Brock seems agonizingly uncomfortable with equivocation. The book (placed tellingly between a cloth cover and a dust jacket in stark black-and-white) reaches, sometimes extravagantly, to resolve

all doubts against Ms. Hill.

Cleverly beginning with a mildly sympathetic portrait of her as the naive and unwitting dupe of evil-doing liberal advocacy-group leaders and aides to Democratic senators determined to stop the Thomas nomination, Mr. Brock works his way steadily toward the final manufacture of a "real Anita Hill": a conniving, left-wing radical, a foul-mouthed and foul-minded /^ hater of men and lover of pornography, a lousy lawyer and an even worse law teacher, a poor loser (at work and in romance) with a poisoned taste for getting even, and a world-class liar.

Mr. Brock, naturally, was very careful not to write this book in lurid prose; he wanted it to seem reasonable. He even warns the reader when he is about to introduce the most ghastly obscenities about her. For the most part, he composes his caricature of Anita Hill as if he were drawing together evidence for a legal document. He does not scream at the reader.

But, beneath its tissue-thin veneer of respectable writing, this book speaks -- in the main -- in filthy whispers.

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