The Justice as Victim

ELLEN GOODMAN

May 21, 1993|By ELLEN GOODMAN

Boston. -- It's been a year and a half since Clarence Thomas escaped from what he called ''a high-tech lynching'' and went off to the Supreme Court to lick his wounds, nurse his grievances and decide the law of the land.

Occasionally during this time, a few words have escaped from behind the pillars of the court. The justice has been described as deeply embittered, uncomfortable in public, and claustrophobic in his role. His wife has told one magazine, ominously, that he owed nothing as a justice to the groups that had opposed him.

This spring he came out of his black-robed shell only to complain -- again -- about the terrible burden he has carried as a black conservative. At Mercer University he told the assembled, ''It is imperative that we recognize that where blacks were once intimidated from crossing racial boundaries, we now fear crossing ideological boundaries.''

Why, if you cross them, you might end up on the Supreme Court of the United States!

This construction of the justice as victim is a true work of political art. But it is not limited to the justice himself. Indeed, its chief architect of the moment is David Brock, the author of ''The Real Anita Hill,'' a book which has risen to the best-seller list by tearing down the law professor, and anybody around her.

Mr. Brock's polemic has been treated as the serious work of an investigative reporter who, in his own words, ''tuned into the Thomas-Hill hearings with an open mind.'' Its success is a tribute the power of marketing, footnotes, politics and, I suppose, Rush Limbaugh.

But despite those 35 pages of footnotes, the book is nothing more or less than a dressed-up version of the wildly vitriolic piece he wrote for The American Spectator last year. In that article, Mr. Brock described Ms. Hill as ''a bit nutty, a bit slutty,'' and that was the nice stuff.

A wise editor with a vitriol-check in his computer apparently cleaned up the book copy. But this extended version of his original attack portrays Ms. Hill as an incompetent, unstable, kinky, radical feminist (that's usually one word) who had weird relationships with men, went around charging sexual harassment and was sucked into the ''Borking'' of Clarence Thomas.

Alas, Mr. Brock himself is not exactly the objective investigator you read about on the book jacket. A conservative and former fellow at the Heritage Foundation, his book was funded in part by other conservative groups including one whose head financed the Citizen's Committee to Confirm Clarence Thomas.

More importantly, the book does not contain the long-awaited long-suppressed facts about Anita Hill. It's not, as the subtitle declares ''The Untold Story.'' It's the untrue story.

In this week's New Yorker, Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, two reporters from that left-wing rag, the Wall Street Journal, finally deconstruct the Brock book. Mr. Brock not only uses the method of ''a slick trial lawyer'' to ''line up facts to fit his agenda,'' they say, but the facts aren't the facts.

The New Yorker review isn't just another entry in the ''he said/she said'' sweepstakes. The two women, who are themselves writing a book about the hearings, pick apart a slew of inaccuracies about everything and everyone from Susan Hoerchner to Angela Wright. They rebut Mr. Brock's claims with affidavits and serious, sometimes hilarious, looks at the people he deemed credible. As these writers put it, under any careful assessment, ''Brock's arguments evaporate into an amorphous cloud of ill will.''

It's not possible in this space to go over their analysis point-by-point-by-point. As the ad for Mr. Brock's book puts it, ''Read it. Then, YOU decide.'' But in one especially slimy tidbit, Mr. Brock suggested that Ms. Hill -- not Mr. Thomas -- had the pubic-hair fetish because a student of hers found hairs in his corrected exam book. Ms. Mayer and Ms. Abramson interviewed the charming fellow who said, ''The whole thing was just a joke -- how the hell would anyone know whether it was pubic hair or not? The lady's black, you know; she's got kinky hair.''

The trashing of Anita Hill is to be expected, I'm afraid. The hearings re-ignited a political movement. If she is seen as the Rosa Parks of sexual harassment, Mr. Thomas is portrayed as the Alfred Dreyfus of wronged conservatives.

May I, however, add one more footnote: The confirmation hearings put Clarence Thomas on the bench, not the docket. He is now intellectually joined at the hip to Antonin Scalia. He's determining the law, writing opinions, and promising that he won't ''mellow.''

In short, he's there. He's there for life. And he thinks he's the victim.

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

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