The Thomas Clown Affair
As a wife, I understand where Ginni Thomas is coming from.
In particular, as the wife of a husband who endured a far less bruising confirmation process and is now, as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, far less the target of criticism, I feel her anger. Hell hath no fury like a wife whose husband has been publicly scorned.
My husband is Mr. Let’s Move On. I’m more Lady Macbeth with a Google alert. In my wifely capacity, not my columnist self, I remember — I still bristle at — every snarky quote, every unfair press release directed his way. If you worry that I’m referring to you, rest assured: I am.
So I’m not surprised if, nearly two decades later, Ginni Thomas remains consumed with the terrible injustice that she believes was done to her husband during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. If she still wants the apology she believes is owed by Anita Hill, I can empathize.
In fact, from her point of view, Thomas phrased it rather nicely in the message she left on Hill’s office phone at Brandeis University: “I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. OK, have a good day.”
A nice closing touch if you believe the person you’re addressing falsely accused your husband of sexual harassment.
So, one wife to another, I get it. As a reporter who covered every sordid minute of the Thomas-Hill hearings, I don’t. Ginni Thomas is wrong about who should apologize to whom.
(I should probably say here that I met my husband at those hearings. He was a staffer for a Democratic senator, I was The Washington Post’s Supreme Court correspondent, and we started dating afterward.)
Does anyone besides the two of them know the full truth about what happened between Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill when he was a Reagan administration official and she was a young lawyer on his staff? Perhaps not. But as I wrote when Clarence Thomas released his angry autobiography, the overwhelming weight of the evidence is on Hill’s side.
She complained to friends at the time about his behavior, telling one, Susan Hoerchner, that Thomas, then the chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, had “repeatedly asked her out … but wouldn’t seem to take ‘no’ for an answer.” Another former EEOC employee, Angela Wright, described how Thomas pressured her to date him, showed up uninvited at her apartment and asked her breast size.
Some of the strangest behavior that Hill cited — Thomas asking about a pubic hair on his Coke can, and his taste for extreme pornography — resonated with episodes from Thomas’ past. A college classmate, James Millet, recalled “an almost identical episode,” Kevin Merida and Michael Fletcher report in their biography, “Supreme Discomfort.”
Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson found two others who recalled a pubic hair-Coke can comment at the EEOC.
What’s a wife to do with this uncomfortable information? Clarence Thomas has taken the road of angry denial and, unless she’s about to let her marriage unravel over it, the path of least resistance may be for Ginni to join him there.
Why seek satisfaction from Hill now? One explanation might be that Ginni Thomas has recently found herself in the media cross-hairs over her role as head of a group dedicated to exposing the leftist “tyranny” of President Obama. Perhaps that has rekindled her unresolved feelings about Hill. Was it a coincidence that she made the call on the morning The New York Times ran a front-page story headlined, “Activism by Thomas’ Wife Could Raise Judicial Issues”?
And what to make about the other party to this transaction, Anita Hill? Why not ignore the message, rather than refer it to the campus police? Why play it for reporters and give interviews about it? A voice mail on an office phone isn’t exactly intrusive, and there was no harassing follow-up. Ginni Thomas might have been out of line, but she wasn’t threatening in any way.
Mayer and Abramson titled their book “Strange Justice.” That adjective might be fairly applied to all the players in this seemingly never-ending episode.
Ruth Marcus’ e-mail address is marcusr(at symbol)washpost.com.
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