(May 18) PBS’ airing tonight of a documentary biography of Supreme Court Justice Thomas provides me a chance to tell a story I’ve been wanting to publish for 29 years. It’s sort of a “shaggy dog story,” indeed the shaggiest dog with which I’ve ever been involved, and in the end the incidents recounted merely hinted at, but didn’t prove definitively, the conclusion I expected.

But oh, what a wild ride on a shaggy dog it was!

A look back now might provide an interesting, even fun, reminder of how shoe-leather journalism worked before the Internet put a world of information at our fingertips.

When then-law school professor Anita Hill levelled sexual harassment allegations against Thomas just as Thomas seemed about to be assured of confirmation to the high court, I was a rather low-paid, 27-year-old managing editor of Gambit Weekly in New Orleans. But as a former low-level Reagan appointee, I had heard tremendously impressive things about Thomas, and was astonished at the allegations. I thought it unlikely Thomas would have been brazen enough, and stupid enough, to commit sexual harassment while running the very federal office tasked with policing sexual harassment.

The now-famous testimony of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas occurred on a Friday (Oct. 11, 1991). As Friday mornings were when we at Gambit shipped off our papers for printing, for Monday distribution – note the timeline of delay, wholly unfamiliar to us in the Internet age – I was able to watch the hearings closely during the post-page-shipment time I usually devoted to mere administrative housekeeping. Like many others, I was riveted.

I quickly became convinced Thomas was telling the truth, for multiple reasons. Somewhere along the line, though, something started nagging at the back of my mind, saying a key part of Hill’s testimony was, logically, provably false. I could not, however, figure out what it was….

[The full column is here.]


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