CSotD: 30 years ago – Anita Hill

Thirty years ago, cartoonist reactions to Anita Hill’s testimony in Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings began to fill the editorial pages, and Tony Auth begins our flashback with this scene-setter.

It was a different world, at least in Congress, where the vibe of the rest of the nation hadn’t quite arrived yet.


As Jeff MacNelly explained, Congress was rolling out the same-old same-old, not expecting testimony that might cause them to stop and rethink the situation.

This being, apparently, a congressional committee that couldn’t spot any difference between Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. It may have been one of the most cynical replacements in SCOTUS history, but, then again, little was known about Thomas until the hearings began.


At which point, as Pat Oliphant suggested, the Committee found itself in a difficult position, in which it failed to reflect public response to Anita Hill’s testimony.


Juxtaposition of the Day

(Tony Auth)

(Steve Benson)

Auth and Benson pointed out that Sen. Ted Kennedy had his own issues, not just Chappaquiddick but, as Benson suggested, a more recent flare-up in Florida in which he participated in a night out with two nephews, one of whom was named in a rape case that would not come to trial until two months after the Thomas hearings, making it very much a case of current events, not history.

(It should be noted here that Joe Biden chaired the committee and failed to distinguish himself, for which he later apologized to Hill, who was not inclined to forgive and forget, though she did endorse him in 2020.)


Other committee members were openly accommodating to Thomas, particularly Sen. Arlen Spector, as seen in this Signe Wilkinson panel.

A few years later, a GF was taking a political science course at Smith College in which a guest lecturer recounted testifying in support of Hill, while the head of the tenure committee at his college sat in the front row of the audience with Republican senators, wearing a large button proclaiming her support of Clarence Thomas.


Little wonder, perhaps, that Jeff Danziger dubbed the nationally-televised hearings a soap opera.


Thomas had his supporters, among them Dick Locher, who echoed Thomas’s accusation that he was the victim of a “high-tech lynching.”


While Steve Kelley simply made an ironic joke of the issue.


Tom Toles sounded a similar note, but made it clear that he was explaining, not excusing or dismissing the prevalent attitude.


Dick Wright, (Update: No, Don Wright. See comments.) meanwhile, dismissed the committee as an Old Boys Club that simply didn’t get it.


Dan Wasserman led a swing towards a wider sympathy, not simply for Anita Hill, but for other women who found themselves in her position, even if their humiliation and discrediting didn’t happen on national television. Note the wife’s reaction in that final panel.

It’s also worth remembering that the process of discrediting Anita Hill was not spontaneous but an organized effort, which  American Spectator writer David Brock — who had also written about “Troopergate” as part of the Spectator’s battle against Clinton —  recanted as he changed sides and founded Media Matters, a liberal media criticism site.


Juxtaposition of the Day #2

(Kirk Anderson)


(Kevin Kallaugher)

Anderson and Kallaugher offered more sympathy, though it applied, as well, to women throughout the country.

Note that Anderson specifically depicts a woman other than Hill, widening the accusation, while Kallaugher asks the same rhetorical question, while not only showing Hill but naming her most egregious tormentors.


Despite all the hoopla, Thomas was confirmed by the Senate 52-48, leaving Indianapolis Star cartoonist Charles Werner to wonder aloud over the entire process.


While Herblock — echoing Kallaugher’s naming of names — dismissed the whole sorry spectacle as business as usual and, as the sign says, simply one more step on the road to the next elections.

However, regardless of whether the hearings had any impact on how the Senate advises and consents on the topic, Anita Hill’s testimony brought the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace to the forefront, and you can read or hear her current thoughts in this Fresh Air interview, centered on her new book, “Believing: Our Thirty-Year Journey To End Gender Violence.”

Terry Gross set the stage for her interview:


An unfortunate case of poor timing

On a personal note, I got a small lesson on how awards work through all this, because I had written a major piece on sexual harassment in the workplace for our Sunday business section.

It was widely praised by women in the community, but, despite being entered, it got nothing in the awards process, which I attribute to the fact that it appeared in January, 1990, nearly a year before the Thomas confirmation hearings.

Following those hearings, there was a slew of similar pieces that won a slew of awards. Timing is everything.

The positive part of that is that it cemented my suspicions about such things, since the pieces for which I did win Lucite over the years were trendy and caught the judges’ eyes.

But were almost never pieces of which I was particularly proud.

Hence my prevailing attitude towards awards and those who need them.


Oh well. It could have been worse, I suppose.

Even reliably-conservative Henry Payne blanched at this one, but, fortunately, the Senate hasn’t confirmed every nominee that came before it.

Until recently, anyway.


What’s in your Senate seat?

4 thoughts on “CSotD: 30 years ago – Anita Hill

  1. The Locher “innocent-until-proven-guilty” one drives me crazy, because he was on trial for a crime. He was trying to get a lifetime appointment as one of the most powerful people in the country. And yes, reasonable suspicion is enough.

    Of course, we know now that Republican don’t even think they need to give a nominee a hearing if a Democratic President nominates him.

  2. I was in high school when all this was going down, even had to write a “current events” essay about it for class. I think I even went down the “why didn’t she come forward sooner” road back then—well before I learned exactly why women don’t come forward.

    How sad that it’s going on 30 years later and it’s the same as it ever was. Sure, the panel that Dr. Ford faced was tamed a bit for the cameras but the end result was the same.

  3. The Wright cartoon was by Don Wright, not Dick Wright. The link shows that the drawing style is different, and even the point of view is different. Don Wright was/is liberal, whereas Dick Wright is on the right. Unlike some of the examples in the link, Don Wright would never have labeled democrats with a hammer and sickle (how far the right wing has sunk).

    Plus, Don quietly retired a few years ago. I only knew that from a Florida blogger who said as much after his cartoons stopped coming out mysteriously. I believe this site was on hiatus at the time.

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