Re-watching Joe Biden’s disastrous Anita Hill hearing: A sexual harassment inquisition

There was, Hill and others said later, some extreme tone deafness.

In asking Hill to describe the sexually charged moments with Thomas, Biden asked, “Can you tell us how you felt at the time? Were you uncomfortable, were you embarrassed, did it not concern you? How did you feel about it?”

The most brutal questioning came from Biden’s Republican colleague on the committee, the late Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

“You testified this morning,” Specter said, “that the most embarrassing question involved — this is not too bad — women’s large breasts. That is a word we use all the time. That was the most embarrassing aspect of what Judge Thomas had said to you.”

Hill quickly chided Specter for not characterizing her remarks correctly. Left uncritiqued: Specter’s suggestion that talk of breasts at work was, you know, no big deal.

Specter could not understand, he said, how a seasoned lawyer like herself had not taken notes on the incidents. That was suspicious to him. He openly wondered about her political motivations and whether the committee should trust her recollections of the incidents between her and Thomas, who adamantly denied every allegation.

Al Franken’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ era was full of jokes disparaging women

On the sixth floor of 30 Rock, women have long been portrayed as sexual conquests, victims or aggressors, live on Saturday nights. During the 1990s in particular, SNL excelled at celebrating male libido and a get-away-with-anything approach to sex, while reducing women to their sexual function. The show consistently cheered male sexuality and reinforced its boundlessness (consent be damned), while shaming women who reached for power or were unlucky enough to be publicly associated with sex.

The SNL writers’ room is famously collaborative, so it’s hard to know how many such bits Franken specifically wrote. But as a writer on 285 episodes from 1976 to 2008, he undoubtedly influenced the zeitgeist of the show during that era.

 .. Chris Rock savages Hill for rejecting Thomas’s advances. Thomas “could have picked a much better-looking woman to blow his career on,” Rock explains. “He never touched her, and he’s going to lose the Supreme Court and didn’t even get to sleep with her, and that’s the real tragedy.”
.. Again, the laughs: Thomas’s sexual inadequacy is what’s supposed to be funny. SNL imagines that sexual harassment is hilarious and that unattractive women deserve it.
.. One 1996 skit about O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark portrays her as an erotomaniac or “fatal attraction type” — a derogation hurled at women during the 1990s, including at Anita Hill and Monica Lewinsky, to discredit them and weaponize their sexuality. Clark, played by Nancy Walls, is less interested in the case’s outcome than forcing fellow prosecutor Christopher Darden to sleep with her, or “take the black bronco down the 405,” as the show put it. “The only thing I’m guilty of is being extremely horny,” Walls says. “Please remove your pants.”

.. Ferrell said in an interview that he wouldn’t have played Reno the way he did if she were a “normal woman.” In other words, because Reno didn’t always fit neatly into the stereotypical roles SNL ascribed to women — sexually aggressive like Clark or sexually victimized like Hill — the country’s chief law enforcement officer became a fake woman, just Ferrell in drag.
.. What’s clear, in truth, is that American comedy culture has used sexual abuse as fodder for too long.
.. From Franken and Harvey Weinstein to Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, women are reckoning with the painful reality that powerful men recently accused of sexual misconduct have long been the media and cultural gatekeepers in America.
They’ve been the arbiter and the lens, determining what is newsworthy, what is socially acceptable and, in Franken’s case, what is funny.
.. You can tell an awful lot about a society based on what it thinks is funny.

The Hillary Effect

when Barack Obama stepped off a stage and into Weinstein’s arms for a big hug after giving a $400,000 speech as an ex-president in the spring, it sent a signal that the ogre was in a protected magic circle.

.. would Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and other liberals still be saying in the past few days that Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency over his own sexual misdeeds if he now occupied the first lady’s quarters and reigned over a potent Clinton political machine?

.. Or would feminists and liberals make the same Faustian bargain they made in 1998: protect Bill on his retrogressive behavior toward women because the Clintons have progressive policies toward women?

.. Perhaps because in those earlier traumatic sagas, both the left and the right rushed in to twist them for their own ideological ends. The stench of hypocrisy overpowered the perfume of justice.

  • .. First, with Clarence Thomas, a feminist lynch mob tried to kill off a conservative Supreme Court nominee over sex when the real reason they wanted to get rid of him was politics.
  • Then, with Bill Clinton, a conservative lynch mob tried to kill off a Democratic president over sex when the real reason they wanted to get rid of him was politics.

.. Time and again, Hillary was a party to demonizing women as liars, bimbos, trailer trash or troubled souls when it seemed clear they were truthful about her philandering husband. She often justified this by thinking of the women as instruments of the right-wing conspiracy.

As I reported in ’98, even some veteran Clinton henchmen felt a little nauseated about the debate inside the White House on a slander strategy for Lewinsky: Should they paint her as a friendly fantasist or a malicious stalker?

Following the Clintons’ lead, Trump dismissed the more than dozen women who stood up to accuse him of sexual transgressions as politically motivated liars.
.. Trump has refused to disavow the Stephen Bannon-backed candidate, at one point claiming he didn’t know enough about Moore to comment because he does “not watch much television.” (!!)
.. Ivanka Trump said that she has “no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts” in the Moore case, but she doesn’t feel the same about her dad’s accusers.
.. Bannon dismissed the report of Moore’s despicable behavior by saying that it was, just like Trump’s “Access Hollywood” remarks, first published in The Washington Post — which he calls “part of the apparatus of the Democratic Party.”
.. It’s easy to turn on the Clintons these days and treat them as collateral damage, the way the Clintons treated all those women who got tangled up with Bill.

Justice Clarence Thomas’s Solitary Voice

In an opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the Supreme Court overturned a 30-year-old murder conviction, ruling that racial discrimination infected the selection of the all-white Georgia jury that found a black man guilty of a white woman’s murder. The vote was 7 to 1. The dissenter was Justice Thomas. His vote, along with the contorted 15-page opinion that explained it, was one of the most bizarre performances I have witnessed in decades spent observing the Supreme Court.

.. I almost think Justice Thomas revels in his chosen role as the anti-Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights hero whose seat he took on Oct. 23, 1991.

.. It was standard operating procedure for prosecutors to use peremptory challenges to prevent African-Americans from serving as jurors in trials of black defendants. The Batson decision held that when the defense made a plausible claim that a peremptory challenge was racially motivated, the prosecution had to offer “a race-neutral basis for striking the juror in question.” The trial judge was then to decide whether the prosecution’s explanation held up or whether it was a pretext.

.. For example, the prosecutor said he struck 34-year-old Marilyn Garrett because the “state was looking for older jurors that would not easily identify with the defendant,” who was 19. Yet there were eight white jurors under the age of 36 whom the prosecution didn’t strike; one who ended up serving was 21. The prosecutor also said he struck Ms. Garrett because she was divorced, while not striking three white potential jurors who were divorced.