It's a rare journalist these days who dares broach the notion of reportorial objectivity. Impartiality continues to be the professional ideal, and it's something toward which most journalists at least strive. In the past few decades, however, objectivity has been recognized to express a myth as much as a principle. The choices the journalist makes about which stories to pursue, which sources to trust, which angles and themes to emphasize, and so on ad infinitum, are now understood to be deeply influenced, however unconsciously, by the reporter's background and personal convictions.
We'd all like to believe that journalism's standards are neutral and value-free--as are its methodological standards, such as the two-source rule and the sanctity of off-the-record information--but today it takes willful ignorance to deny that journalists tend to give more favorable coverage to the ideas and opinions that comport with their personal beliefs, or to spin stories in ways that may benefit their own careers.
A red flag goes up immediately, then, when reporter David Brock writes in the author's note to "The Real Anita Hill: The Untold Story" that he was "fully prepared," had the evidence pointed in that direction, "to write a book that questioned Thomas's credibility and character and redeemed Hill's." The reader, seeing Brock anticipate an objection for which no cause as yet exists, is put on guard: the author appears to be either hyper-naturally conscious of journalism's innate perils, or he protests too much.
Before long the latter explanation seems most fitting, for in this volume Brock has produced a shrewd, interesting, fact-filled and extremely biased account of Anita Hill's sexual harassment charges against Supreme Court nominee and fellow Yale Law graduate Clarence Thomas. "The Real Anita Hill" may well change some minds, perhaps in a more accurate direction, about what went on between the two when Hill worked for Thomas in the early 1980s . . . but those minds will be changed by the use of slanted, ideologically loaded evidence.
It should be noted that Brock, a former Washington Times reporter now on the staff of the conservative magazine the American Spectator, has accumulated significant evidence against Hill. It's impossible to finish "The Real Anita Hill" without concluding that Hill failed to be fully honest in her Senate testimony, that she may well have harbored resentment toward Thomas quite apart from his alleged harassment, that she had political reasons for opposing her former mentor (first at the Department of Education and then the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), and that she was capable of making obsessive mountains out of ordinary molehills. That said, it's equally important to record that Brock's argument is irreparably damaged by his sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant cooking of the evidence.
The ideological bias is most evident in the different standards Brock applies to the story's principal players. With regard to Hill, for example, he:
* implies, following the lead of Senator Arlen Specter during the confirmation hearings, that Hill effectively committed perjury when she told the Senate, contrary to earlier statements, she had in fact been advised that harassment allegations might force Thomas to withdraw his nomination. But previously she hadn't flatly denied being told as much. Her answers were qualified, as when she said: "I don't remember this specific kind of comment about 'quietly and behind the scenes' pressing his withdrawal."
* expresses astonishment, again following Specter's lead, that Hill would testify that she began to document her work performance following Thomas' alleged harassment, out of fear of losing her job, rather than document the harassment itself. The implication, of course, is that Hill was laying the groundwork for an appeal of a performance-based dismissal, and that her later charges of sexual harassment were no more than a face-saving cover-up. But there's another, equally plausible explanation--that Hill knew her word wouldn't count for much against that of the powerful and politically savvy Thomas, and that should she be fired, the official explanation for dismissal would inevitably be "poor work," regardless of its actual cause.
* quotes from a letter written by a student at the University of Oklahoma School of Law, where Hill continues to teach, in an attempt to demonstrate that Hill was "militantly anti-male and obsessively concerned with race and gender issues." The student writes of one incident in which Hill became "irate" and "let him have a piece of her mind" when another first-year student walked up to her at a faculty-student party and put his hand on her shoulder. Brock fails to note that Hill's response will not seem out of line, and the student's action presumptuous, to anyone who has actually experienced sexual harassment.