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A Question That Won't Go Away : STRANGE JUSTICE: The Selling of Clarence Thomas By Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson (Houghton Mifflin: $24.95; 406 pp.) : RESURRECTION: The Confirmation of Clarence Thomas By John C. Danforth (Viking: $19.95; 225 pp.)

November 13, 1994|Nina Totenberg | Nina Totenberg is the legal affairs correspondent for National Public Radio and for ABC's Nightline

Every generation has its great personal controversy, a name or two that evoke passion and fury everywhere from the dinner table to the editorial pages. Our parents had Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers. Their parents had Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Our generation has Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill.

But while propagandists of the left and right have written much about these two protagonists of our time, there has been almost no hard investigative work done by those with no ax to grind. David Brock's "The Real Anita Hill," while well reviewed in some quarters, was so factually flawed that his book, underwritten by a group of Thomas supporters, is not viewed seriously in either the academic or journalistic communities.

But now come two Wall Street Journal reporters, Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, both highly regarded for their journalistic and investigative skills. They have spent nearly three years delving into the lives of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill and while they have not found any "smoking gun," they have turned up a great deal of new evidence, which, as the authors put it, "suggests that the truth in this matter favors her much more than was apparent at the time of the hearings."

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday December 11, 1994 Home Edition Book Review Page 15 Book Review Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Through an editing error in Nina Totenberg's review of "Strange Justice" and "Resurrection" (Nov. 13), Sen. John Danforth was misidentified as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In the same issue, the uncredited cover illustration was by Nancy Barnet.

In "Strange Justice" the authors tell us that "if Thomas did lie under oath, as the preponderance of the evidence suggests, then his performance and that of the Senate confirming him, raises fundamental questions about the political process that placed him on the court."

*

There is no way in a short review to summarize all the bits and pieces of evidence that Mayer and Abramson have amassed. But among other things, they have turned up many new witnesses who testify that Thomas had an avid interest in pornography at the time of the alleged Hill harassment--harassment that Hill said involved his talking to her about pornography. One woman, Kaye Savage, a civil servant who worked in the Reagan White House and who was friends with both Thomas and Hill, describes her shock when she walked into Thomas' apartment and found the walls covered with pictures of naked women. Several co-workers are quoted as saying they heard of Thomas' making remarks about pubic hairs on Coke cans--one of the most peculiar things that Hill alleged, and one that she was accused of making up.

Then, of course, there is their profile of Angela Wright, the North Carolina newspaper editor who was fired from her Equal Employment Opportunity Commission job by Thomas and was subpoenaed by the Judiciary Committee to come to Washington to tell about the "inappropriate" remarks she said Thomas made to her, such as asking what size her breasts were. Oddly, it is not Wright's words that are most compelling, but those of her corroborating witness, an older woman named Rose Jourdain, who was Thomas' speech writer at the time Wright worked for him. While Wright claimed at the time of the Senate hearings she was not the least bit traumatized by Thomas' remarks, Jourdain says here that Wright was sufficiently rattled that she often came to her office in tears over Thomas' treatment. Wright's testimony, or lack of it, has become something of a cause celebre on the right, because Thomas supporters point out, with some justification, that Wright had a spotty employment record, having been fired from at least one job and having written a screw-you letter to a previous employer. But Jourdain is something else again, especially when you learn that on the final night of the Thomas hearings, she had just been released from the hospital, was unable to walk and was breaking pain pills in quarters so that she could stay awake to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sometime after midnight, she was told she would not be called. The committee had decided that it did not want to hear Wright or Jourdain and, with Wright's consent, had released them from their subpoenas.

Mayer and Abramson have also spent a considerable amount of time examining the lives, loves, careers and ambitions of Thomas and Hill. Thomas comes out as an often brooding, angry and contrary man who years ago set his sights on replacing Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court, and who would stop at little--including going to the hospital bed of NAACP lobbyist Althea Simmons--to get her endorsement for a judgeship. My hat is off to the authors for a chapter that will get little note in most reviews--their account of Thomas' tenure at the EEOC and the problems he faced there, both administrative and political. This material is particularly complicated and difficult to explain, but the authors have made it as easy to consume as a lollipop.

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