October
20th 2010
An “olive branch” or a stick to beat her with?

Posted under: American history, Gender, Intersectionality, race, unhappy endings, wankers, weirdness, women's history

Did anyone else wake up to this news about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife Virginia Thomas’s shockingly pushy voicemail to Antia Hill and think WTF???

“Good morning Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas,” it said. “I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.”

Ms. Thomas went on: “So give it some thought. And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will help us understand why you did what you did. O.K., have a good day.”

.        .      .      .        .      .     .        .      .     

In a statement conveyed through a publicist, Ms. Thomas confirmed leaving the message, which she portrayed as a peacemaking gesture. She did not explain its timing.

“I did place a call to Ms. Hill at her office extending an olive branch to her after all these years, in hopes that we could ultimately get past what happened so long ago,” she said. “That offer still stands. I would be very happy to meet and talk with her if she would be willing to do the same. Certainly no offense was ever intended.”

In response to Ms. Thomas’s statement, Ms. Hill said that she had testified truthfully about her experiences with the future Justice Thomas and that she had nothing to apologize for.

What’s next:  Laura Bush asking for an apology from the people of New Orleans for suffering from Hurricane Katrina in 2005?  Marianne Gingrich asking Bill Clinton for an apology for forcing the House of Representatives to impeach him?  Christ on a cracker.  Hill was the victim, not the perpetrator.  Was this phone call instigated or authorized by Clarence Thomas, or is he nearly as horrified as the rest of the nation?  Virginia Thomas needs to build a bridge and get over it.

One little detail struck me this morning as I was mulling over this odd news item:  Virginia Thomas is 53, and Hill is 54, which means that they were only 34 and 35 back in 1991.  Since I was only 23 in the fall of 1991, I didn’t think about their ages, but 34 and 35 now strike me as a very young age to be put in the national spotlight over someone else’s bad behavior.  Of course, Anita Hill only told the truth to the F.B.I.when they asked her for it.  My sympathies are and always were with her, especially since she’s being phonestalked now by Virginia Thomas.  Eeeeew.

I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts and analysis below.

39 Comments »

39 Responses to “An “olive branch” or a stick to beat her with?”

  1. clio's disciple on 20 Oct 2010 at 10:05 am #

    I don’t think I have any analysis beyond WTF?? What on earth made Virginia Thomas call Anita Hill now? It seems to me Hill’s done just fine in moving on and having a life and career. If V. Thomas has been fretting over this for 20 years, it seems to me that’s her problem, not Hill’s.

  2. Dr. Koshary on 20 Oct 2010 at 10:06 am #

    I find both Justice Thomas and his wife to be completely and utterly vile. I’m only surprised that Virginia Thomas is enough of a lowlife to do this in public, since it doesn’t forward any sort of policy initiative that I can see.

  3. Dr. Crazy on 20 Oct 2010 at 10:09 am #

    In the fall of 1991 I had just turned 17, and all I can say is that I hadn’t considered their ages at all other than to categorize them as “grown ups” and “old.” Now that I am 36… I cannot *imagine* being in the position that Hill was in.

    I think wherever one’s sympathies lie with this, it is c-r-a-z-y for Virginia Thomas to have left such a message nearly 20 years after the fact and when, in spite of everything, her husband has happily been serving as a Supreme Court Justice for all this time. Crazy because it reminds everybody of her husband’s bad behavior (or, let’s say she doesn’t believe it: the bad behavior of which he was accused) and crazy because dude, hasn’t she been busy with anything else in the past 20 years? ‘Cause Anita Hill sure has been.

  4. squadratomagico on 20 Oct 2010 at 10:09 am #

    I’m with Doc Koshary: they both are despicable, and the gesture seems delusional at best. What did she really expect? Surely she cannot have thought Hill would suddenly go public with a full retraction and humbly beg Thomas’ pardon?

  5. rustonite on 20 Oct 2010 at 10:22 am #

    I was nine. What I mostly remember is my dad repeating everything Rush Limbaugh said about Anita Hill, so I have no idea what actually happened. It might as well be ancient history to me.

  6. Indyanna on 20 Oct 2010 at 10:22 am #

    I’ll sign on to Dr. Crazy’s opinion. Doesn’t anybody use stationery anymore? I would have assumed it was a robo-call, like the ones I get from the Clintons every now and again.

  7. Tom on 20 Oct 2010 at 10:31 am #

    Those messages from the Clintons (and Joe Manchin, here in WV) are Robo-calls??!?!?!?! No wonder they don’t call me back.

    Phone-stalking seems like the right term here; the caller’s claim that Hill “did”something to or “with” Thomas is insensitive and possibly harassing; the claim that this is an “olive branch” while it accuses Hill about “what [she] did” would be laughable if it weren’t so obviously troubling.

  8. Perpetua on 20 Oct 2010 at 10:40 am #

    Well, the old dude Cheney shot in the face did apologize to the VEEP for having his face in the wrong place, so I guess anything’s possible. But this is the most striking bit of crazy to surface recently. I was delighted to read the Ms. Hill immediately contacted the authorities. I always admired her steadfastness under intense pressure.

  9. Janice on 20 Oct 2010 at 11:36 am #

    That’s chutzpah! I’m sadly unsurprised for I expect that Ginni Thomas has constructed her entire world-view around the belief that Anita Hill had to be lying.

  10. Historiann on 20 Oct 2010 at 11:59 am #

    Janice–y’know, that’s exactly it, isn’t it? “Ginni Thomas has constructed her entire world-view around the belief that Anita Hill had to be lying.”

    If she didn’t believe that, her life and choices just wouldn’t make sense. What did suprise me when I heard this news is that Virginia Thomas is trying to make the real Anita Hill meet up with or match up to her fantasy of Anita Hill. Most people deep in denial have enough self-awareness that that’s where they are, and they try to keep their fantasies apart from confronting reality.

    Maybe this is why I feel like I’m watching a re-run of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

  11. Lance on 20 Oct 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    Ginni Thomas has been in a news a lot lately for her relatively unusual activism (for a bride of SCOTUS) on behalf of the Tea Party folks, so this would simply appear to be of a piece with her newfound celebrity.

    My big WTF came when I saw that Hill had turned the recording over to the FBI.

  12. koshem bos on 20 Oct 2010 at 12:15 pm #

    I was 80, but what the hell. I do remember vividly the proceedings. They inflicted added injury, and of course insult, on Anita Hill. I hope her life since then was better than that ugly episode.

    Virginia Thomas just wants her version of history to prevail. Since she belongs to what will probably be the next junta, she believes that she has special rights such as harassing Anita Hill. The timing is a puzzle to me. The motivation not so much.

    I wouldn’t use the vile verbiage. It doesn’t enlight us much. Justice Thomas is an extreme right wing ideologue with no talent (we have many of those school chancellor, presidents, etc.) . I know nothing about Virginia Thomas.

  13. Historiann on 20 Oct 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Lance–if I were Hill and I had even a robocall from Thomas, I’ll hand it over to the FBI. The Thomases and their political allies have spent nearly twenty years calling Hill a liar and a fantasist, so I’d sure as hell see that something like that voicemail was investigated.

    I’ve also heard differing accounts about how it came to the attention of the FBI: one story said that Hill asked the FBI to get involved, while another said that Brandeis campus police contacted the FBI.\

    In any case: for all of you classic movie fans, here’s a choice scene from Baby Jane that evokes the same feeling for me as Virginia Thomas’s voicemail stalking.

  14. mandor on 20 Oct 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    In the article I read it said that Hill handed the tape over to campus police and that she wasn’t sure if it was real. Perhaps this is routine for her and campus police because 19 years later she’s still being harassed for answering honestly? It makes me wonder how much crap Hill quietly still deals with related to Thomas.

  15. Emma on 20 Oct 2010 at 12:52 pm #

    Thomas made the call so she could put it in her self-serving, whiny, BS “tell all” book about being the martyred wife of a martyr to all good true conservative values.

    Just my prediction.

  16. Nicole on 20 Oct 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    Maybe the woman is on some kind of woman’s/mommy’s forum. That’s the kind of thing I sometimes see folks egging on other folks to do. It always seems very low class to me. Very Jerry Springer.

  17. KC on 20 Oct 2010 at 2:35 pm #

    This seems like a Michael Scott from the Office moment. Because I read this story and I’m thinking, okay, so you decided to call out of the blue after 20 years? Don’t leave a voicemail!

  18. Liz2 on 20 Oct 2010 at 2:52 pm #

    I agree with Mandor. It made me think, how much other bs has she silently dealt with? Honestly, if nothing else, v. Thomas’s harassment of Hill proves the point that the Thomases don’t know what “harassment” means.

  19. Historiann on 20 Oct 2010 at 2:53 pm #

    Ha! It’s a total Michael Scott moment. Although, speaking for myself, I’d have to urge anyone who wants to contact me after 20 years to definitely leave me a voicemail, so that I can play it to my husband and friends and we can laugh about it.

    And then turn it over to the F.B.I.

  20. Historiann on 20 Oct 2010 at 2:54 pm #

    p.s. to Mandor and Liz2: hellz to the yeah that “the Thomases don’t know what ‘harassment’ means.”

  21. truffula on 20 Oct 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    My first thought was to wonder what bad thing was going on in Virginia Thomas’ life that caused her to do this. I mean, I have no idea what her private life is like but this just seems so odd. Then I remembered the Tea Party business. Now I think she’s up to something. Maybe they need new material to liven up the party.

  22. The Rebel Lettriste on 20 Oct 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    Anita Hill deserves to be sent flowers from every feminist in the country.

  23. Anonymoose on 20 Oct 2010 at 4:19 pm #

    I think the language is so telling: “I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did WITH my husband.” Not TO, but WITH, as if Hill was complicit in what happened to her. This is language better suited to confronting a mistress, not the unwilling victim of your husband’s sexual harassment and bullying.

    I also think this is an extension of the bullying – she had to know it would go public, and then Ms Hill gets to deal with it all over again. Its very ‘punish the victim’.

    Of course, Mrs. Thomas is batshitecrazy.Regarding her new political advocacy nonprofit, she is quoted as saying, “”We are inspired at Liberty Central by the Tea Party movement..” A ringing endorsement for her clear-thinking and levelheadedness!

  24. Cyn on 20 Oct 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    I, too, had the WTF moment. Then I thought how angry Thomas must be with his wife for raising the specter of sexual harassment after so many years. I bet he no idea she called Hill and is fit to be tied. There is a creepy aspect to all of this.

  25. thefrogprincess on 20 Oct 2010 at 4:32 pm #

    And yet these same people are taking Christine O’Donnell’s claims of harassment seriously. They should, but why doesn’t Anita Hill get the same courtesy?

  26. Susan on 20 Oct 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    When I heard this I hoped you would write about it, Historiann, because it was definitely WTF. I think what was so stunning was that Thomas had no sense that apologies might be mutual: that she and her husband had things to apologize for too. For someone who loudly parades her Christian faith, it was kind of mind-boggling. But obviously she clings to the idea that Hill lied.

    The age thing is funny: I’m a few years older than Hill and Thomas, and even at the time I didn’t think that was an issue. It was very ugly, though, and I thought at the time that Hill was not given adequate support by the Senate.

    I do think it’s a mistake to underestimate C. Thomas’ intelligence: I once asked a law school classmate who was ideologically opposed to him about Thomas, and he said he was plenty smart. That he doesn’t agree with me is different, and that he doesn’t choose to speak in oral arguments, well, I’m not sure why that’s the measure of intelligence.

  27. ga on 20 Oct 2010 at 5:07 pm #

    Mrs. Thomas has some political problems right now and its *October* in an election cycle. This changes the focus nicely and revs up the Cable Commentariat. Now we will get weeks of “that bad, bad woman” or that other perennial: “cat fight!”

    Wasn’t that actually Mrs. Thomas’ goal?

  28. Dickens Reader on 20 Oct 2010 at 5:28 pm #

    That’s bull Cyn. So now Thomas is a victim of his wife? He knew she called. He may have even encouraged her to call. The fact is, she would never had made the call, much less thought about the call if he had not put all the events in motion, as in, harassing Hill in the first place.

  29. Cyn on 20 Oct 2010 at 5:36 pm #

    Sorry, Dickens, I don’t agree with you. My experience is that when one commits a crime and gets away with it, he or she doesn’t ever want to think about it again. And, why would he want to raise this issue now? Thomas is no victim. He is the guilty party. Now, he has to deal with his guilt yet again.

  30. mandor on 20 Oct 2010 at 6:15 pm #

    Cyn, I disagree. Clarence Thomas still contends that he didn’t do it. From the LA Times article:

    Thomas, a conservative, forcefully denied the allegations and famously referred to the proceeding as a “high-tech lynching.” He said it was what happened to blacks who chose to think for themselves and have different ideas.

    “You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree,” he told the committee.

    I assume his wife did this for the sympathies on the right that it would stir up. Not to mention the fact that this is a white woman attempting to put a black woman in her place and we know how enlightened those Tea Partiers tend to be about race!

  31. Dickens Reader on 20 Oct 2010 at 6:55 pm #

    Thomas would want to be vindicated if he does not believe what he did was wrong. So, he would want an apology because more than likely he thinks Hill was wrong for complaining/going public/telling the truth. Even if he did understood what he did was wrong, he would expect loyalty, particularly from a “sister.” He feels wronged (betrayed) and wants Hill to apologize.

    If he is able to admit somewhere inside of him that he was wrong, he obviously has not admitted that to his wife. Therefore, he is unable to call his wife’s bluff if she says she is going to call Hill and ask for an apology. For him to argue for her not to call Hill would be admitting that he was guilty of harassing Hill.

  32. HistoryMaven on 20 Oct 2010 at 6:59 pm #

    It seems to me a bit, well, juvenile to leave a telephone message on an office voicemail on a Saturday morning. After all, that’s what some of my students used to do (before email) when they couldn’t meet a Monday deadline. They never really intended to reach me.

    That said, I think we too soon forget that Thomas’s charge of a “high tech lynching” was directed to the perceived failure of the all-male Senate subcommittee for the leak and its consequences, and not Hill herself. The hearings occurred after a lengthy period of public debates and declarations of a battle royale of a hearing.

    In his testimony Thomas did apologize if Hill “misconstrued” anything he said or did–and immediately followed up with a complete denial of any wrongdoing. It was a brilliant performance. Sadly.

  33. Comrade PhysioProf on 21 Oct 2010 at 5:38 am #

    This is 100% right-wing base stirring.

  34. sj on 21 Oct 2010 at 8:36 am #

    @Susan: Excuse me?

    “Thomas had no sense that apologies might be mutual”

    There is no “mutual” need to apologize. Unless by mutual you mean BOTH Thomases.
    —–

    As for motive, I recently read conjecture that it may be connected to the murmurs about the “plenty smart” Thomas being urged to run for President and attempts to shiny up his image.

  35. mary on 21 Oct 2010 at 8:42 am #

    Here’s my take: Clarence has been stewing over this ever since it happened. It’s driving him crazy. He’s bitter and angry. He probably rants on about it regularly. He’s never been able to let it go. (Not that he did anything wrong, mind you.)

    Ginny took one too many pills one a.m. – maybe after a tough nite with Clarence raging about – (after all, hubby is probably more fixated on Anita than on her) – and Ginny, being oh, so jealous of Anita, made a fool of herself. (My God, she wasn’t even in the picture, was she, when Clarence was hitting on Anita?)

    I’m actually sort of glad Ginny called, because I now a glimpse into the mess their marriage is. For all his “success,” Clarence is one very angry dude. And, as Ginny well knows, all will not be right in their marriage until Anita “apologizes.” Ginny needs an apology desperately, not a conversation. What miserable people.

  36. Historiann on 21 Oct 2010 at 10:34 am #

    Readers might be interested in Ruth Marcus’s comments on this episode, as she was the WaPo’s SCOTUS reporter in 1991. Her column isn’t bad, and her sympathies are clearly with Hill (because all of the evidence is with Hill, natch.) But she ends it with an astonishingly stupid remark–perhaps all in the name of remaining “fair’n’balanced”:

    And what to make of the behavior of the other party to this odd transaction, Anita Hill? Why not ignore the message, rather than refer it to the campus police? Why play it for reporters and give interviews about it? A voice mail on an office phone isn’t exactly intrusive, and there was no harassing follow-up. Ginni Thomas might have been out of line, but she wasn’t threatening in any way.

    Mayer and Abramson titled their book “Strange Justice.” That adjective might be fairly applied to all the players in this seemingly never-ending episode.

    Whaaaa? Everyone is equally culpable here? Everyone’s behavior is equally “strange?”

    If I had been villified and called a liar and become an object of national spectacle merely for telling the truth, I sure as hell wouldn’t leave a hinky voicemail alone. I’d want it investigated and verified for my own protection. To do otherwise–to erase it, or ignore it–would potentially open Hill up to chargest that she is a liar or trying to hide something. Virginia Thomas is a woman that Anita Hill doesn’t and shouldn’t trust. Making sure that everything she does is out in the open is the only way for Hill to protect herself.

  37. cgeye on 22 Oct 2010 at 11:59 am #

    AHEM:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/21/AR2010102106645_pf.html

    One Thomas employee went through a reputational tar-and-feathering, and one feathered her nest and kept silent. Retirement, and a pension, is a marvelous thing, ain’t it?

  38. Historiann on 22 Oct 2010 at 12:15 pm #

    cgeye–thanks for posting this. I don’t think we can be too hard on Lillian McEwen. After all, she had a consensual relationship (so far as we know) with Thomas. And, she admits that she kept her silence for so long because she “doesn’t look good” in this.

    That story seems to be as much about the ineptness of Joe Biden as it is of McEwen’s silence until now.

  39. Clarence Thomas’s ex-girlfriend tells all : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 22 Oct 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    [...] tells us some of what some of us were looking for back in 1991.  (H/t to reader and commenter cgeye for the link.) To McEwen, Hill’s allegations that [Clarence] Thomas had pressed her for dates [...]