She Said, He Said. Again.
Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh have divided the nation, once again, regarding how America deals with sexual harassment. Many women heard disturbing echoes of the Anita Hill–clarence Thomas hearings. newsweek’s 1991 cover
Our coverage of the 1991 testimony of Anita Hill offers disturbing proof of how little has changed.
on september 27, christine blasey ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding her sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. It was eerily familiar, as if no time had passed between 2018 and 1991, when Anita Hill testified regarding alleged sexual harassment by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Again, millions tuned in to watch as Ford—with a poise reminiscent of Hill—recalled a harrowing attack during a high school party, as well as the years of emotional damage that followed. Kavanaugh, much like Thomas, strenuously denied all the allegations, with palpable anger and some tears.
There were other echoes. On October 21, 1991, Newsweek published David A. Kaplan’s cover story on the Hill and Thomas proceedings. An accompanying article, “Striking a Nerve,” examined how sexual harassment “is a fact of life for millions of American women. When Anita Hill talked last week, they heard themselves—and they’re fed up with the fact that men don’t get it.” Also included was an essay by Laura Shapiro, “Why Women Are Angry.” Among her points was that the rage ignited by Hill’s charges “had been smoldering for years, fed not only by the common experience of sexual harassment but all the outrages large and small that make this country a radically different place for women than it is for men.”
Nearly three decades later, the rage remains, fully torched. Once again, the Republican senators facing Ford were all men. Once again, hatred was directed at the accuser, who received death threats. President Donald Trump, after first tweeting that he found Ford credible, pointedly taunted her, to applause, at a campaign event in Mississippi. A woman speaking up was still a target for condemnation, as well as a tool for partisan politics.
Ford herself had wondered whether she would “just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed anyway.” But there was progress. Ford was supported by armies of protesters, and over 2,400 law professors—disturbed by Kavanaugh’s “unfathomable demeanor” during his testimony—signed a letter opposing his nomination. Joe Biden, a Democrat who had served as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the ’90s (and came under criticism for his tough questioning of Hill), called Ford’s testimony “courageous.” No one implied that her claims were adapted from The Exorcist (as Senator Orrin Hatch did of Hill’s story).
But in the end, the outcome was the same. After a supplemental background check by the FBI determined there was “no additional corroborating information” to support the allegations against Kavanaugh, he was confirmed on October 6, by a slim margin—a 50-48 vote (versus Thomas’s 52-48). That it was the narrowest margin since 1881 did not comfort his critics, particularly now that the court’s decisions, with four liberal and five conservative justices, are clearly weighted to the right, reflecting America’s polarized politics.
What follows is our 1991 cover story, now a disturbing and fascinating look at how little has changed—and how, some 27 years later, the train of partisanship rolls on, faster and more furious than ever.