Face it, judge, Anita Hill passed the test

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - PERSPECTIV­E - Mike Royko

Orig­i­nally pub­lished Oct. 14, 1991

It has been said over and over and over again that one of them is ly­ing. It’s a stand­off. So whom are we to be­lieve? It’s her word against his word, so how can there be a tiebreaker?

Ev­ery­one is free to weigh all of the ev­i­dence and make up their own minds. Or sim­ply to fol­low their po­lit­i­cal bi­ases and sex­ual hang-ups, as most peo­ple are do­ing.

But Pro­fes­sor Anita Hill set­tled the ques­tion for me on Sun­day when she took and ap­par­ently passed a lie de­tec­tor test.

The poly­graph test was ad­min­is­tered by what has been de­scribed as a highly rep­utable and in­de­pen­dent Wash­ing­ton-area se­cu­rity firm that re­port­edly has trained FBI poly­graph op­er­a­tors.

And Pro­fes­sor Hill is said to have an­swered a series of yes-no ques­tions that show that she has been telling the truth. The pres­i­dent of the se­cu­rity firm said: “It’s there­after my opin­ion Ms. Hill is truth­ful.”

Only min­utes af­ter the test re­sults were an­nounced, there were an­gry cries from sup­port­ers of Judge Clarence Thomas that Pro­fes­sor Hill was grand­stand­ing and en­gag­ing in dirty tricks and foul play.

Nat­u­rally, they would say that. Some of them have been im­ply­ing that Pro­fes­sor Hill is some sort of “Fa­tal At­trac­tion” psy­cho, a spurned fe­male seek­ing re­venge. Or that she is in ca­hoots with var­i­ous anti-Thomas groups.

Af­ter hear­ing her­self de­scribed as pos­si­bly be­ing a kook, a fan­ta­sizer, a viper and a liar, she ap­par­ently de­cided to shove their words down their throats.

And by tak­ing and pass­ing a lie de­tec­tor test, she did ex­actly that.

Yes, poly­graph re­sults are not ad­mis­si­ble in most courts of law. But judges have used them to screen wit­nesses; gov­ern­ment uses them; law en­force­ment agen­cies use them. And so does pri­vate in­dus­try.

Now Anita Hill has used the test to give her cred­i­bil­ity a big edge over Judge Thomas and to get the old stom­ach acids churn­ing in his sup­port­ers.

She now has the clear edge. She has taken and passed a lie de­tec­tor test, and he hasn’t. All he has is his ca­pac­ity for righ­teous in­dig­na­tion, which is con­sid­er­able. He has turned ques­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and ly­ing into a racial “lynch­ing.” He has de­scribed him­self as hav­ing been “killed.” He’s por­trayed the af­fair as a dark day for truth, jus­tice and the Amer­i­can way.

No, the hear­ings aren’t a lynch­ing. And the Se­nate hear­ings aren’t go­ing to cause earthquake­s, vol­canic ex­plo­sions and the col­lapse of our so­ci­ety. The hear­ings are a valid ef­fort to find out what kind of guy is a roll­call vote away from go­ing on the U.S. Supreme Court for life. The process might be an un­pleas­ant spec­ta­cle. It might be painful, em­bar­rass­ing, and at times nasty, but as Harry Tru­man said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

If Judge Thomas is will­ing to lie un­der oath to the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee about what he said or didn’t say to Pro­fes­sor Hill, we ought to know about it. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t qual­i­fied to be on the Supreme Court. I’m sure many peo­ple, es­pe­cially mid­dle-aged men, might say that smutty re­marks to a fe­male em­ployee are no big deal, and what’s a fel­low sup­posed to do — ad­mit it all?

On the other hand, if he sat there and lied about what he did or didn’t say to Pro­fes­sor Hill, lead­ing many peo­ple to con­clude that she is de­ranged or the agent of shad­owy but pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal forces, is there any­thing wrong with the pub­lic know­ing that he lied? They still might want him on the Supreme Court. But at least they will know what they’re get­ting. Sort of truth in po­lit­i­cal pack­ag­ing, which we sel­dom see.

So we have the re­sults of a lie de­tec­tor test. Now what?

Well, I’m sure the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will try to ig­nore it. They’ll pre­tend it doesn’t ex­ist, un­less some se­na­tor is bold enough to say: “Hey, let’s cut the bunk; this is re­al­ity.”

And the White House will scoff and say that a lie

de­tec­tor test has no place in the process.

But it’s there. It hap­pened. And by now, ev­ery­one who has been fol­low­ing the hear­ings knows that it’s there. If the White House and the Se­nate want to play make-be­lieve and say it’s unim­por­tant, that’s OK. I’m not sure what else they can say when a soft­spo­ken law pro­fes­sor flings their nas­ti­ness back in their faces.

So un­til Judge Thomas wants to take the same kind of test, which he won’t, since he can say it is be­neath his dig­nity, a ten­nis term can be used to de­scribe the score: Ad­van­tage, Hill.

From “The Best of Royko: The Tri­bune Years,” a col­lec­tion of his later work. By the time Royko died in 1997, he had writ­ten nearly 8,000 col­umns — half of them for the Tri­bune — and had be­come a part of the daily fab­ric of Chicago life. For de­tails about the new book edited by his son David Royko, visit the Tri­bune store.


Anita Hill takes the oath be­fore her 1991 tes­ti­mony on Judge Clarence Thomas.

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