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

Newsweek - - Contents - BY DAVID A. KA­PLAN

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.

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