Confirmation Bias, Part Two

In a post called “Confirmation Bias,” I discussed “Confirmation,” an HBO film about the 1991 hearings on Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court, and Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against him. When I wrote the post two months ago, Senators John Danforth and Alan Simpson, two moderate Republicans who supported the Thomas nomination, had complained about the script they saw. Simpson called it a “seriously distorted” version of the actual confirmation hearings.

Now, with the movie having aired this weekend, Stuart Taylor, a prominent journalist who covered the hearings all those years ago, adds his voice to those who see “Confirmation” as a Hollywood hit job on Justice Thomas. Taylor says that “viewers of ‘Confirmation’ were deprived of several aspects of the story that might have made them. . .skeptical of Ms. Hill,” just as the majority of Americans who witnessed the actual hearings were.

Taylor provides plenty of examples. First:

The movie ignores Ms. Hill’s failure to mention either in her initial written statement to the Judiciary Committee or in her FBI interview some of the most shocking charges about Mr. Thomas’s behavior that she added in testimony three weeks later. Worse, when asked about these omissions, Ms. Hill claimed that the FBI agents had told her that she need not “discuss things that were too embarrassing.” Both agents flatly contradicted this.

(Emphasis added)


“Confirmation” also doesn’t mention that Ms. Hill denied—five times—in sworn testimony any recollection of being told by a Democratic staffer that she might be able to force Mr. Thomas to withdraw without being publicly identified. The movie thereby avoids needing to report that, after conferring with her lawyers, Ms. Hill admitted having been told this.


Viewers also weren’t told about Ms. Hill’s implausible claim that a fear of losing her job was a key reason she had followed Mr. Thomas—despite finding him repellent—when he moved from the Education Department to become chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1982. Much evidence—including the fact that she enjoyed job protection as a career employee—suggests that Ms. Hill must have known her Education Department job was secure. . . .


The film takes at face value Ms. Hill’s shifting claims that the more than 11 phone calls she placed to Mr. Thomas in the six years after she left the EEOC were to return calls from him or on “professional” matters. It omits such contrary details as this Jan. 31, 1984, message from her for Mr. Thomas that a secretary had jotted down: “Just called to say hello. Sorry she didn’t get to see you last week.”


“Confirmation” also tries to erase the fact that nobody else has ever accused Mr. Thomas of sexual harassment or of talking as dirty as Ms. Hill said he did. The movie presents another former EEOC employee, Angela Wright, whom Mr. Thomas had fired, as a credible witness. . . .Thelma Duggin, a former colleague both of Mr. Thomas and Ms. Hill, told the FBI that Ms. Wright had vowed “to get him back” for firing her.


“Confirmation” does show a single former female colleague, and two males, as character witnesses praising Mr. Thomas. But the film doesn’t mention that almost a dozen other women gave similar, cumulatively powerful testimony. . .that Mr. Thomas treated women with respect, nurtured their careers and was proper to the point of prudishness at work.

Mark Paoletta, who as a lawyer in the George H.W. Bush administration worked to help confirm Thomas, has set up a website called “Confirmation Biased” which shows the considerable extent to which HBO’s docudrama is a work of fiction. “With imaginary scenes, fictional characters and a biased agenda, the film has become an unfair distortion of the truth,” says Paoletta.

What else could one expect of a Hollywood movie written and produced by donors to the Democratic party, and starring an actress who has appeared at the Democratic National Convention?

Paoletta tells us that the producer of “Confirmation,” Michael London who also produced a dishonest biopic of Hollywood communist Dalton Trumbo, says he “likes his movies to say “F*** you.'” As with “Trumbo,” in the case of London’s latest production, “you” means fairness and a decent regard for the truth.