- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Casting Anita Hill to lead a commission on sexual harassment in Hollywood may have seemed like an inspired choice, but it turns out the feminist icon hasn’t always been a champion of women preyed upon by powerful men.

Seven years after she accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment at his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Ms. Hill rushed to the defense of President Clinton as he struggled to avoid impeachment amid accusations of sexual misconduct made by multiple women.

In a 1998 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Ms. Hill moved to discredit claims by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones, who accused the former Arkansas governor of exposing himself to her, and Clinton campaign fundraiser Kathleen Willey, who accused him of groping her in the Oval Office.

Specifically, Ms. Willey said he embraced her, kissed her on the mouth, grabbed her breast and put his hand on her genitals, but Ms. Hill countered that it wasn’t sexual harassment because she never claimed the behavior was “severe and ongoing” or that she “suffered any disadvantage because of this incident.”

“So I think, in fact, we aren’t talking about sexual harassment, at least based on the facts that we have in front of us, even if we assume that what she said in her interview and the depositions are true,” Ms. Hill told hosts Tim Russert and Gwen Ifill.

That’s not all. Ms. Hill defended the Democratic president in two 1998 op-eds for The New York Times, at one point stating that his affair with 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky failed to rise to the level of harassment because it was consensual.

So far, however, the only complaints about Ms. Hill being tapped to head the newly formed Hollywood Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace have come from the right.

Tim Graham, the conservative Media Research Center’s director of media analysis, blasted the Hill pick as a “bad joke,” saying she “dissed Bill Clinton’s accusers,” even as The New York Times hailed her selection as “a stroke of marquee casting.”

Penny Young Nance, president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, called on Hollywood to find a new chair, saying that “with Anita Hill at the helm, this effort must be viewed as unserious.”

“When Hill had the opportunity to step up to defend the powerless against the most powerful man in the world, her instinct was to defend him because his politics happened to be liberal,” Ms. Nance said in her Dec. 20 op-ed in USA Today. “Well, it’ll come as no shock to every woman in Hollywood that their town is replete with countless powerful men whose politics just happens to be liberal.”

The commission was announced Dec. 16 by a high-powered team of top industry figures, led by producer and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, Nike Foundation founder and co-chair Maria Eitel, entertainment lawyer Nina Shaw and venture capitalist Freada Kapor Klein.

“The commission will not seek just one solution, but a comprehensive strategy to address the complex and interrelated causes of the problems of parity and power,” Ms. Kennedy, a longtime Steven Spielberg collaborator and manager of the “Star Wars” franchise, said in a statement.

Ms. Hill, a Brandeis University professor of social policy, law, and women’s gender and sexuality studies, said it was “time to end the culture of silence.”

“I’ve been at this work for 26 years,” she said in a statement. “This moment presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to make real change.”

He said, she said

For conservatives, however, the decision to bring on Ms. Hill was seen as a gratuitous swipe at the right on what should be a politically neutral effort to combat rampant reports of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry.

She remains a polarizing figure after testifying that Mr. Thomas asked her out repeatedly and made off-color, sexual comments as her boss at the Education Department, which he categorically denied, in a spectacular yet still unresolved case of he-said, she-said.

Her critics point out that she followed Mr. Thomas to his next job at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, prompting accusations that she hoped to derail the conservative jurist’s nomination for political reasons, while her supporters accused the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee of sexism and failing to take her accusations seriously.

Mr. Thomas was ultimately confirmed by the Senate in a narrow 52-48 vote. A CBS/New York Times poll taken immediately after the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings found that the public favored his confirmation by a 2-1 margin.

In Hollywood, however, Ms. Hill is an undisputed heroine, the subject of two sympathetic biopics: Showtime’s “Strange Justice” in 1999 and HBO’s “Confirmation” in 2016, which The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway slammed as an “unrelenting push to rewrite history.”

“Apart from her inability to substantiate her claims of sexual harassment, she has a curious habit of downplaying actual sexual harassment when it’s done by Democratic politicians,” Ms. Hemingway said in her April 2016 review. “Consider the comments she made regarding Bill Clinton’s sexual harassment of women such as Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Monica Lewinsky.”

The promo for “Confirmation,” starring Kerry Washington as Ms. Hill, declared: “One woman made a choice to take a stand.”

With the Clinton presidency in jeopardy, however, Ms. Hill stood with feminist Gloria Steinem in arguing for looking at the entirety of Mr. Clinton’s record on women’s issues.

“But I think what Ms. Steinem also says is that we have to look at the totality of the presidency, and how has he been on women’s issues generally,” Ms. Hill said in the “Meet the Press” interview.

“Is he our best bet notwithstanding some behavior that we might dislike?” Ms. Hill asked. “And I don’t think most women have come to the point where we’ve said, ‘Well, this is so bad that even if he is better on the bigger issues, we can’t have him as president.’”

That is the kind of talk that has put even the revered Ms. Steinem on the defensive as progressives call for a “reckoning” over the feminist movement’s response to Mr. Clinton’s behavior.

Hill kept going and even more inexplicably compounded the ‘they all do it’ defense with the now unfathomable double-standard reasoning that President Clinton should get a pass because he’s a liberal and supports so-called “women’s issues.” Sound familiar?” Ms. Nance asked.

Ms. Graham dismissed the commission as an example of “liberal Democrats coming to the rescue of other liberal Democrats,” given that disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein, a central figure in the scandal, was a longtime Democratic fundraiser and supporter of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid.

Ms. Hill and Ms. Kennedy did not return immediately requests for comment.

Ms. Hill’s advocacy on behalf of Mr. Clinton may come as a surprise to Hollywood, but not to readers of conservative publications.

In November, several weeks before the sexual harassment commission was announced, at least three conservative media outlets — Powerline, Daily Caller and Real News with David Knight — posted the “Meet the Press” interview.

The headline on the Nov. 17 article on Powerline: “How Anita Hill betrayed feminism.”

The commission, which plans to convene shortly after Jan. 1, was launched in reaction to accusations of sexual harassment and assault made against multiple industry figures, starting with October reports in The New York Times and New Yorker on Mr. Weinstein.

Other Hollywood heavyweights caught up in the scandal include actors Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, Jeremy Piven and Dustin Hoffman, as well as Pixar and Disney Animation head John Lasseter.

Supporting the commission and its mission are top executives from major Hollywood studios, television networks, talent agencies and recording studios, including Disney CEO Bob Iger, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences CEO Dawn Hudson, and CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves.

Ms. Kennedy has called for changing the culture in Hollywood with “zero-tolerance policies for abusive behavior,” creating a “secure, reliable system” in which women can report sexual harassment without fear of retaliation, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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