Don’t Give HBO’s Error-Filled ‘Confirmation’ An Emmy
As the race for 2016 Emmy nominations gets underway, it’s almost certain that Hollywood power brokers, keeping with their pattern of rewarding liberal revisionist history, will be tempted to confer its honors on HBO’s Confirmation, another false narrative against conservatives released this spring. But if Emmy voters care at all about accuracy and fairness in filmmaking, they will think twice before indulging their biases this year.
Confirmation, which stars liberal actress Kerry Washington, purports to show both sides of the agonizing 1991 Thomas-Hill confrontation, in which Ms. Hill alleged that her former employer, Judge Clarence Thomas, made sexually harassing comments to her and pressured her for dates ten years earlier. Mr. Thomas has vehemently denied the allegations. Still, it’s clear almost from the opening credits of the HBO film that Ms. Hill is the protagonist, the courageous victim daring to speak truth to power. The film, written by liberal screenwriter Susannah Grant, excises almost all of the problematic aspects of Ms. Hill’s testimony and drives the narrative with emotion rather than fact. Virtually every scene is tainted by this agenda – I’ve tabulated more than 70 instances of factual errors and misrepresentations — but several key moments stand out.
For one, the movie portrays Ms. Hill as a reluctant witness from the very beginning, one who feels compelled to come forward with her allegations after being contacted by the Senate. In fact, Ms. Hill reached out to a well-connected friend in Washington very shortly after Judge Thomas was nominated to tell him for the first time that Mr. Thomas had harassed her at the EEOC. She is the one who likely set this rumor in motion. When two Senate staffers later called her about the rumor, Ms. Hill was cagey and evasive. She moved forward with her charges only after a Senate staffer, Jim Brudney, who had attended Yale Law School with Ms. Hill and been a long-time opponent of Mr. Thomas, suggested to Ms. Hill that she might be able to force Mr. Thomas to withdraw quietly if she made an allegation anonymously.
Ms. Hill followed this advice, originally seeking to make her charge without ever revealing her name to Judge Thomas. She even balked at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s request that the FBI interview her and Mr. Thomas about her allegations, leading to a standoff that lasted more than a week. It was only when Mr. Thomas had moved to the brink of confirmation that Ms. Hill relented. Although the movie does not mention it, the FBI investigation found Ms. Hill’s allegations wholly unsubstantiated. In fact, Ms. Hill gave the FBI the names of two women who she claimed would corroborate her allegations. The FBI interviewed both women, and they flatly contradicted Ms. Hill’s claims, stating that they knew of no impropriety by Mr. Thomas. One of those women later testified on Mr. Thomas’ behalf.
Also not depicted in the movie is the extensive questioning by Sen. Arlen Specter during the hearings that caught Anita Hill in the web of her own lies. HBO ignores, for example, a lengthy exchange in which Ms. Hill repeatedly denied having been told that an anonymous (or confidential) charge might prompt Judge Thomas to withdraw. Yet that exchange was a critical moment in the hearings, especially when Ms. Hill finally admitted the conversation. Her dramatic change in testimony prompted Sen. Specter to accuse Ms. Hill on the record of perjuring herself. But Confirmation conveniently skips the whole conversation.
The movie also makes no mention of the left’s effort during the hearings to portray Ms. Hill as a Republican. The constant drumbeat of her supporters was that Ms. Hill could not have a political motive to take down Mr. Thomas because she was a conservative who, according to one of her witnesses, was 100 percent in agreement with the Reagan civil rights agenda. But Ms. Hill herself later made clear that she was a lifelong Democrat who always had serious political disagreements with Mr. Thomas and the Reagan civil rights agenda.
The HBO film also portrays a woman named Angela Wright, played by Jennifer Hudson, as a corroborating witness who could have changed history. In HBO’s retelling, Ms. Wright — the supposed “second woman” who would have testified about inappropriate behavior by Judge Thomas at work — was prevented from testifying by then-Chairman, Sen. Joe Biden, because Sen. Jack Danforth threatened Sen. Biden that he would release a scurrilous affidavit. In the face of such a threat, Sen. Biden caved and prevented Ms. Wright from testifying. The truth of the matter is that Ms. Wright chose not to testify on the advice of her own counsel. Ms. Wright’s interview with Senate staffers made clear that they were aware of her turbulent employment history (she had been fired more than once and had even made baseless allegations of racism against another supervisor before the Senate) and Mr. Thomas’ testimony that he had fired her for referring to a colleague with a homophobic slur only put the exclamation point on her troubled history. Thelma Duggin, a friend of Ms. Wright’s, told the FBI that Ms. Wright had in August 1991 vowed revenge on Mr. Thomas for firing her. Neither Ms. Hill nor the Democrats were sorry to see Ms. Wright reach an agreement not to testify.
That HBO chose to focus on Ms. Wright rather than the many women who testified on behalf of Judge Thomas is revealing. A dozen women came forward and testified in support of Mr. Thomas, including eight who were kept waiting by the committee until after midnight to be allowed to offer just three minutes of testimony each. They uniformly testified to Mr. Thomas’ decency, professionalism, and respect for his employees. None of them had ever seen any hint of impropriety by Mr. Thomas in the workplace, and, even though several of them had themselves been victims of sexual harassment, none of them believed Ms. Hill’s allegations. Not a single one of Ms. Hill’s former co-workers supported her allegations. For a movie that focuses so much on how Ms. Hill supposedly gave voice to the experiences of women in the workplace, it is strange that Confirmation would virtually ignore so many women’s voices.
Equally strange is the movie’s treatment of Ms. Hill’s weak corroborating witnesses. Twice, the movie claims that Ms. Hill had four friends who would testify that she told them at the time that Mr. Thomas was sexually harassing her. That is false. Two of Ms. Hill’s witnesses, John Carr and Joel Paul, could not confirm that she used Mr. Thomas’ name, and Paul claimed to have been told about the harassment years after it had occurred. Another, Ellen Wells, testified that Ms. Hill only told her, without any specifics, that she believed Mr. Thomas’ conduct toward her to be “inappropriate.” Susan Hoerchner, the only witness who claimed to have been told any specifics at the time about purported sexual harassment by Mr. Thomas, initially told Senate staffers that conversation occurred before Ms. Hill even went to work for Mr. Thomas. Needless to say, the movie’s treatment of these non-credible witnesses is far better than they deserve and far worse than the historical record demands.
Confirmation’s selective use of the original hearing transcripts reveals at every turn how insidious the filmmakers’ bias is. Although making use of some source materials, the movie cherry-picks from among those materials only the fruit that fit its narrative. It leaves to wither on the vine many objective facts that undermined Ms. Hill’s allegations, along with Ms. Hill’s implausible answers about the facts it includes. But it was those implausible and shifting answers that doomed Ms. Hill’s story for the American public. Judge Thomas had been through three FBI background investigations for his previous presidential appointments, and nothing remotely like these allegations had ever surfaced. The public might nevertheless have been willing to look past the implausibilities surrounding her claims if she had not repeatedly lied about them. Those lies were a symptom of allegations that were rotten to the core, and the public knew it – in polling conducted after the hearings, the American people believed Mr. Thomas over Ms. Hill by a 2-1 margin, and only 26 percent of women believed Ms. Hill. This film is dishonest from beginning to end. I have compiled a list of more than 70 instances where the film is materially dishonest in its representation of those hearings. You can review this list at my website, ConfirmationBiased.com.
The left couldn’t accept this loss in the court of public opinion, and almost immediately embarked on a campaign to change the history of the Clarence Thomas hearings. Just like their recent attempt to cast President Reagan – who won unprecedented victories on behalf of limited government at home, defeated the Soviet Union abroad, and left office with one of the highest approval ratings in history – as a doddering incompetent, the left and their allies in entertainment want to tarnish the public’s perception of Clarence Thomas. The uniquely American story of his rise from poverty to the highest court in the land should be an inspiration to us all, but the left will undermine it because he dares to think differently from them. HBO’s rewriting of history is a disservice to the truth and to the American people.
Mark Paoletta practices law in Washington, D.C. He served in the Bush 41 White House Counsel’s Office during the Thomas confirmation hearings. He recently launched a website www.confirmationbiased.com to fact-check HBO’s new movie “Confirmation.”