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Hill Versus Thomas Revisited

Aired June 28, 2001 - 19:30   ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. We're coming up to the 10th anniversary of Clarence Thomas' confirmation as a Supreme Court justice, and he's back in the news, thanks to David Brock. Brock was a conservative journalist who wrote the best-selling book "The Real Anita Hill," which indicted Thomas' accuser as a liar.

But Brock is a conservative no more, and in his forthcoming new book, "Blinded By the Right," he says he was the liar. Brock now claims he covered up information that Thomas, contrary to his denials, was an habitual consumer of pornographic videos, just as Anita Hill claimed. But how can anybody tell when an admitted liar is telling the truth?

Should the Thomas confirmation be replayed with all interested parties put under oath? Or is this just an effort to sell David Brock's new book and affect the coming fight for control of the Supreme Court by discrediting Clarence Thomas -- Bill Press.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Mr. Tyrrell, welcome to CROSSFIRE.


PRESS: First a quick question, quick answer, please. If we knew then what we know about Clarence Thomas now, he never would have been confirmed to the Supreme Court, isn't that true?

TYRRELL: On the authority of David Brock, it's not true. You're wrong.

PRESS: And David Brock is wrong?

TYRRELL: David Brock is an admitted hoaxer. This show is going to based on the authority of a hoax.

NOVAK: Eleanor Smeal, quick question, quick answer to you. Would you like now, 10 years later, to replay this whole sordid matter, bring a United States associate Supreme Court justice back, put him under oath, put David Brock under oath, put the people who say David Brock is lying under oath?

ELEANOR SMEAL, PRESIDENT, FEMINIST MAJORITY FOUNDATION: I think that there should be a hearing. Not only do I think there should be a hearing, I think that we can get to the bottom of it. There's other people now involved. There's Kaye Savage, who was in fact, discredited by Brock. There are the other authors who have written and were discredited by Brock.

There is -- essentially, what Brock is saying, they're very serious charges. They're not light charges. They're serious changes. They are charges that he was fed information, and being fed this information, they discredited people wrongfully and knowingly. And this is serious.

And let's face it, the Supreme Court, these are lifetime appointments. We are sitting here with a Supreme Court that elected this president by a five-four decision, but a Supreme Court that could reverse Roe v. Wade and many, many serious things affecting women.

And remember, some of us, when the first book came out, we knew it had troubles.

PRESS: OK. Mr. Tyrrell, let's go back to the beginning here. David Brock says he lied when he was writing for you. He lied about Paula Jones, he lied about Clarence Thomas. He knew what he was doing. He says in an excerpt...

TYRRELL: Sorry, Bill. He didn't say he lied about Paula Jones.

PRESS: He has said that. Not in this article, but in this issue of "Talk" magazine, there's an excerpt from his new book where he says: "I consciously became what my critics believed I had been all along: a witting cog in the Republican sleaze machine." And he says his superiors knew what he was doing.

Now, you were his boss, so if he was the cog, you were the chief. You're as guilty of spreading these lies as he was, aren't you?

TYRRELL: Except that I'm not spreading the lies, and I am -- he has provided no evidence that what he's saying is true. In fact, the people he has dragged into this have all refuted him. Just as -- just a few weeks ago, he's the man who ginned up a protracted inquiry by the Senate of Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Ted Olson, of course, was dragged through it for days,and based on what? Based on the claims of David Brock.

What I think is fascinating about David Brock -- you're talking about one of the most fascinating people in American journalism. He's got a magical ability based solely on his own statement to bring the political cognoscenti of the country together and talk about David Brock. He brings no -- he brings no evidence to his charges, just his magical ability to bring us all here to talk about David Brock.

PRESS: Well, I'm not just talking about David Brock. I'm talking about "The American Spectator" and Emmett Tyrrell, because also in this book and in the magazine excerpts, he says that you, as his editor, basically didn't care what he put in there, as long as he was attacking Bill and Hillary Clinton.

He says, for example, that "The American Spectator" never had any fact checkers the way other magazines have. Again -- you didn't care what he put in there. You were the editor. What kind of standards were they?

TYRRELL: Well, I'll tell you the standards. The standards were that we were ahead of the curve for years on Bill Clinton. The Troopergate story -- everything in Troopergate story wondrously reappeared four years later when Miss Lewinsky came forward, and she replicated the same behavior the women talked about Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1993.

"The American Spectator" stories have never been disproven, and just because Judas Iscariot has popped up here with Aaron Burr and maybe John Wilkes Booth -- I don't think those are the kinds of people that you take seriously.

SMEAL: Wait a minute...

TYRRELL: Just let me finish my point. The point of the matter is there is no major fact in any of our pieces about Bill Clinton, whether it be Troopergate, whether it be Travelgate, whether it be -- that have ever been disproven. And if you can disprove them, go ahead and disprove them.

SMEAL: Let's get right to -- let's just get right to this, the problem of Clarence Thomas. There was a book that came out in 1994 by two reputable "Wall Street Journal" reporters, Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer. And it collaborate -- it confirmed a lot of what Anita Hill said. And we now know -- of course, we don't know this -- it's alleged by Brock that he knew, when he attacked that book and attacked it systematically, that he was saying a lie. And so, basically, that is a reputable account that substantiates what she said.

NOVAK: Eleanor Smeal, I want to you listen for a moment please to a comment -- statement made by Clarence Thomas at those confirmation hearings long ago.


CLARENCE THOMAS: I did not discuss any pornographic material or pornographic preferences or pornographic films with Professor Hill.


NOVAK: Now, that was said under oath, and I don't know if you have read David Brock's account in the excerpt from his book in "Talk" magazine. It's a very smarmy, mean-spirited attack on practically everybody he had contact with 10 years ago, but the one piece of information is, that he claims he got information at the time, that Clarence Thomas was lying from a friend, his go-between with Clarence Thomas, since David Brock never talked to Mr. Thomas at any time -- a man named Mark Paoletta. Mr. Paoletta now says that is a lie. He says he never gave that information to David Brock.

How can you base this idea that you want to reopen this case on a habitual liar's lying? SMEAL: Why don't you bring it before a Senate judiciary committee and have Paoletta there and, not only that, why don't you investigate? I mean, in fact there were -- it's not just one person's word against another. He said that he was a regular participator in buying videos from certain store. I mean, why can't...

NOVAK: Who said that? Who said that?

SMEAL: Paoletta.


SMEAL: Paoletta said it to Brock, but what I'm saying is you can check it. I mean, you don't have to...

NOVAK: He denies it.

SMEAL: But that's a person's word. Is there no such things as investigations? Is there no such thing as a hearing? I mean, and why can't it be bipartisan? If, in fact, it's true that this man is just a liar, then you clear the name. But if it isn't, we get at something also very serious. So -- it's a serious allegation.

NOVAK: Ms. Smeal, you talked about the book by Jane Mayer and Jill Abramsom as part of your (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and I'd like to read you something that Jill Abramson, who is now "The New York Times" Washington bureau chief, said about this strange book by David Brock.

She said: "Once you admit you've knowingly written false things, how do you know when to believe what he writes?"

SMEAL: Well, that's true.

NOVAK: What you're saying is -- you're saying -- you just believe whatever you want to believe. Isn't that the case?

SMEAL: No, no, no. I said that they should try to get to the bottom of this. And of course, what she was saying there is that, yeah, obviously his credibility is at question, but she also went on to say that she knows what she wrote in her book was accurate. And what she wrote in her book, in large measure, confirms what Anita Hill said. So, I mean, you can't just take part of what she said. She's grateful that he is -- they're no longer smearing her book, because she knows that the book was substantially researched.

NOVAK: That isn't quite what she said.

TYRRELL: You believe -- again, you're another one of these people that believes in the magic of David Brock. David Brock said it, so...

SMEAL: No, no, no, I'm saying let's get to the bottom of it.

TYRRELL: ... because David Brock said it. Had David Brock not written a book of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we wouldn't be here tonight! We would be talking something that the American people are interested in.


SMEAL: I was one of people who questioned the first book, "The Real Anita Hill"...


SMEAL: I'm just saying let's get -- wait a minute! I'm just saying, let's get behind this machinery. You remember, in "The Real Anita Hill," he said it's funded by, you know, the Bradley Foundation, it was funded by the Olin Foundation, that the people approached him from "The American Spectator" to do some sort of an investigation.

Let's get behind the mechanism that is funding all this, because basically this might not be the last of this. We are about to go through more confirmations. We are at a key point in history where the court stands at 5-4, major issues affecting women's lives for another generation.

PRESS: All right, let me get back -- first of all, just to your last comment about the Troopergate and the fact that nothing you've written has ever been distributed -- I remember, sir, that during the Paula Jones hearing, the troopers testified -- two of the troopers testified under oath that what they had told David Brock was pure baloney. And you say nothing has been disproved! I think the whole story has been disproved.

TYRRELL: Come on. Don't read that story...

PRESS: I have read it!

TYRRELL: It's -- it's the most irrefutable piece of evidence against Bill Clinton we have ever seen.


TYRRELL: When Ms. Lewinsky came forward, kicking -- really, this late in the game you guys are going to say we weren't vindicated by the Lewinsky exposure?

SMEAL: Lewinsky didn't have anything to do with the Troopergate thing.

TYRRELL: Come on! Come on -- trooper -- are you now saying...

PRESS: When two troopers say under oath that what you printed was false, I think that stands for it.

TYRRELL: Are you now saying to the American people that the first stories that Bill Clinton was a philanderer, an abuser of power are obviously not true? After all, we have had eight years to see what a saintly and virginal man he is. Come on!


SMEAL: Why do you keep shifting the conversation against what...

NOVAK: Bill brought up Troopergate!


PRESS: In that case I was responding to Troopergate. I want to come back to Clarence Thomas for just a second, because -- in case everybody watching doesn't remember those hearings -- what Ms. Hill was saying was that Mr. Thomas made it a very uncomfortable workplace because he was always talking about his sexual exploits, he bragged about the size of his penis, he talked about the pornographic films that he watched. In fact, let's remember the most famous one that he watched, here is Ms. Hill.


ANITA HILL: He used the name that he had been referred to in the pornographic material.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you recall what it was?

HILL: Yes, I do. The name that was referred to was "Long Dong Silver."


PRESS: So, David Brock asked Mr. Paoletta: did Clarence Thomas have equipment at his home to rent these films, to show these films, and did he rent them? And the guy called him back, a friend of Clarence Thomas, says, yes, he had the equipment, and he rented the movies from Graffiti up at Dupont Circle. Anita Hill was telling the truth. That's why it's important, isn't it?

TYRRELL: God, Bill, you are another victim of the Brock magic. Paoletta, of course, denies all this, but because Brock said it -- you have been duped, too, you and Ms. Smeal. I worry about you both.


SMEAL: ... we should just investigate and see what really happened. And we don't have to just take it on word. You should -- what is wrong with having a hearing and going through the facts, especially those can be collaborated?

PRESS: On that point, we are going to take a break and let you know that Mr. Emmett Tyrrell has agreed to stick around after the show to take your questions in our chat room. You can join him by logging onto I'm sure you have a lot of questions for him.

When we come back, we'll continue our debate, and is this debate over Clarence Thomas just the beginning of maybe some bad news for future Bush nominees? Is that what it's really all about?


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: As far as I'm concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppety blacks who in any way dare to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Almost 10 years ago, that was Clarence Thomas defending himself against charges of sexual harassment during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. It's back in the news again, because David Brock, who helped defend Thomas, now says when he did so, he was deliberately spreading lies.

So, what's this mean for Thomas and future nominees to the court? In the CROSSFIRE tonight: David Brock's former boss, R. Emmett Tyrrell, editor-in-chief of "The American Spectator" magazine, and Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, who's up in Philadelphia for the annual convention of the National Organization for Women -- Bob.

NOVAK: Ms. Smeal, I would like you to listen for a moment to Armstrong Williams, a friend of Justice Thomas, who was I think the go-between -- one of go-betweens in the book, the first book that David Brock real, "The Real Anita Hill." Armstrong Williams is a distinguished columnist and talk show host, and I'd like to -- let's listen to something he said on CNN yesterday.


ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, FORMER AIDE TO CLARENCE THOMAS: This October will mark his 10-year anniversary on the court. That is one of the reasons why this book is being published, and other Supreme Court reporters are writing articles, gearing up for it. The man has proven that he is a brilliant jurist, he has proven that he is an honorable man, and they should just leave this man alone.


NOVAK: Isn't that what this is all about? That now that David Brock has joined the left wing, you people just cannot stand the thought of this brilliant jurist, who is a black man who doesn't think like you want him to think. He thinks more like Ronald Reagan than Jesse Jackson. Isn't that what this is all about, another attempt to discredit him?

SMEAL: Listen, we don't have -- we, the feminist movement, have nothing to do with Mr. Brock. And I don't like that interference, because basically that's what the original attack was, that somehow there is a conspiracy against Mr. Thomas. That is not the issue here. This has now come before the public. It's come before the public from a man who said that his own conscience -- or that -- what he said was a lie.

It's a serious charge. And it should be dealt with seriously. But it isn't coming from the feminist movement, and it isn't coming from some liberal conspiracy at all. NOVAK: You know, Ms. Smeal, you twice, maybe three times in our first segment, said that this was about the fact that we are going to have some Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

SMEAL: No, no, I said...

NOVAK: Just let me ask the question, and then I'll give you a chance to answer it. Isn't that what this is? We are gearing up for that fight, and you are getting your artillery all set to attack a conservative on the court and make sure there are no more Clarence Thomases on the court, so that we can get rid of the Roe v. Wade decision once and for all?

SMEAL: What I was saying is, it would be proper now to investigate the apparatus that Brock says exists. Now, we don't know if it exists, but an apparatus that has been perhaps slanting in a dishonest way hearings, and has been apparatus, as he says, or as he infers, to put forth and to stack the court.

What's really at issue is the integrity of the court but also the judiciary process.

You know, we were very upset in the first place that the Senate Judiciary Committee 10 years ago didn't ask the first time around any questions on these issues. And the fact -- the feminist movement had already come out against Clarence Thomas on the basis of ideology.

But the issue was that they didn't even think it was important to ask these questions about sexual harassment. What I think is important now is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) get at the machinery here.

TYRRELL: Could I just pick up -- that's right, the machinery, get back to that. I'm delighted to hear this paranoia coming out of the left. You spoke earlier that you were opposed to the notion of conspiracies, and now you're trying to say there's some vast conspiracy, maybe vast right-wing conspiracy even, behind David Brock.


SMEAL: Well, David Brock says there is an orchestrated effort. I'm not saying it. He's saying it.

TYRRELL: So you believe what he's saying.

SMEAL: I didn't -- I didn't say I believed him. I said it should be looked into.

TYRRELL: Richard Hofstadter called this the paranoid style of American politics. It once characterized the far right; now it characterizes you on the left.

PRESS: Well, wait a minute. Let me pick up on that. I mean, look, David Brock was working for "The American Spectator." There was Olin Foundation money, there was Bradley Foundation money, there was Richard Scaife Foundation money. You spent $2.4 million in the Arkansas Project, digging up dirt against Bill Clinton in Arkansas. What is that if not a vast right-wing conspiracy and it was headquartered at "The American Spectator"?

TYRRELL: Another way of putting it -- another way of putting it we were paying -- what you call dirt -- happened to be accurate reportage. But secondly...


PRESS: Accurate reportage? Can I ask...

TYRRELL: Let me bring to your attention the Pew Trust. The Pew Trust has been reported to have spent $5.4 million to send -- to pay for the National Public Broadcasting's media investigations. Now, isn't this a vast left-wing conspiracy?

PRESS: I want to ask you -- pardon me -- I want to ask you about -- I want to ask you very quickly -- we're almost out of time -- about this accurate reportage.

TYRRELL: And who's paying your bills? And who's paying your bills, Press?

SMEAL: What?

PRESS: How about the accurate reportage of November 1996 when you reported that Clinton had been treated for a drug overdose in the early 1980s? You say no first-hand account is available. And yet, you print that in the magazine under your name. It's never been proven. That's the kind of reportage you are proud of?

TYRRELL: We quoted people there that said they were aware of it.

PRESS: No, no, you don't at all, sir! You do not. You want me to read you what they say?


NOVAK: Read it off camera.

PRESS: You're letting him off the hook.



PRESS: ... wild charges that never...

NOVAK: You can read it off camera, but we're out of time, Bill, and you should know that. Thank you very much, Robert (sic) Tyrrell. Thank you very much in Philadelphia, Eleanor Smeal. And I will let Bill blow off steam when we come back for closing comments.


PRESS: The CROSSFIRE doesn't end here. Remember, Emmett Tyrrell will be in our chatroom right after the show. You can join him with your questions at, Bob. You know why conservatives don't like David Brock? Because he blew their cover. I mean, he proves there was a right-want conspiracy, he was part of it. It was all a pack of lies. Hillary was right, Bob.

NOVAK: David is a very troubled man. He's trying to reinvent himself in mid-life. But I'm going to tell you something else: He wrote a profile of me for a magazine, and the fact-checker called me up with his draft. I have never seen so many factual mistakes in my life.

He is a very sloppy reporter. I think he has trouble adjusting the facts to reality. I think, probably, in the original "Anita Hill" there was a lot of mistakes.

I don't think he knows what the truth is, and instead of relying on him by a source -- as a source, you ought to pray for him, Bill.

PRESS: Let me just tell you, Bob. You know what, sloppy reporters don't write for "New York" magazine and get published. Sloppy reporters don't write for "Talk" magazine and get published.

NOVAK: Oh, come on.

PRESS: When people come forward, instead of attacking him with facts that prove that he was wrong, then I'll believe him. David Brock took a lot of courage to do what he did.

NOVAK: Do you think -- do you think "Talk" magazine checked the people that he quoted and now deny it? They didn't even check. There was no fact-checking. They didn't do it.

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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