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A book of sleaze


WHEN a partisan ideologue publishes a book that purports t expose an opponent as corrupt, would any sensible reviewer accept its factual assertions without checking, and praise it as an impressive investigative study? One would think not.

But that, amazingly, is what has happened with a book called "The Real Anita Hill: The Untold Story."

It is by David Brock, a right-wing polemicist whose work on the book was supported by conservative foundations. One of the foundations is headed by William Simon, who was a leader of the Citizens' Committee to Confirm Clarence Thomas.

Mr. Brock says Professor Hill made up her account of being sexually harassed by Judge Thomas. He portrays her as sexually obsessed herself.

Reviewers in several serious newspapers [including conservative columnist Mona Charen on this page] treated the book respectfully. George Will, a conservative who usually does his own thinking, praised it extravagantly.

The reviews simply regurgitated "facts" asserted by Mr. Brock. George Will, for example, wrote that a friend who backed Professor Hill's charge, Judge Susan Hoerchner, was shown that the story was wrong and abandoned it.

He wrote that "not one of the scores of women Thomas has worked with supported Hill's portrayal of Thomas." Mr. Brock made those claims. They are false.

Now someone has done the work of checking the Brock book. The result is a devastating review this week in the New Yorker. It is by Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, who have themselves been working on a political history of the Thomas confirmation struggle.

Ms. Mayer and Ms. Abramson go painstakingly through a number of the assertions made by Mr. Brock to undermine Professor Hill. They show that the claims are based on alleged anonymous sources or are easily disproved. What is left in the book is a farrago of the preposterous and the vicious.

Much of the Brock attack rests on a point about Judge Hoerchner. She testified that Anita Hill told her of being sexually harassed. She thought that was in the spring of 1981 -- which was before Ms. Hill went to work for Judge Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Hence, Mr. Brock asserted, Ms. Hill must have been telling her about another man.

But when first interviewed by the FBI, Judge Hoerchner said her memory of the time when Ms. Hill told her was "a wild guess." Under oath, she said the one thing she was sure of was that it was after Ms. Hill "had gone to work for Clarence Thomas." Mr. Brock did not mention that testimony. Nor did he interview Judge Hoerchner.

Another subordinate of Judge Thomas' at the EEOC, Angela Wright, was ready to testify that he had also made sexual remarks to her. Mr. Brock, attacking her, said that Ms. Wright had refused to be interviewed by the FBI and that a statement by her was unsworn. But she was interviewed by two FBI agents, and her statement was sworn. Mr. Brock never asked to talk with her.

Why would reviewers fall for such stuff? Perhaps, Ms. Mayer and Ms. Abramson suggest, because Mr. Brock pictures himself as a dispassionate investigator. And his book has a scholarly-looking apparatus of footnotes: 525 of them. But what footnotes!

My favorite is about James Brudney, a Senate staff member whom Mr. Brock makes a chief villain. The text says, falsely, that he and Anita Hill were close friends in Washington. Then a footnote quotes a newspaper story as saying they were roommates at Yale.

Mr. Brock continues: "Though there is no evidence to support such a conclusion, conspiracy theorists might be tempted to conclude that these close links preclude coincidence." The tale is sheer invention, the footnote not scholarship but sleaze.

"Given the fervor with which Brock and his funders have gone after Hill," Ms. Mayer and Ms. Abramson write, "what is most striking is how little they have found." I hope reviewers who took the book seriously will read this piece and search their consciences.

George Will concluded that "Thomas' ordeal was a manifestation of the politics of character assassination, whereby political differences become occasions for moral assault."

If Mr. Will opens his mind, I think he will find that this book is a model of the politics of character assassination.

Anthony Lewis is a columnist for the New York Times.

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