'Lady, You Better Get a Gun': How the Anita Hill Story Broke

Clarence Thomas' 1991 scandal proved frightening for NPR's Nina Totenberg
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 14, 2016 10:00 AM CDT
'Lady, You Better Get a Gun': How the Anita Hill Story Broke
Nina Totenberg speaks during an interview at NPR on August 5, 2015, in Washington.   (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

Conservatives are already critcizing HBO's upcoming Confirmation, a film debuting Saturday that documents the sexual harassment claims that rocked Clarence Thomas' 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Nina Totenberg, the NPR reporter who first broke the story of accuser Anita Hill, now reveals in a podcast that although she'd heard rumors about Thomas' harassment earlier that year, she couldn't prove it—until she caught a statement by then-Judiciary Committee chair Joe Biden at a meeting. "Biden starts talking about how the confirmation process should not be about rank gossip," she says. "And I go … what are you talking about? I go out and I start kicking tires." That tire-kicking led her to Hill, and to a story that "every network on the face of the Earth" showed live when the hearings took place. Totenberg says sexual harassment was a "dirty little secret" at the time and Thomas was "so furious and so hurt and so indignant" about the accusations.

Totenberg also found herself ensconced in controversy. "The cost was enormous in terms of negative publicity and people trashing me a lot and senators yelling at me," she says. "At one point I had a driver at Nightline who ... said to me … 'Lady, you better get a gun.'" But she says the case drove awareness about sexual harassment, with the number of cases reported to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission nearly doubling over the next couple of years. As for the source who first gave her Hill's name, her lips are forever sealed. "I didn't even tell my lawyer when they subpoenaed me," she says. "I've never told my husband. I'm taking this one to my grave." Another person Totenberg's not reminiscing with: Anita Hill, whom she hasn't talked to since she first interviewed her, per Minnesota Public Radio. (Totenberg's podcast is here; the Washington Post also features recollections from "those who were there" at the confirmation hearings.)

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