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Amiable, sensitive, macho Supreme Court justice seeks understanding journalist for upteenth re-telling of inspirational life story. Loves NASCAR, long drives, not afraid to cry in public. No hard questions, no current events.

Ken Foskett's bizarre three-day series on "The Clarence Thomas You Don't Know" in the AJC reads like a personals ad. Or an inspirational segment on "Oprah." Or a corporate puff piece. Or like anything but what it's supposed to be: a front-page series about a Supreme Court justice whose controversial rise to power recently made headlines again when a political ally confessed to lying on his behalf.

Oh yeah, and there's that other Thomas ally, Atlanta lawyer Larry Thompson, who also ought to be feeling some heat from those revelations since they raise new questions about his own honesty when he served as Thomas' attorney during the confirmation hearings in 1991. Water under the bridge? Not exactly. Thompson was just appointed deputy attorney general of the United States.

Of course, you wouldn't know any of this from Foskett's puff job. What you learn about "The Thomas You Don't Know" is that he loves children; that he could do 100 sit-ups in high school; that he's fond of nuns and likes to chat with the cafeteria employees at work. There's a picture of Thomas crying, another picture of Thomas crying, a photo of his touring bus, high-school yearbook shots and an improbable accumulation of adjectives describing him as methodical, sensitive, emotional, complex, bold, adventurous and so on.

The fact that this is the opposite of character assassination makes it no more palpable as journalism. On the very week when new information is surfacing about Thomas' veracity — and that of his well-placed supporters — running a feature that ignores these developments is like arguing Thomas' defense without admitting that this is what you have set out to do.

If Foskett had entirely avoided the subject of the Anita Hill controversy, the article's biases would seem less of a problem. Instead, he gives star billing to Thomas' questionable complaint that sexual harassment charges against him were motivated by racism, and devotes considerable space to exploring the effects of this alleged "electronic lynching" on Thomas' life. Rather than offer a substantive — or at least balanced — perspective on the Anita Hill case, Foskett presents photos of Thomas in tears and headlines about his "private pain." The views of his opponents, the women he calls racists, are neatly excised from the story: There's only him, crying and suffering over nine long pages of text.

Of course, this is precisely the strategy Thomas himself used to defend his actions when Hill accused him of very specific acts of sexual harassment in 1991. Meanwhile, his handlers, particularly lawyer Thompson, were busy manufacturing contemptible stories about Hill's mental health and sexual habits. Now that former conservative wunderkind David Brock has come forward to add one more piece to the pile of evidence showing that the Thomas team engaged in a shockingly unethical smear campaign, it's high time that Thompson finally be called upon to apologize.

Foskett seems to find nothing newsworthy about the enormous controversy raised by Brock's admission that he lied to try to discredit Anita Hill and the two journalists who wrote Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas. Like many conservatives who once embraced Brock, Foskett now dismisses his credibility in one brief sentence. This is also the closest he comes to discussing Anita Hill's side of the story in his series, and it isn't close at all.

Neither Thompson nor Senator Alan Simpson deny that they used the following strategies, described in Strange Justice, to attack Hill.

During the Thomas hearings, Thompson attempted to discredit Hill's testimony by insinuating that she was suffering from erotomania, a severe psychiatric disorder. He used the claim to dismiss the results of a lie detector test Hill had passed with flying colors.

Knowing that he couldn't directly accuse her of being mentally ill with no proof and no support from any psychiatrist who had examined her, Thompson crafted an anonymous statement alluding to Hill's "delusional disorder," and Simpson presented it during the hearings. The Thomas defense team also smeared Hill with rumors that she had distributed pubic hairs to her law students.

This is the man Clarence Thomas called "absolutely, painfully, painstakingly honest" when he was nominated this year to serve as deputy attorney general. One might think Thompson would merit a mention somewhere in Foskett's nine-page opus. Oddly, he doesn't.

Maybe that's because both men would prefer not to comment.??





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