Hill-Thomas Stories Still Rankle

Article excerpt

TWO NEW BOOKS on the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas dispute that have reached bookstores in recent days are stirring up that controversy anew, inviting us once more into partisan debate about the allegations that so engrossed and divided us in October 1991.

A book by Sen. John C. Danforth, "Resurrection," paints a personal, sympathetic picture of an emotionally overwrought Clarence Thomas unfairly and savagely put upon in Senate hearings.

The other, "Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas," was written by two Wall Street Journal reporters, Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson. They quote about 20 people who say they would have supported Hill or contradicted Thomas had they been allowed to testify at the time.

Last year, David Brock published his book "The Real Anita Hill: The Untold Story," contending that the evidence proves that Anita Hill lied.

Where lies the truth?

Every now and then, the media have to grapple with the problem of providing impartial coverage for such highly controversial issues that split the nation down the middle.

Did Bruno Hauptmann really kidnap and kill the Lindberghs' son in 1936? That debate outdid the O.J. Simpson case.

In 1954, did Dr. Sam Sheppard, rather than an intruder, really murder his wife on a Lake Erie shore, as he stoutly maintained? He was convicted and then acquitted in a second trial.

Was President Nixon a crook or a victim of a third-rate burglary at the Watergate apartments? Did President Clinton break the law in the Whitewater development? What about Rep. Dan Rotenkowski's troubles?

Our Founding Fathers decreed that some truths are self-evident, but a great many more are not. Wise heads maintain impartiality until a jury tells us the truth - or until historians reach consensus.

In the meantime, editors, doing as they best see fit, traditionally give some events more weight than others. Some writers are more reliable. Some publications are more trustworthy. Some news sources are more credible. Some allegations ring truer. Some photos are more appealing.

But many readers aren't marching to those same drumbeats. They can't - and don't - accept all such news judgments before the final verdict is in.

Thus, last week's front-page display given to the new Mayer-Abramson book supporting Anita Hill logically drew reader complaints.

Why was that on Page One - those are still unsupported allegations, aren't they? Those people weren't testifying under oath, were they?

David Brock didn't get Page One treatment for his book, did he? His sources were as credible as those in the pro-Hill book, aren't they? …