Arlen Specter and the Construction of Adversarial Discourse: Selective Representation in the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill Hearings

By Armstrong, S. Ashley | Argumentation and Advocacy, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

Arlen Specter and the Construction of Adversarial Discourse: Selective Representation in the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill Hearings


Armstrong, S. Ashley, Argumentation and Advocacy


"I do not regard this as an adversary proceeding."(1)

- Arlen Specter

On the morning of October 11, 1991, Senator Arlen Specter used these words to begin what many observers view as a rather antagonistic interview with Professor Anita F. Hill regarding her allegations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. For many long hours, the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, meeting in open session, questioned Hill, Thomas, and other witnesses in attempts to assess the validity, relevance, and consequences of her claims. These hearings, reconvened after Thomas' initial review specifically to address Hill's complaints, captured the attention of home viewers across the country during live television broadcasts, largely because of the unusual drama of such an otherwise dull governmental proceeding.

Senator Specter was widely regarded as one of the fiercest figures during this second round of hearings. In the midst of the questioning, TV commentators even "credited him with having 'drawn first blood'," a remark which reportedly pleased and invigorated the senator (Phelps & Winternitz, p. 345). Yet, in the disclaimer quoted above as well as in other instances, Specter maintained that his purpose as examiner was not to attack Hill, but simply "to find out what happened." Given such protestations, how, in his questioning of Hill, did the senator demonstrate hostility toward this witness? Put otherwise, what social structures and argumentative strategies did Specter invoke in this discursive practice to place Hill in a position of such seeming powerlessness? In this article, I suggest that one key resource contributing to the adversarial nature of Specter and Hill's interaction is that of ambiguity, specifically in terms of "selective representation."

As it is used here, "selective representation" refers to Specter's consistent pattern of referring back to previous events and testimony through partial and out-of-context descriptions. Warnick and Inch characterize such incomplete depictions as unacceptable:

Arguers have an obligation, so far as is possible, to fully inform their recipients about available alternatives so that they can make informed choices about the best choice or course of action. For this reason, slighting or misrepresenting opposing points of view is undesirable. (p. 296)

Thus, by continuing to proffer selectively represented descriptions, Specter promoted an adversarial perspective which persisted throughout the hearings.

The instances I will examine are taken from the morning of October 11, 1991, Hill's first day of testimony, during Republican designate Specter's first turn at questioning her. Before this point, Hill only read a prepared statement and responded to questions from Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, who might be considered a "friendly" examiner of this witness against Republican nominee Thomas. Although Specter and others question Hill at length on different occasions during the hearings, this initial interrogation is an important interaction since it sets the tone for how he (and perhaps all of the Republicans) treats this witness throughout the proceedings. By closely examining how Specter builds his questions and elicits Hill's responses, I will attempt to demonstrate Specter's active role in this "adversarial" proceeding.

That I have chosen to examine a text which I feel represents a "hostile" interaction may appear to be a subjective assessment. However, the significant political repercussions arising from his questioning style which Specter experienced in the aftermath of the Thomas hearings provide intersubjective agreement on the part of the American public as to his antagonistic behavior. Immediately after the exchange, Specter's offices in both Washington and Pennsylvania were flooded by thousands of telephone calls from citizens protesting his rough treatment of Hill. "Forty people were put to work in the senator's offices simply answering irate women's calls, which overloaded the telephone system and temporarily put it out of commission" (Phelps and Winternitz, p. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Arlen Specter and the Construction of Adversarial Discourse: Selective Representation in the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill Hearings
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.