Paula Jones, Class Act?

By Pollitt, Katha | The Nation, March 17, 1997 | Go to article overview

Paula Jones, Class Act?


Pollitt, Katha, The Nation


The good news is that the mainstream media have discovered their own class prejudice. The bad news is that so far they've managed to find only one victim: Paula Corbin Jones. Spurred by Stuart Taylor's supportive re-examination of Jones's story in American Lawyer last fall, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas have berated themselves and their colleagues for dismissing Jones as a big-haired bimbo, out for money and trash-TV celebrity. What a difference two years makes: Jones, labeled " one of the worst people on earth, by Time in 1994, is now officially salt of the earth, and James Carville, who famously dismissed her charges with the flip "drag a hundred dollars through a trailer park and there's no telling what you'll find," is the faux populist. Indeed, trailer parks--make that "manufactured-home communities"-are in, re-evaluated in The New York Times as no-fuss housing for the frugal ("Mobile Homes Go Upscale"). Feminists are out, tagged with class bias and liberal hypocrisy for scorning Jones after rallying to Anita Hill.

Well, my conscience is clear. I always thought Jones deserved a respectful hearing, especially from feminists, and said so right here on this page. As it happens I also think she is probably telling more or less the truth. Now certainly, she did herself no favors by placing herself under the aegis of Pat Robertson, Reed Irvine and other hard right-wingers, or by hiring first an Arkansas lawyer with whom she signed a contract to split the proceeds from book and movie deals, and then high-powered conservative litigators Gilbert Davis and Joseph Cammarata. Her No Excuses jeans commercial sits a little oddly, too, with her claim to have been forced into the public arena to rescue her reputation after her chastity was slandered in The American Spectator. These elements don't quite fit Stuart Taylor's portrait of her as a shy provincial homebody, but so what? The people promoting her may have an anti-Clinton agenda, and her motives may be mixed, as motives often are- but none of that makes her a liar.

Still, there are some funny elements in the new spin on Jones. Is it a defense of Jones, or the latest chapter in the continuing attack on Anita Hill? It's true that Jones, who had six corroborating affidavits, has more documentation than Hill, who had four- but Hill wasn't suing Clarence Thomas. The question Hill's testimony placed before us was not whether Thomas was guilty of a legally actionable offense (she herself was unsure if his behavior added up to sexual harassment) but whether he belonged on the Supreme Court. And what made many women so furious was not just the charges; it was the way the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee initially agreed across party lines to discount her story and close up shop without hearing her.

Stuart Taylor describes Jones as apolitical, while suggesting several times that Hill "had far stronger ideological disagreements with Thomas than she let on." In a fourteen-page article praised for its meticulous and methodical documentation, he neither proves nor explains this charge. A woman who leaves the Reagan Administration for a job at Oral Roberts University doesn't sound like a flaming leftist to me. …

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