MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Today, conversations about language, sexuality and power. We talk with a former video vixen and why she chooses to kiss and tell in her best-selling books, and the Mocha Moms on teaching boundaries and respect.
But first, a newsmaker interview about a story that rocked the country. Last week, we talked about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' new memoir. In it and during the publicity blitz that followed its release, Thomas continued to deny that he behaved inappropriately toward Anita Hill, the former co-worker and law professor whose detailed descriptions of sexual harassment threw Thomas's 1991 confirmation hearings into turmoil and threw the country into an emotional debate about race and gender. Here's a clip from the hearings and Steve Kroft's interview with Justice Thomas from the news program "60 Minutes."
Professor ANITA HILL (Law, Brandies University; Former Assistant to the Chairman, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission): After a brief discussion of work, he would turn the conversation to a discussion of sexual matters. His conversations were very vivid.
Mr. STEVE KROFT (Correspondent, "60 Minutes"): You denied all of the allegations?
Justice CLARENCE THOMAS (U.S. Supreme Court): Oh, absolutely, from day one. It didn't happen. I mean, if somebody makes a broad allegation against you, what would you do?
Mr. KROFT: Ask him to prove it, I guess.
Justice THOMAS: Yeah.
MARTIN: But Anita Hill was not the only person to make allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas. Angela Wright was the director of public affairs at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from March of 1984 until March of 1985. She told Senate Judiciary Committee investigators that Thomas pressured her for dates, made comments about her body, asked about her bra size, and showed up uninvited at her apartment. But although she was subpoenaed to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee during Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings along with another employee whom she told about the behavior, Wright was never called to testify. She has spoken rarely about those events since. She joins us now from Charlotte, North Carolina.
Angela Wright, welcome. Thanks for speaking with us.
Ms. ANGELA WRIGHT (Former Director, Public Affairs, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission): Thank you for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: And I think we should disclose that you made two requests. You insisted on being interviewed live, and you have since married, but we are not using your married name. We are using the name that you were known by at the time of the hearings, correct?
Ms. WRIGHT: That is correct.
MARTIN: First of all, I'd like to ask why didn't you testify? You were subpoenaed to come to Washington. You were interviewed. Your interview was placed in the record, but you were never called. Now, Republican Alan Simpson, at the time, said you got cold feet. Did you get cold feet?
Ms. WRIGHT: No, absolutely not, Michel. I was fully prepared to testify. I realized it was not going to be easy, but I was - once I there, I was committed to going through with the process. The only reason I didn't testify is because I wasn't called to testify. I was there for three days, waiting with my attorneys for the Judiciary Committee to call me. And it was their decision.
At one point, I think, it may have been like 2 a.m. on a Monday morning after we'd been there for three days, they decided that they really didn't need my testimony, but there was just so much maneuvering behind the scenes. They wanted me to say that, please let me out of this subpoena. And then it was, you know, they wanted to portray me as having cold feet and backing out. And when we refused that deal, they finally offered me the opportunity to at least put my statement in the record. I think, ultimately, what happened is that they were just afraid to call me. The Democrats were afraid, and the Republicans, I think.
MARTIN: How did your story come to light to begin with about your experience at the EEOC?
Ms. WRIGHT: There, again, is another misconception. I worked at the Charlotte Observer at the time. I was an editor there. And I was talking with one of the other managing editors about becoming a columnist. And for several days I had been - he said to me, well, write some columns and let's see what you got. And so for several days, I'd written columns on just things that I felt passionate about. Things like, you know, proper way to train puppies and things like that. And he kept saying you need something more topical. And shortly thereafter, I'd gone home, turned on CNN and saw Anita Hill standing there. I was aware, of course, that the Thomas hearings were going on, but they didn't mean anything to me.
So the next day after I saw Anita Hill at her news conference, I went back to work and I said this is - here is a column I can write for you to look at. It's topical. I have some knowledge about this situation. And it was not a column that was ever intended to be published. It was simply responding to what the editor had said to me, which is let me see you write something topical.
So I wrote the column based on what my experience had been, and essentially I said in that column, you know, I fully believe Anita Hill - I didn't know her, I had no - had never met her, but I knew that Clarence Thomas was capable because he had made similar remarks to me and in my presence about my body and other women's bodies and he did - he was very egotistical and he did pressure me to date him, and he did drop by the house when - unannounced.
And so I said these things in the column and responded some to - there was some comment from one of the senators of, why didn't she just leave? And I think in the column, I said, you know, the thing that people need to understand is that the, you know, absent crossing certain boundaries, if you're not being physically attacked or physically pressured then, you know, it's pretty easy to ignore it and go on about your business.
MARTIN: You're saying you didn't feel afraid or intimidated, you just didn't - you found it irritating. Is that right?
Ms. WRIGHT: It was irritating. It was inappropriate. But it wasn't the kind of thing that would make me go running, screaming, you know, dropping my job and, you know, hitting the unemployment line. It wasn't that kind of pressure. And…
MARTIN: But you were fired. Well, let's just go back to the point that you were making earlier, saying that you never intended for this information to become public, this column was not meant to be published. How did it become public? Do you have any idea how the Senate Judiciary Committee became aware of the column?
Ms. WRIGHT: Yeah. I suspect that someone in my office, in the newsroom, shared that column with the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was not me. I got a phone call later in the day from a member of Biden's staff. And actually, my thought was, wow. They are finally doing what they were supposed to do. They're finally now checking with people who were close to Clarence Thomas and doing this background check that they'd try to circumvent initially.
When I answered the phone and I discovered that they actually had the column, I was really surprised by that. And they didn't tell me where it came from, but, you know, subsequently, we were able to figure out where it'd come from, and I'm pretty confident that someone in the newsroom leaked it because there was one reporter that I had a close relationship with and we talked about politics all the time, and I discussed with him the fact that I was writing this column. And, you know, he - I'm confident - did - was instrumental in getting it to Biden's staff. And after that, when they called me, I said I have no problems talking with you, and so I talked with him and things progressed from that point.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm speaking with Angela Wright. She's a former employee of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas when he was head of the EEOC. And as you know, the - you were fired from the agency. And when we spoke with Clarence Thomas' good friend Armstrong Williams last week about the memoir, in which you are not mentioned, Armstrong Williams says that you were bitter about being fired. Was that the impetus for your allegations against him?
Ms. WRIGHT: No. That was not the impetus for the allegations. Obviously, I don't think anybody would feel good about being fired. And at the time, I was not happy with it because it was a totally unjustified firing. It was a political firing. But that being said, years later, I mean, he had - Clarence Thomas had given me a glowing recommendation to get the job at the Charlotte Observer. Clarence Thomas, that is one of the points that I want people to totally understand that he perjured himself onto the Supreme Court. He said that I've been fired because he heard that I'd call somebody on his staff, the F word…
MARTIN: With the F word being a slur directed against homosexuals, this was his testimony during the hearings.
Ms. WRIGHT: It was his testimony during hearings. It was an absolute lie, nothing that even remotely resemble that ever took place between me and Clarence Thomas. Yeah, it's a longer story about what actually happened but ultimately, you know, I - what happened was there was a commissioner who wanted my position for her person and the entire situation was orchestrated so that I was the lead of that position. But when Clarence Thomas said on - during the judiciary hearings that he fired me for that, it was in direct contrast to what he told the Charlotte Observer when they talked to him about hiring me. His reference for me said that I did a great job, that I just sort of got caught up in office reshuffling that he wanted done and that, in fact, he said I owe her an apology. These were notes that were taken by Mary Newsom from the Charlotte Observer who repeated them at the time when they were called.
MARTIN: What did he tell you at the time? Why - what did he tell you at the time about why you are being fired?
Ms. WRIGHT: We had had a news conference. He was having a lot of bad press. I was asked by Commissioner Ricky Silverman to organize this news conference - to organize a news conference. It was a very successful news conference. It got lots of wonderful press coverage and it was a really good week. And I had come into my office one day and there was this letter in my chair. And when I opened the letter, it simply said, your services are no longer needed. And I'd walked into my office and people are looking, you know, really strange, like I know something you don't know. Not - it was a surprise to me. So I walked up to his office. His secretary, Dianne Hope, just told me, go on in. She didn't even stop to ask me what I wanted - she apparently knew - and when I walked into his office, he was in his bathroom in his office. I sat down at a chair at his desk.
When he came out of the bathroom, he looked a little, you know, surprised to see me but then he walked over and I held up the letter and I said, excuse me, Mr. Chairman, what is this all about? He said, well, Angela, I tell ya. I told you to fire all those people down there and you haven't fired all of them. And I said to him, you know, these are career federal employees. You can't just go in and fire them. I was engaged in trying to help reorganize it, you know, but I can't just go fire these people. He says, well, you know, truth is, I've just never been happy with your work. And I said, how can you say that? Why are you just telling me that now? And as - particularly on this day - because he had a stack of very positive news clippings that my staff had provided to him - and he said, I don't care anything about your news media relations. He said I never needed you to get positive coverage. If I need a positive coverage, all I had to do is call my buddy Juan Williams over at the Charlotte - excuse me - over at the Washington Post.
MARTIN: Juan Williams is, of course, a colleague of ours here at NPR, and - and so, what he said? And so…
Ms. WRIGHT: And then I just said to him, well, okay, you know, I've been nothing but loyal to you. If you wanted me to leave, if you wanted my position, why didn't you just tell me it was time for me to move on so that I could seek something else…
MARTIN: Angela, I'm sorry. We need to take a short break. I'm sorry, we need to take a short break but when we return with more with you in a couple of minutes. Coming up later, we're also going to have our weekly visit with the Mocha Moms.
Stay with us. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
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