Inappropriate Conduct

Why did women's advocacy groups look the other way when confronted with a chief executive's inappropriate conduct with a young White House intern? CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver compares the response to two Washington scandals in her weekly column for, The Braver Line.color>

Official Washington is finally beginning to emerge from the depths of impeachment, and frankly, the city feels the way I imagine London to have felt after the Blitz. Citizens used to huddling underground in bomb shelters edge anxiously into the open. Eyes blink nervously in the unfamiliar sunlight. Heads tilt cautiously toward the sky, worried that another bombshell could still come crashing down. Despite a huge sense of relief, everyone still has a mild case of the jitters.

And like World War II, the Impeachment War has raised a lot of questions about the conduct of institutions we thought we understood.

Which brings me to the issue of so-called "women's advocacy groups." For anyone who thought they were unbiased in their devotion to protecting women on the job, this past year has been a very long wakeup call.

During the battle over confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, this reporter was bombarded with faxes, phone calls and press releases alleging that he had sexually harassed Anita Hill. I heard from the National Organization for Women, the Women's Legal Defense Fund, and many female members of Congress, all supporting Hill and calling for the defeat of Thomas' nomination.

Hill herself did not accuse Thomas of outright harassment, but did say that he had made unwelcome advances toward her and used language that embarrassed her. She also went on to say that she had not complained about his behavior, had continued to work for him, and later had asked him for references, telephoned him and even invited him to speak to her students.

When asked whether the fact that she took so long to complain undercut Hill's story, women's advocates insisted that it's only out of desperation that many women continue to court the very men who have humiliated them. By the way, they added, even when women willingly engage in workplace relationships with their superiors, it is still harassment because it undermines all the women who are not having a fling with the boss.

During the Monica Lewinsky crisis, neither I nor my phone nor my fax received any anti-Clinton messages from any liberal women's organizations that had been so outspoken against Clarence Thomas.

I tried calling a few of my friends in the movement. None was in favor of impeachment. There were no calls for resignation.

Yes, if asked, they deplored the president's behavior. But they were not organizing rallies to protest it, not handing out any "I believe her" buttons.

The consensus was that President Clinton was "right" owomen's issues like abortion and education and therefore it was better that he remain in office. In Thomas's case of course, the women's groups (correctly, it has turned out) believed that he was against abortion and would vote conservatively on other issues that mattered to them. They knew that they could not block his Senate confirmation merely on philosophical grounds, so they tried to do it on personal behavior.

But juxtapose the attacks on Thomas against the tacit defense of Bill Clinton and you come up with only one word: hypocrisy. In the harsh post-impeachment glare, you have to wonder whether if it had been a Republican president who had an affair with a young intern and then dissembled about it under oath, the silence would have been so stark.

By Rita Braver
©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed