Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Washington’s premier enabler of the unregulated supplement industry and a founding bro of the #It’sNotTime movement, has a long record of slamming women who blow the whistle on men behaving badly.
Hatch’s latest hit on victims of abuse was his attack Tuesday on Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, the two ex-wives of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who told the FBI that Porter had kicked, punched and verbally assaulted them.
But Hatch, a former Mormon bishop, praised Porter, his onetime chief of staff, as a “decent,” “kind and considerate,” “honest, principled” man, called the allegations, which Porter has denied, “a vile attack,” and branded Holderness and Willoughby “politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins that would attempt to sully a man’s good name.”
A few hours later, you couldn’t be blamed if your head was spinning like Linda Blair’s in “The Exorcist” when a second Hatch statement was reported. In this one, he was “heartbroken” and “praying for Rob and those involved” ― “those involved” being Hatch’s new euphemism for the women formerly known as vile, morally bankrupt character assassins.
I mention “The Exorcist” because of the starring role Hatch gave it in the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination. As I’ve said before on HuffPost, you can’t be neutral on Anita Hill’s sworn testimony. Either Hill was lying about being sexually harassed by Thomas, or Thomas was perjuring himself, and Hatch, along with former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter and other Republicans impugning Hill, were ― well, to pick a random slur, politically motivated, morally bankrupt character assassins.
The whole country watched it on TV. With his high collars and pious sanctimony, Hatch looked like a judge at a Puritan witch trial.
The money shot, captured in front-page pictures around the nation, came on the second day of the hearings. Hatch quoted Hill’s testimony to Thomas: “One of the oddest episodes I remember was an occasion in which Thomas was drinking a Coke in his office. He got up from the table at which we were working, went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, ‘Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?’”
“Did you ever say that?” Hatch asked Thomas.
“No, absolutely not.”
Then, to an explosion of clicking shutters, Hatch held up a copy of William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel, The Exorcist.
“Ever read this book?” he asked Thomas.
“Ever see the movie?”
“I have seen only the scene with the bed flapping.”
In what may be the most whacked accusation of plagiarism ever hurled, Hatch then charged Hill with cribbing her claim from the 20-year-old book. “‘Oh, Burk,’ sighed Sharon,” Hatch began reading. “In a guarded tone, she described an encounter between the Senator and the director. Dennings had remarked to him, in passing, said Sharon, that there appeared to be ‘an alien pubic hair floating around in my gin.’”
Amazing staff work — and this was before Google! On the other hand, as Garry Wills put it, “If she had said Thomas called her a bug, Hatch would presumably have proved that the exchange did not take place by brandishing Kafka’s Metamorphosis.”
Hill agreed to a polygraph test, and passed. Thomas refused. He called the hearings a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.”
It’s arguable that the Thomas confirmation hearings delayed the #MeToo movement by a generation. Hatch’s assault on Hill gave good reason to any harassed or abused woman watching it to keep silent about her own story. The same could be said about how President Bill Clinton’s accusers were reviled. Or Bill O’Reilly’s. Or Roger Ailes’s. Or the 19 women – so far, anyway ― who’ve accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct.
Over the past few months, thanks to some courageous women and some dogged journalists, the default response to victims who step forward is no longer that they’re nuts, sluts or paid partisan pit bulls. It’s that we should listen to what they have to say, and take it seriously.
Except, that is, in the White House, where chief of staff John Kelly fought to save Porter’s job ― even after that photo surfaced of the black eye Holderness said her ex-husband gave her ― and where press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and counselor Kellyanne Conway still dispense with the sexual charges against Trump as having been adjudicated by his election.
And except, apparently, in Hatch’s office, where we saw this week that the kneejerk assumption is still that women can’t be honest and men can’t be jerks.
Marty Kaplan founded and directs the Norman Lear Center for the study of entertainment, media and society at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @martykaplan.