The Clarence Thomas Stories That PBS Refused to Tell
Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:
I gave an interview about the Supreme Court justice that ended up on the cutting room floor. Here’s what the network didn’t air.
By John C. Danforth
May 19, 2023 5:29 pm ETA popular tactic of American politics, especially on the left, is to attack the character of those with whom you don’t agree. This was evident with the recent show “Clarence and Ginni Thomas: Politics, Power and the Supreme Court,” which PBS aired on May 9.A PBS producer emailed me last January about a planned documentary on the life and legacy of Justice Thomas, who used to work for me. The producer wrote that she wanted “to speak to those closest to him to present a nuanced portrait,” and she would “therefore like to request an interview.”
I agreed to an interview that lasted an hour and a half. That was my mistake. The resulting show was far from nuanced, and it wasn’t really a documentary. It was a two-hour hit job on the character of Clarence Thomas.I am indeed close to the justice. He worked for me twice, first as an assistant Missouri attorney general, then later as a legislative assistant in my Senate office. In the nearly 50 years I have known him, I have never commented publicly on his judicial philosophy or discussed with him a case before the court. My relationship with Justice Thomas can be summed up succinctly: I am his friend.Trusting that PBS wanted personal memories that illustrated the character of my friend, I shared three stories that go to the heart of the man. Maybe because these stories contradicted the narrative PBS chose to present, it didn’t run any of them. The only excerpts from my interview it showed were biographical filler. To tell the real story of the person I know, I now relate what I told my interviewer and what PBS declined to show.The first story is from when I was Missouri attorney general and Clarence Thomas was in his 20s. Another young lawyer in our office, Dick Wieler, was a quadriplegic. Dick could operate a motorized wheelchair and used a stick between his teeth to turn the pages of law books and use a phone. He relied on friends to care for his basic daily needs. Clarence helped care for Dick and remained his friend until Dick’s death in 2011, well after Justice Thomas joined the Supreme Court.The second story is from 2003. At the behest of my wife, Sally, then on the board of Mary Institute and Country Day School in St. Louis, Justice Thomas spent a day at the school meeting with students. That evening, the school held a public forum for Justice Thomas in the gymnasium, inviting students, teachers, parents and friends. A large crowd showed up. After making remarks and fielding questions, Justice Thomas greeted a line of guests who wanted to speak with him.One characteristic of Clarence Thomas is that when you talk to him, you have his undivided attention as though you are the only person in the world. He looks straight at you and listens to every word. On that evening, a boy of 13 or 14 reached the front of the line. He spoke with Justice Thomas for about 10 minutes, the justice looking at him intently. When the boy walked away, I saw tears running down his cheeks. It turned out that he was biracial and had shared the challenges he faced in finding his identity. My wife, Justice Thomas and I were the last people in the gym that evening, departing after janitors had already stacked up the folding chairs.Finally, in 2017, Justice Thomas was the featured speaker at the annual Law Day luncheon sponsored by the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis and held in a hotel ballroom. After the speech, the association had arranged a reception for the luncheon’s sponsors to be held in a separate room that was reached by traversing the hotel’s basement. Something of a procession was hustling through the large kitchen area on the way to the next event when Justice Thomas spotted a middle-aged woman with a mop and a pail washing the floor. The justice came to a halt, as did the procession, and he engaged the woman in conversation for what seemed about five minutes, after which the woman, mop still in hand, threw her arms around an associate justice of the Supreme Court.It’s important to tell these stories, and there are many like them, because in opposing his jurisprudence the opponents of Justice Thomas have gone after his character. The portrait they have painted of him is entirely wrong. If he were the angry, abusive, corrupt person they present him as being, then we might say of the attacks, “Well, he had it coming.” But he is the opposite. He is joyful, kind and steadfast in the principles he holds. Anyone who thinks that he could be corrupted by the generosity of his friends doesn’t know Clarence Thomas.As for the people at PBS, I regret that they duped me into a long interview that went nowhere. Even though they’re subsidized with taxpayer money, I respect their editorial freedom to broadcast whatever they please, however biased and lacking in nuance. But in the interest of accuracy, I ask that they not fob off a political hit job as a “documentary.”Mr. Danforth, a Republican, served as Missouri’s attorney general (1969-76) and a U.S. senator (1976-95).
Your Irascible Correspondent says: never talk to the propaganda organs of the Occupying Powers. What you say or don’t say doesn’t matter to them. At best they will ignore your remarks, as in this case, or they will twist anything you say to advance their narrative and destroy you. Even if the reporter is genuinely sympathetic the editors are not.
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