The Jones Boys

How a troupe of button-down Dallas lawyers breathed life into Jones vs. Clinton and found themselves the nation's most unlikely feminist heroes

It might help if feminists were out doing consciousness-raising, much as they did in the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas imbroglio. There, as in Jones' case, initial polls indicated that at first a skeptical public tended to disbelieve Hill, who accused Supreme Court nominee Thomas of harassment. The numbers were due in part to popular misunderstandings about how women react to sexual harassment. (Those responding to the polls apparently couldn't understand why Hill continued to work for Thomas after he allegedly harassed her when he was head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.)

Later, after feminists embarked on a public education campaign about harassment, the public came to believe Hill, according to polls.

In Jones' case, however, that education process has not yet begun. Instead, we are treated to the amazing sight of feminists agreeing with positions that would restrict the reach of sexual harassment laws. Thus we saw Gloria Steinem, in The New York Times, endorsing the Title VII equivalent of the rule that allows dogs one bite before their owners can be held liable: Clinton is not a harasser, she wrote, because "Clinton took no for an answer." Call it the "one paw" rule. We saw Anita Hill on Meet the Press--Anita Hill!--suggesting that Paula Jones has no case because she didn't suffer any specific, adverse employment consequences.

So have feminists simply decided to toss poor Paula overboard in the interest of the greater good? Is this, as many have charged, a matter of class bias? Or is it politics, pure and simple?

The answer is unclear. But to some degree, Jones appears to be a victim of abortion politics. For many feminists abortion trumps all, and Paula Jones has chosen to consort with the enemy. To quote from the National Organization for Women's press release of January 10, 1997: "Paula Jones picked her forum, and she picked her friends...NOW will not be rushed to judgment in this case by what may well be right-wing attempts to undermine us. Whether intentionally or inadvertently setting NOW up for criticism, Jones declined to talk with NOW President Patricia Ireland, but instead aligned herself with Pat Robertson, right-wing publicist Floyd Brown and Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry"

Asked about this press release, Fisher seemed unfamiliar with the episode, but not at all surprised. "The fact that Paula got such bad advice early on--that [spurning Ireland] would be entirely consistent," he says.

Ironically, Jones' lawyers are quite vocal that her case would have been much stronger had she not associated with the far right in the beginning. "I think that her early advisors made her eminently tossable," Holmes says. "And I don't mean to be overly critical, because they were faced with a difficult situation. She had no money. And so they clearly had to rally some support. So who do they go to? They go to CPAC! You know, the Conservative Political Action Committee. Well, it's so obvious that that's not the smart thing to do. You're just going to give 'em something that isn't there...Paula is not a conservative operative. But you've just given them some basis for saying she is one."

Still, Jones is not without her feminist admirers. Last summer, after the Supreme Court ruled that her case could go forward, Jones received a single letter from Ann M. Golonka, president of the southern Nevada chapter of NOW.

"Paula," began the letter, "I have waited in vain for the leaders of national women's groups to speak out on your behalf. They were so quick to rally behind Anita Hill, and yet they refuse to give you the support you had every right to expect. Since they are holding back, I decided to send you my heartfelt personal support and let you know that I am thinking of you and wishing you well. Keep your chin up and your powder dry.

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