Cultural Warfare

For weeks, every pundit and columnist in America has picked through the charred remains of the Clarence Thomas hearings, searching for lessons and interpreta­tions. What is the legacy of this bizarre spectacle? Over the next few days, I'd like to offer my own thoughts on the whole sad affair--an interpretation different from what you may hear on the nightly news. We must understand that the hearings went far beyond what Clarence Thomas did or didn't say to Anita Hill. One sociologist says the hearings were a symbol of a cultural war over the direction of American society. You see, politics is an expression of deep spiritual commitments. It's a debate about how we should order our lives and what is the source of moral authority. Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill became symbols of opposing sides in this cultural divide. Thomas is a conservative and was supported by conservative groups, many of them Christian. Hill was promoted by liberals in the Democratic Party and in special interest groups, such as the National Organization for Women. Most of the public understood this. The hearings raised dramatic charges of racism and sexism, but most Americans knew these were not the real issues. Public opinion polls showed that Americans did not divide along racial or gender lines but along cultural lines. They split over a conservative versus a liberal vision of society. A striking illustration can be seen in the way the press handles the story. Anita Hill's allegations were made public when a Senate staffer, in violation of the law, leaked a confidential affidavit to the media. Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio and Timothy Phelps of Newsday promptly publicized it. We keep hearing indignant cries against the unknown person who leaked the confidential affidavit. But we don't hear much said against the press for accepting it. Yet, make no mistake: Totenberg and Phelps had a choice. They could have refused to publicize the story. They could have said, this information was obtained unethically and we won't use it. Instead they acted the role of a fence. A fence is a person who accepts stolen goods for resale; in criminal law, he is held just as guilty as the thief. In the case of Anita Hill's stolen affidavit, the press was the fence. The reason Totenberg and Phelps were willing to act unethically--and here's where the cultural warfare comes in--was that it damaged a conservative public figure. We can only wonder how self-righteously they might have rejected the leaked informa­tion if it had damaged a liberal public figure. But we don't need to wonder. It happened once. In 1982, a public relations executive working for the Republicans leaked derogatory material about a Democratic politician to newspapers. Instead of printing the material, the papers denounced the leak as a cheap shot and then published a story charging Republicans with spreading dirt. Right. Moral outrage only when it has political benefit. The moral is that the media is engaged in a cultural war--a war over which ideas shall govern American society. It's waged in the slant a reporter puts on a story; it's waged in what a paper chooses or refuses to cover. When Ephesians tells us we're engaged in a spiritual warfare, this is partly what it means--a war over the ideas that rule in people's minds and in society. In the Thomas hearings, we saw a major skirmish in that war. One of three more commentaries on Clarence Thomas.


Chuck Colson



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