Five prominent conservative women have called on leaders of the Time's Up anti-sexual misconduct movement to replace Anita Hill as head of a commission on sexual harassment in Hollywood because of comments she once made about former President Clinton.
Led by Penny Nance, president and chief executive of Concerned Women, a socially conservative public policy organization, the women charged that, in a 1998 interview with the late Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press," Hill appeared to defend Clinton's inappropriate behavior toward women and dismiss allegations made by his accusers.
The move comes as the #MeToo movement has led to a broad reassessment of Clinton's treatment of women, with even some prominent Democratic women saying he was too easily forgiven. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who succeeded Hillary Clinton in the Senate, recently said that Bill Clinton should have resigned when his affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, came to light.
The Commission for Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace was created by film industry executives, among others, to examine women's treatment in Hollywood in light of the scandals involving Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men in the business.
In an email, Nance said Hill's appointment had made the panel "a political club," rather than a bipartisan effort. "Hill is not trusted by conservative women," she said. "Hollywood had the opportunity to own their sin and clean up their mess but instead chose to make political points. That's disappointing. They should replace Hill."
In the interview, uploaded to YouTube, Russert asked Hill about an incident in which Clinton reportedly made a pass at a supporter. Russert asked whether it should have been deemed acceptable because Clinton backed off when he was told no.
Hill didn't defend the behavior, but said it needed to be considered in context.
"I think we have to evaluate it not on the basis of whether it's sexual harassment, but evaluate it on the basis of what we would like to see in terms of the behavior and the moral decisions and judgments of the president," Hill replied.
She added that there was a need to "look at the totality" of Clinton's presidency "and how has he been on women's issues generally."
"Is he our best bet, notwithstanding some behavior that we might dislike?" Hill said. "I don't think that most women have come to the point where we've said, 'Well this is so bad that, even if he's better on the bigger issues, we can't have him as president.'"
The letter from Concerned Women, sent Jan. 25, slammed Hill's comments. In addition to Nance, it was signed by evangelist Alveda King of Civil Rights for the Unborn; Kay Coles James, a former director for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management under President George W. Bush; Jenny Beth Martin, president and co-founder of Tea Party Patriots; and Cleta Mitchell, a former member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
It was addressed to the women who spearheaded the commission's creation in December: Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, Nike Foundation Co-Chair Maria Eitel, attorney Nina Shaw, and venture capitalist and activist Freada Kapor Klein.
"We do not believe any aspiring actress, or female employee of any kind in the entertainment industry, or any woman anywhere, would have any confidence whatsoever in a person espousing these views on the sexual misconduct of powerful men," the conservative women wrote. "While we applaud your efforts to affirm and defend women everywhere, we urge you to immediately reconsider the leadership of this commission and appoint someone else; someone in whom today's women can have full confidence as their advocate and defender."
An emailed statement from the commission said the body was "aware of the letter and its concerns."
"Anita Hill has made a career fighting for equitable workplace environments, and she is the best person to lead this much-needed effort," the statement said.
Hill did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Hill, now a professor of social policy, law and women's studies at Brandeis University, fell under the national spotlight in 1991 when she accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment while he was her boss at the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Thomas, who denied any wrongdoing, was confirmed despite her testimony.
Hill has since been chairwoman of the Human Rights Committee of the International Bar Assn. and is a member of the boards of directors of the National Women's Law Center and the Boston Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, according to information provided by the commission.
"I'm proud to be leading this newly formed commission on a long overdue journey to adopt best practices and to create institutional change that fosters a culture of respect and human dignity throughout the industry," Hill said in a statement when her position was announced in December. "It is time to end the culture of silence."