The 25th anniversary of Clarence Thomas’s confirmation to the Supreme Court was approaching — a moment that would draw attention to his accomplishments on the bench but also to the misconduct claims that had nearly derailed his rise. Among the wave of retrospective accounts set to come out that year, 2016, was a star-studded HBO film dramatically recounting Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations.
That spring, a flurry of opinion articles defending Thomas and railing against the film appeared in news outlets, penned by a D.C. lawyer who had worked in the George H.W. Bush White House during the confirmation. Websites celebrating Thomas’s career — and attacking his onetime accuser — popped up. And on Twitter, a new account using the name “Justice Thomas Fan Account” began serving up flattering commentary.
“Justice Thomas: The most open & personable of Justices, intimate in sharing his feelings, easily moved to laughter,” read one early tweet on the account.
It was not apparent at the time, but the rush of favorable content was part of a coordinated and sophisticated public relations campaign to defend and celebrate Thomas, according to a Washington Post examination of public and internal records and interviews with people familiar with the effort. The campaign would stretch on for years and include the creation and promotion of a laudatory film about Thomas, advertising to boost positive content about him during internet searches and publication of a book about his life. It was financed with at least $1.8 million from conservative nonprofit groups steered by the judicial activist Leonard Leo, the examination found. [Continue reading…]