1991: Clarence Thomas becomes a Supreme Court justice despite former assistant Anita Hill's testimony he had pressured her for dates, talked about porn films and bragged of his own sexual prowess.
1995: Five-term Oregon Republican Bob Packwood loses his Senate seat after 28 women allege he sexually harassed some, crudely groped some. The final straw: his diaries, intimately detailing some of his ``conquests.''
1998: Former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones, suing President Bill Clinton for sexual harassment, claims her career was damaged when she refused his advances and she suffered deep and prolonged emotional distress. Clinton has denied making improper advances; his lawyers argue even if he did, she has not demonstrated he retaliated against her. The case is on appeal after being dismissed by a lower federal court.
When the specter of sexual harassment descends on those in high places, a kiss could be just a kiss, or the political kiss of death. Whether a powerful man survives the scandal might depend not only on the facts of the case but on his ability to manipulate public opinion.
It has little to do with similar situations in the private sector, given that ordinary citizens don't have special prosecutors, media hordes, book agents, congressional committees or political spinmeisters influencing their outcomes.
But the headline-grabbing cases can and do deepen the confusion about how sexual harassment is different from sex discrimination _ or sexual abuse _ in …