Republican Senator Bob Packwood Accused of Sexual Advances: Alleged Behavior Pattern Counters Image

Florence Graves and Charles E. Shepard, Packwood Accused of Sexual Advances: Alleged Behavior Pattern Counters Image. The Washington Post, 22 November 1992. “Ask those who have worked for Sen. Bob Packwood about his treatment of women, and two portraits emerge. One is the Oregon Republican’s record as a leading advocate of women’s rights during his 24 years in the Senate and his much-admired history of hiring women, promoting them and supporting their careers even after they leave his office. Women currently hold the most powerful posts on his staff. The other is a side of Packwood, 60, that few who have experienced it or heard about it want to talk about. Since Packwood’s earliest days on Capitol Hill, he has made uninvited sexual advances to women who have worked for him or with him, according to former staff members and lobbyists, including 10 women who, independently of each other, have given specific accounts of Packwood’s behavior toward them.”

The women, including six whose names and detailed allegations were given to Packwood by The Washington Post, said his approaches were unwelcome and unreciprocated…. None of the women complained formally; some said they feared no one would believe them and that their careers might suffer…. Asked about these accounts days before his reelection to a fifth term earlier this month, Packwood said none of them was true. Later, he provided statements intended to cast doubt on the women’s credibility On Friday [20 November 1992], however, he said in a three-paragraph statement to The Post: ‘I will not make an issue of any specific allegation.’

The statement also offered an apology: ‘If any of my comments or actions have indeed been unwelcome or if I have conducted myself in any way that has caused any individual discomfort or embarrassment, for that I am sincerely sorry. My intentions were never to pressure, to offend, nor to make anyone feel uncomfortable, and I truly regret if that has occurred with anyone either on or off my staff.’

Jack Faust, a Portland lawyer and a close friend of Packwood’s who has counseled him about how to handle the allegations, said Friday that Packwood ‘is admitting to some human flaws…. With all the information presented to Packwood by The Post, ‘denial is not credible,’ Faust said. ‘There’s nothing to be gained in a denial. The best thing to do is accept it, not make an issue of it, and go back to work.’…

The Post’s first interview with Packwood took place on Oct. 29, with [Packwood’s chief of staff Elaine] Franklin and Faust sitting in. Packwood described himself as a person who would not make advances. ‘I am so hesitant of anything at all that I just, I don’t make any approaches.’ he said. ‘It is simply not my nature, with men or women, to be forward.’…

Faust said it took several weeks for Packwood to accept what he was being told. ‘His first stage was denial, then recognition,’ Faust said….

Faust said that ‘it would be totally inconsistent’ for Packwood, given his standing as a longtime supporter of women’s rights, to mount an aggressive attack on the women who had spoken up…. Packwood was an early backer of the Capitol Hill Women’s Political Caucus’s policy on sexual harassment, signing soon after the document was circulated in spring 1991. The policy lists examples of sexual harassment, including unwanted physical contact, unsolicited flirtations and dirty jokes. Fifty-seven senators have signed it.

The Senate, along with the House of Representatives, has exempted itself from federal law prohibiting sexual harassment, although its rules broadly prohibit discrimination based on sex. A new Senate office on employment practices, which began operating this summer, would not disclose how many, if any, complaints of sexual harassment it has received. The office was established following sexual harassment allegations by Anita F. Hill against Clarence Thomas during Senate hearings on his Supreme Court nomination last year. The only previous avenue for complaint was the Senate Select Committee on Ethics….

The rumors had circulated in both Washington and in Oregon for years, but had not surfaced publicly. The Post’s inquiry began in early October after Florence Graves. a freelance journalist, contacted the newspaper with information that she had gathered while reporting an article for another publication about sexual harassment on Capitol Hill in the wake of the Clarence Thomas hearings. Graves was hired on a contract basis to work with Post staff members on the story.

Profile of Florence George Graves, “Investigating Abuses of Power.” Breaking the Packwood Story, by Alec Solomita. Harvard University Gazette, 8 February 1996. “Graves is best-known…for breaking the 1992 Washington Post story that detailed a series of sexual misconduct charges against then-[Republican] Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon, a story which led, eventually, to a probe by the Senate Ethics Committee and, ultimately, to the senator’s resignation [on 7 September 1995]…. Florence George Graves: “What enabled Packwood to get away with repeated instances of sexual misconduct for almost three decades? Why didn’t the journalists who had heard rumors about his behavior see a story there? Because they automatically relegated his behavior to the private sphere, even though he was misusing his very public status as a United States senator and even though much of his behavior took place in the workplace.”

Florence George Graves, “Redefining the ‘Private Lives’ of Public Officials.” Nieman Reports, 15 March 2002.

Intellectually, at least, most of us now accept almost without question that rape, incest, child molestation, and child pornography are not private matters…. It wasn’t until the early 1980’s that an increasing number of courts began to adopt feminist and legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon’s theory that sexual harassment is a form of illegal sex discrimination. Prior to that, society did not view sexual harassment as a violation of a person’s rights. The “shared narrative” said it was considered private, or “the way things are,” or perhaps a cost of being a woman in the workplace….

Anita Hill’s allegations in 1991 about inappropriate sexual remarks by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas came five years after the 1986 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson established that even a “hostile workplace” (not just quid pro quo harassment) could be illegal sexual harassment. This decision led U.S. companies to create major new guidelines and training programs for employees….

Following the Thomas-Hill hearings, the general problem of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill—known to many Washington reporters—seemed to me like the most obvious follow-up story….  Even post-Anita Hill, I had trouble finding a news organization willing to take it on before I finally decided to approach The Washington Post, which eventually agreed to pursue it. Others I’d approached told me they didn’t consider it “a story.” If it was a story, a major newspaper would have done it already, or so the thinking went. Some media brass still considered it a story “about sex,” about Packwood’s private life, instead of about abuse of power that involved sexual misconduct rather than financial or some other misconduct traditionally deemed relevant to the public interest.

After the Packwood story—a story of repeated sexual misconduct by the senator over many years—was published in 1992, political pundits and prominent journalists acknowledged there had been rumors about Packwood suggesting this behavior for years. Apparently none had bothered to follow up sufficiently. One reason might have been the prevalent shared narrative that sexual favors were a perk of the powerful. This sense of privilege was reinforced by the fact that Congress had exempted itself from most workplace laws—including sexual harassment—that it had passed for employers in the rest of the country. (This exemption disappeared for senators after the Packwood case, when the Senate adopted the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.)…

Our reporting identified more than 40 women whose lives had been negatively affected by the Senator’s actions. Seventeen chose to testify during the subsequent Senate Select Committee on Ethics investigation, and several said they’d been terrified by his advances. Some allegations were tantamount to sexual assault. For the first publicly known time, the committee considered sexual misconduct allegations as a violation of the Senate’s ethics standards….

The committee concluded in its 1995 report that Packwood had “engaged in a pattern of sexual misconduct between 1969 and 1990” that brought “discredit and dishonor upon the Senate” resulting in “conduct unbecoming a Senator.” The committee’s report concluded that “these incidents, taken collectively, reflect a pattern of abuse by Senator Packwood of his position of power over women who were in a subordinate position, either as his employees, as Senate employees, prospective employees, campaign workers, or persons whose livelihood prevented them from effectively protesting or seeking redress for his actions. These women were not on an equal footing with Senator Packwood, and he took advantage of that disparity to visit upon them uninvited and unwelcome sexual advances, some of which constituted serious assaultive behavior, but all of which constituted an abuse of his position of power and authority as a United States Senator.”

This was a groundbreaking decision not only because it recognized sexual misconduct as an ethical issue for senators, but also because it recognized that abuse of power, in a case like this, could extend beyond women in the workplace to, for example, conduct with a hotel worker, a waitress, or a babysitter…. The committee voted unanimously to recommend his expulsion from the Senate [on 6 September 1995].