'Strange Justice' In an Age of Media Mergers


Prof. Anita Hill, who challenged the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas five years ago, is leaving the University of Oklahoma Law School. "To pursue other opportunities," she says. One thing that lies ahead is the publication of her autobiography next year.

One thing that doesn't lie ahead, or at least not soon, is seeing her story in the movies. And thereby, as they say, hangs a tale - a tale of what can happen in the age of media conglomerates.

In 1994, Ted Turner's TNT network optioned a screenplay titled "Strange Justice." Using actors, it documents the sexual harassment charges by Ms. Hill against Judge Thomas and her interrogation before the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Sen. Arlen Specter's famous charge of perjury.

The writers took the liberty of including testimony by three witnesses whom the committee never heard - testimony that some think might have tipped the balance against Judge Thomas. The feature picture was scheduled to be shown by TNT next March. But then something happened. Tycoon Turner advised the producers that the project was indefinitely postponed.

In the interim, Turner had been bought out by the Time-Warner company. The conglomerate has serious business pending before the Supreme Court. It is fighting the regulatory "must carry" rule that requires cable systems to carry every local TV channel. A decision is expected next spring.

THE entertainment newspaper, Variety, reported fear in the Turner organization that it might lose Justice Thomas's vote if it aired a movie friendly to Anita Hill.

Turner executives have acknowledged some discomfort in the organization about the movie. Variety quoted one source as saying, "I don't think it's within the spirit of what Ted set out to do with TNT."

We're learning a lot about the synergies that can flow from media mergers. Mogul Robert Murdoch, whose book company publishes Speaker Newt Gingrich, gets to talk to Mr. Gingrich about his television interests. Comedy Central on cable television canceled a spoof of the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," when it found out that the owner of the movie now owns Comedy Central.

And Time/Warner-Turner, with millions at stake, won't put on a movie that may offend a Supreme Court justice. The movie is aptly titled "Strange Justice."

*Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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