On Thursday, ProPublica published an already much-discussed story, “The Other Billionaires Who Helped Clarence Thomas Live a Luxe Life” — one of a handful of articles since April putting details of Justice Thomas’ life outside the court under scrutiny.
This series, along with recent pieces in The New York Times, is a social portrait of Thomas where the optics are more suggestive than the facts: pictures of yachts and planes and private resorts, anecdotes of glamorous vacations, pictures of Thomas smoking cigars with wealthy friends. Still, these optics have liberated Thomas’ detractors to say things they may have fantasized about before but only rarely said: that Thomas’ “unethical behavior” makes him a “21st century Uncle Tom,” that Thomas is the equivalent of a “house slave,” and that Thomas is such a sellout to power and wealth that any comparison is “an Insult to [even] Uncle Tom.”
In Washington, Sens. Dick Durbin, Ron Wyden, and Sheldon Whitehouse’s public statements have implied Thomas is corrupt. But what if the optics are misleading? What if the driving force behind these allegations, ProPublica, is the real sellout to power? Both ProPublica’s history and inconsistencies surrounding its attacks on Thomas suggest an unsettling answer to those questions.