The phone calls came throughout September. Did Clarence Thomas ever take money from the South African government? Was he under orders from the Reagan White House when he criticized civil rights leaders? Did he beat his first wife? Did I know anything about expense account charges he filed for out-of-town speeches? Did he say that women don't want equal pay for equal work? And finally, one exasperated voice said: "Have you got anything on your tapes we can use to stop Thomas."

The calls came from staff members working for Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. They were calling me because several articles written about Thomas have carried my byline. When I was working as a White House correspondent in the early '80s, I had gotten to know Thomas as a news source and later wrote a long profile of him.

The desperate search for ammunition to shoot down Thomas has turned the 102 days since President Bush nominated him for a seat on the Supreme Court into a liberal's nightmare. Here is indiscriminate, mean-spirited mudslinging supported by the so-called champions of fairness: liberal politicians, unions, civil rights groups and women's organizations. They have been mindlessly led into mob action against one man by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Moderate and liberal senators, operating in the proud tradition of men such as Hubert Humphrey and Robert Kennedy, have allowed themselves to become sponsors of smear tactics that have historically been associated with the gutter politics of a Lee Atwater or crazed right-wing self-promoters like Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

During the hearings on his nomination Thomas was subjected to a glaring double standard. When he did not answer questions that former nominees David Souter and Anthony Kennedy did not answer, he was pilloried for his evasiveness. One opponent testified that her basis for opposing him was his lack of judicial experience. She did not know that Supreme Court justices such as liberal icons Earl Warren and Felix Frankfurter, as well as current Chief Justice William Rehnquist, had no judicial experience before taking a seat on the high court.

Even the final vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee on whether to recommend Thomas for confirmation turned into a shameless assault on Thomas by the leading lights of progressive Democratic politics. For example, in an incredibly bizarre act, Chairman Joseph Biden stood up after a full slate of testimony and said Thomas would make a "solid justice," but then voted against him anyway.

At the time of the vote, two of the committee's Democrats later explained to me, the members of the Judiciary Committee figured it would make no difference, since Thomas had the votes to gain confirmation from the full Senate. So, they decided, why not play along with the angry roar coming from the Leadership Conference? "Thomas will win, and the vote will embarrass Bush and leave {the Leadership Conference} feeling that they were heard," explained one senator on the committee.

Now the Senate has extended its attacks on fairness, decency and its own good name by averting its eyes while someone in a position to leak has corrupted the entire hearing process by releasing a sealed affidavit containing an allegation that had been investigated by the FBI, reviewed by Thomas's opponents and supporters on the Senate committee and put aside as inconclusive and insufficient to warrant further investigation or stop the committee's final vote.

But that fair process and the intense questioning Thomas faced in front of the committee for over a week were not enough for members of the staffs of Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and Howard Metzenbaum. In addition to calls to me and to people at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, they were pressing a former EEOC employee, University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill, for negative information about Thomas. Thomas had hired Hill for two jobs in Washington.

Hill said the Senate staffers who called her were specifically interested in talking about rumors involving sexual harassment. She had no credible evidence of Thomas's involvement in any sexual harassment, but she was prompted to say he had asked her out and mentioned pornographic movies to her. She rejected him as a jerk, but said she never felt her job was threatened by him, he never touched her, and she followed him to subsequent jobs and even had him write references for her.

Hill never filed any complaint against Thomas; she never mentioned the problem to reporters for The Post during extensive interviews this summer after the nomination, and even in her statement to the FBI never charged Thomas with sexual harassment but "talked about {his} behavior."

Sen. Paul Simon, an all-out opponent of Thomas, has said there is no "evidence that her turning him down in any way harmed her and he later recommended her for a job {as a law professor}." Hill did say that because Thomas was her boss, she felt "the pressure was such that I was going to have to submit . . . in order to continue getting good assignments." But by her own account she never did submit and continued to get first-rate assignments.

The bottom line, then, is that Senate staffers have found their speck of mud to fling at Clarence Thomas in an alleged sexual conversation between two adults. This is not the Senate Judiciary Committee finding out that Hugo Black had once been in the Ku Klux Klan (he had, and was nonetheless confirmed). This is not the Judiciary Committee finding that the nominee is an ideologue incapable of bringing a fair and open mind to the deliberations of the court. This slimy exercise orchestrated in the form of leaks of an affidavit to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights is an abuse of the Senate confirmation process, an abuse of Senate rules and an unforgivable abuse of a human being named Clarence Thomas.

Further damaging is the blood-in-the-water response from reputable news operations, notably National Public Radio. They have magnified every question about Thomas into an indictment and sacrificed journalistic balance and integrity for a place in the mob. The New York Times ran a front-page article about "Sexism and the Senate" that gave space to complaints that only two of the 100 members of the Senate are female. The article, in an amazing leap of illogic, concluded that if a woman had been on the Judiciary Committee, more attention would have been given to Professor Hill's report. But attention was given to what she said. A full investigation took place. Why would a woman senator not have reached the conclusion that what took place did not rise to the level necessary to delay the vote on Thomas in the committee or to deny him confirmation?

To listen to or read some news reports on Thomas over the past month is to discover a monster of a man, totally unlike the human being full of sincerity, confusion, and struggles whom I saw as a reporter who watched him for some 10 years. He has been conveniently transformed into a monster about whom it is fair to say anything, to whom it is fair to do anything. President Bush may be packing the court with conservatives, but that is another argument, larger than Clarence Thomas. In pursuit of abuses by a conservative president the liberals have become the abusive monsters.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley said on the Senate floor Tuesday that the smears heaped on Thomas amounted to the "worse treatment of a nominee I've seen in 11 years in the Senate." Sen. Dennis DeConcini said it "is inconceivable, it is unfair and I can't imagine anything more unfair to the man." And Sen. Orrin G. Hatch described the entire week's performance as a "last-ditch attempt to smear the judge."

Sadly, that's right.

Juan Williams writes for Outlook and The Washington Post Magazine.