David Brock’s new book, “Blinded by the Right,” is an attempt to establish two Big Lies on the platform of a thousand smaller ones. The first lie is that Brock was so revolted by the career he had made for himself out of gossipy sleaze and character assassination that he decided to retire from such sordid business and reform his journalistic act. Accordingly, he rejected the right-wing cabal that had seduced him to sin and was now redeeming himself by telling the truth. But anyone reading “Blinded by the Right” can readily see that it is itself a Mount Rushmore of gossipy sleaze and character assassination and that the only difference between the new Brock and the old one is that his venom is now directed at the friends who helped him in the past.
The job of identifying this piece of Brockian hypocrisy fell to critic Bruce Bawer, who performed the task in a devastating review that appeared in the Washington Post. This was a bad break for Brock, because Bawer is also a formerly conservative gay man who, like Brock, worked for the American Spectator. Thus his credibility on Brock’s subjects is quite high. Brock responded with an angry squeal to the Post’s editors, claiming that Bawer had not disclosed that he was mentioned in the book. The Post editors apologized to Brock, drawing some of the sting from Bawer’s verdict.
The second Big Lie of “Blinded by the Right ” is that Brock’s decision to reform was triggered by a realization that the conservatives who had supported and defended him (and helped to make him rich) were closet homophobes. The reason they had to be closet homophobes is that they not only had sponsored Brock’s media rise, but had continued to support him when the political left outed him as a homosexual. Enter me. Although I barely knew Brock, he cast me as the poster boy for the closet syndrome, reserving the punch line of his pivotal conversion chapter for an incident that allegedly exposed my anti-gay prejudice. According to Brock, I had uttered an unspecified “anti-gay slur” to a nameless editor who I didn’t realize at the time was gay.
I responded to Brock’s attack in an article for Salon. I pointed out that I had a very public career of defending gays and that in typical fashion Brock had printed damaging gossip without checking with the source to see if the inferrences he had drawn — that I was homophobic — were correct. I identified the editor that Brock had referred to as Chad Conway and pointed out that when I called Chad to do the checking myself he had no idea Brock had used the anecdote. Moreover, he told me he was appalled by the use Brock had made of it. I read Chad the passage and asked him to give me a statement I could use in an article I told him I was writing for Salon. Chad dictated the following sentences to me: “You have never made an anti-gay slur to me or about David Brock or anyone else. You have never said anything hurtful to me — not about gays or anything else.”
In response to this article Chad appears to have written a confused e-mail letter to a friend — which quickly surfaced on the Internet, and which he has also sent to Salon. According to the e-mail, Chad now says the remark I made was indeed a slur. On the other hand, despite the fact that his own previous statement to me refuted that claim, he doesn’t bother to retract the statement in this letter. More significantly, Chad’s letter confirms what is the only important fact in this dispute (and in evaluating Brock’s credibility), namely, that I am not anti-gay, covertly or overtly: “Horowitz was always very good about the gay issue with me, and personally I don’t think that he is a homophobe,” he writes in the e-mail. Whatever else one may conclude from this dispute, this particular statement by Chad Conway confirms Brock’s irresponsibility in using the anecdote and establishes the calculating mendacity at the core of his book.
In his letter, Chad — who never called me to discuss the matter — complains that my Salon article failed to describe the actual conversation in which the alleged slur occurred. It seems to be this omission more than anything else that provoked his ungenerous note. “Here is the piece [Horowitz] left off: I told David Brock on the telephone the amusing story of how I came out to David Horowitz.” Note the formulations: an “amusing story” about “how I came out to David Horowitz” — not, for example, about “how I discovered that David Horowitz was anti-gay.” This alone — although Chad himself seems to have missed this — refutes Brock’s use of the anecdote and shows how malicious it was.
Because the injustice of this would be obvious to any fair-minded third party, I would have been inclined to let this matter go. But some sewers of the Internet like Mediawhoresonline have attempted to turn it into an occasion to celebrate Brock’s smear, and to spread it. (“MWO World Exclusive. Capital City Rocked by Horowitz Revelations. Horowitz-Gate: ‘The Problem With the Gays Is That They Are Hysterical.’ Wingers Exposed as Liars, Frauds, and Homophobes!”) So here goes.
I did neglect to describe the details of the original conversation with Chad in my Salon article, and for a good reason. When I called Chad to talk about it before writing my Salon piece, neither of us could remember the specific issue that had provoked the comment and had led to Chad’s “coming out.” This is not surprising since the conversation took place three or four years ago. It is crucial, however, because context determines the meaning of such remarks — just as the fact that I am a conservative defender of gays should indicate (whatever the particular incident was) that Brock blew it wildly out of proportion and utterly distorted it.
Chad now says my remark was made in the context of an article I wrote. Any such article probably would have been about the AIDS epidemic, a subject I have addressed several times for Salon. In dealing with AIDS, I have described the irrational and destructive way in which the gay left has responded to the AIDS crisis. This reaction began with an attack by ACT-UP activists on Ronald Reagan, whom they accused of causing the epidemic (because he did not fund AIDS research at a level satisfactory to them). ACT-UP demonstrators in Washington dressed themselves in black and dragged coffins in front of the federal health building, condemning Reagan as a murderer.
Blaming Ronald Reagan for AIDS is a hysterical reaction. In this context — or a context like it — I made a statement that Chad now remembers as this: “The problem with gays is that they are hysterical.” I do not remember making this statement, a generalization about all gays. We were talking about gay radicals, and a specific reaction by gay radicals, which I may have written about. I remember saying something like, “Well, that’s their problem, that they’re hysterical.”
Such a statement could carry the implication that this kind of emotionalism is a trait evident not just in gay radicals but in broader sections of the gay community, and it could also be misinterpreted by someone unfamiliar with the range of gay personalities to include all gays. In any case, Chad responded to the remark (according to his own account) by saying, “You don’t think I’m hysterical, do you?” and I replied, “Are you gay, Chad?” or, “You’re not gay, Chad, are you?” I certainly didn’t preface this with the exclamation “Jesus!” as Chad indicates in his letter. (I just don’t happen to use “Jesus” in that way.) Unfortunately, I am unable to convey my inflection in a print medium, but it was totally friendly. It was a funny moment, which Brock converted into a nasty, hateful moment.
I do not think what I said in the context constituted an anti-gay slur. I don’t think Chad does either, despite what he now says. And I am sick and tired of this “gotcha” tactic among the politically oh-so-correct. In Chad’s letter he does not recall having any reaction at the time we had the conversation that would indicate he took it as a serious slur. He did not say, for example, as one might expect had he felt that way, “Yes, David, I am gay, and you shouldn’t have said that.” He didn’t react that way, because it wasn’t an anti-gay slur and both of us knew it wasn’t. Nor was it said in any way that could be taken as hostile or denigrating toward gays. Let me put it another way: Are Jews pushy? Yes. Are all Jews pushy? No. Is someone who says, “The problem with Jews is that they’re pushy” guilty of an anti-Semitic slur? The answer is that it depends on the context, the emotional tone with which the statement was made, and the tenor and quality of the speakers’ relationships to actual Jews. Nothing Chad has said in his letter or to me alters the fact that whatever I said, it was not an attack on gays.
Why has Chad written this letter? Perhaps Chad wants to stay friends with David Brock. Perhaps Chad’s liberal politics make him want to defend Brock’s book, which he apparently thinks the world of now that he’s read it. It doesn’t really matter. His letter just adds his testimony to the fact that I am not anti-gay or “homophobic,” that I am in fact supportive of gays — and that David Brock is a liar.