David Brock is famous once again. In the April Esquire, and in
countless television interviews, the slayer of Anita Hill, the outer of
"Paula," the relentless scourge of sanctimonious liberals goes down on his
knees to plant an unlikely kiss on the presidential posterior. In an "Open
Letter to Bill Clinton," Brock apologizes to the president for not having
been interested in good government when he wrote the story of the
ex-governor's alleged sexcapades in Arkansas and the state troopers'
allegations they were used to pimp his scores. The story, which Brock
modestly claims is the true origin of the present presidential crisis, was
motivated by a more primitive ambition. "I wanted to pop you right between
the eyes," he now says.
This is but the latest chapter in Brock's odyssey from right to left.
Chapter 1 appeared in the July 1997 Esquire, under the headline "I Was A
Right-Wing Hit Man." Accompanying the article was a staged photo of Brock
tied to a tree, one nipple seductively exposed. The editors didn't say
whether he was waiting to be shot, or to nurse.
"Writer Tells Truth, Conservatives Can't Handle It" is the way Brock would
like to spin the story of his exit from the political right. He has already
been hailed by hit men of the left, like Slate's Jacob Weisberg.
Weisberg followed Brock's mea culpa with an obituary for
conservatives titled "The Conintern: Republican Thought Police." Here, a
theme only suggested by Brock -- that conservatives have become the very
enemy they despise -- is presented as a foregone conclusion by the enemy
As in all such capers, however, there is the "story" and there is the real
David Brock first made a name for himself as the only reporter who bothered
to track down the details of Anita Hill's life and career, while the rest
of the journalistic community lazily accepted her own heroic version of
self. In "The Real Anita Hill," he gathered enough evidence to blow a
barn-sized hole through the principal claims that had made Hill's case
against Clarence Thomas seem credible -- that she had no ulterior agenda in
pressing her charges; that she was a put-upon, apolitical (and even
conservative) victim; and that she was too shy, too timid or too
unsophisticated to have pressed sexual harassment charges when the
incidents allegedly took place, 10 years in the past.
Brock showed the reality to be quite different. Hill was, in fact, an
ambitious and aggressive climber, fashionably steeped in left-wing
feminism, with a penchant for lying when faced with adversity. Asked to
leave her first Washington legal job for reasons of incompetence, she found
refuge in the leftist victimology she had picked up at Yale. Ironically, it
was by claiming she had been sexually harassed at Wald, Harkrader and Ross
that she originally won the sympathy of Clarence Thomas, who generously
gave her a job in his Civil Rights Commission office. Brock also
convincingly established a pattern of petty ambition and spiteful revenge
that served to explain Hill's otherwise inexplicable behavior before,
during and after her celebrated performance in front of the Senate
Judiciary Committee in opposition to Thomas' nomination to the Supreme
For his efforts, Brock was pilloried mercilessly in the liberal press. In a
typically overheated attack, New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis
characterized the book as "sleaze with footnotes," only to confess
privately afterwards that he had "breezed hastily" through it before
writing his condemnation. Brock was contemptuously dismissed as "not only
a sleazebag but the occasion in others for sleazebaggery" by Garry Wills,
who, like other liberal writers, didn't appear troubled by the ransacking of
Thomas' garbage, video-rental lists and divorce papers and the highly
questionable nature of the 10-year-old charge that no one outside of Hill
could corroborate. In another gutter attack, Frank Rich of the New
York Times accused Brock of hating the entire female sex, while not so
subtly outing him as a homosexual in the process.
In the event, Brock's outing had no adverse effect on his reputation in
conservative circles. On the contrary, his star kept rising as a hero who
had single-handedly accomplished what a decent, nonpartisan press should
have done in the first place -- check out the story of a
character assassin. When Brock followed his coup by interviewing the
Arkansas troopers who told of moonlighting as panderers for the governor in
Little Rock, his stock among conservatives soared even higher.
At this juncture, New York's only (!) conservative publisher, Free Press,
offered Brock a $1 million advance to do an investigation of the career of
Hillary Clinton. Given what already was known about Hillary's extraordinary
luck in the commodity markets, obstructions of justice blatant enough to
make Nixon's transgressions look tame and a rumored liaison with Vince
Foster, expectations about a Brock investigation were predictably high. A
first printing of 200,000 copies was announced. Newsweek arranged
to run an excerpt and a major book tour was planned.
But somewhere along the way Brock lost his journalistic bearings. When the
book was finally delivered, none of the expected goods came with it. The
response at Newsweek was typical: "The editors are in tears that you don't
have Hillary in bed with Vince, or at least someone," was the message Free
Press relayed to him, along with the news that Newsweek would pass on the
excerpt. Not only did Brock not have anything new to reveal, his account of
the old was something less than incisive. So disappointing was his version
of Hillary's Whitewater dealings, in fact, that James B. Stewart chided him
in the New York Times for bending over backwards to defend the first lady
on points that were indefensible.
As the rest of the media became aware that Brock had failed to deliver,
network appearances and scheduled interviews were canceled. The book tour
was aborted before it started, and the stacks of books from the 200,000
first printing, piled high in Barnes & Noble and other chains, were pasted
with "50 percent off" stickers. The "Seduction of Hillary Rodham" was remaindered
almost before it was even published, and the publisher was looking at a
Brock had violated the most elementary principle of bestseller marketing:
Don't defeat the expectations you raise. Fans of Brock, who expected an
exposé, felt let down by his kid glove treatment of a woman they despised.
Fans of Hillary Clinton, who despised Brock for exposing Hill, couldn't care
less that he was now willing to give another feminist icon a break. Neither
audience bought the book.
But Brock was surprised. He concluded that conservatives were out to punish
him because he had "told the truth." He was disinvited to parties. He was
no longer a hero. Conservatives, as he put it, could not forgive him for
being "somewhat sympathetic" to Hillary. This version of events is written
all over the anecdote with which Brock opens his kiss-off to conservatives
in the current Esquire. Brock tells how he was disinvited to an
A-list party of Washington conservatives and congressional staffers. "Given
what's happened," Brock quotes a voice-mail message the hostess left him,
"I don't think you'd be comfortable at the party." The impression left is
that because Brock was soft on Hillary he was no longer welcome among
conservatives who had once been his best friends.
What Brock withholds from the reader is that the anger directed at him came
from congressional staffers who had helped him on the understanding that he
would not reveal his sources. Brock had reneged on the agreement and blown
their cover. In other words, it was the betrayal of confidences and friends
rather than party lines that was at the heart of the matter.
Brock is apparently incapable of confronting shortcomings for which he has
only himself to blame. Egged on by promptings of the grandiose self, he has
transformed his personal screwups into an epic case. "The age of reporting
is dead," he writes as though his was the story of a William Randolph
Hearst or a Rupert Murdoch, who could resonate with the Zeitgeist itself.
And then: "There is no 'liberal movement' to which [liberal] journalists
are attached and by which they can be blackballed in the sense that there
is a self-identified, hardwired conservative movement that can function as
a kind of neo-Stalinist thought police that rivals anything I knew at
This from a man whose conservative publisher accepted his final manuscript
("With my publishers blessing, I was faithful to my reporting," Brock
writes without noticing the contradiction) and put out 200,000 copies of a
book that didn't sell, adding hundreds of thousands to the already
million-dollar loss. And this, from a man who (at the time his Esquire
article was published) had a half-million-dollar contract with the American
Spectator. In fact, the managing editor of the Spectator, Wlady
Plesczynski, had passionately defended Brock's book to this very writer at
a "Dark Ages Weekend," the big conservative New Year's bash to which the
supposedly ostracized Brock was an invited panelist. Of course, as the
crotchety author of a big flop, Brock was no longer quite the star he had
once been, and his reception was probably less deferential than his
amour propre deemed appropriate. And when Brock's contract with the
Spectator was canceled, it wasn't because he had fallen out of
conservative favor, it was because he had failed to deliver the number of
articles called for in the contract.
Brock's problem is not conservatism, it is narcissism. But now it is
politics as well. In the Esquire article, Brock declares his independence
from the right, even as he reaffirms his conservative views. Apparently,
he thinks he can be a free-floating journalist sans partisan baggage,
accepted as a writer for the liberal media. Well, good luck with your new
liberal friends, David.
Salon has already weighed in with a piece by David Futrelle with the predictable liberal response: You were a sleazebag then,
and you're a sleazebag now. Jacob Weisberg in Slate goes a giant step
further, tarring all conservatism with the Brock brush: "The party where
humorless thought police work to enforce a rigid ideological discipline
isn't made up of Democrats. It comprises Republicans ... Brock portrays a
political subculture in which loyalty to the cause means everything, truth
Such a thing couldn't possibly happen in his political circle.
"The treatment of Brock has no parallel among liberals," Weisberg writes.
Really? Peter Collier and I were bestselling authors, once editors of the
largest magazine of the left, and sought-after writers by liberal magazines
-- until we strayed from the party line that Weisberg pretends doesn't
exist. In my own case, it took more than 10 years before an invitation
came to write for a non-conservative magazine again. Ronald Radosh was
literally banned from writing on the subject of Nicaragua while still a
masthead editor of Dissent. The ban was triggered by his political
incorrectness on the issue and imposed by the magazine's founder and icon
of democratic socialism, Irving Howe.
As for the conservative lock-step, what a hoot. In the last six months,
Arianna Huffington has attacked every conservative leader Weisberg could
name, without noticeably diminishing her invitations to parties or service
on the boards of conservative think tanks. Bill Kristol is regularly
slammed by Republican leaders and Pat Buchanan was labeled a "fascist" by
both the American Spectator and Bill Bennett without diminishing his
presence at conservative conferences. Newt Gingrich has been viciously
caricatured on the covers of National Review and the Weekly Standard, which
announced his "meltdown" and ran an article pillorying him as "Political
Road Kill." Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, in a survey of the
Brock affair, managed to get three major conservative journalists -- Robert
Novak, William Safire and Bill Kristol -- to complain on the record, in the
liberal press, about other conservatives. So much for Weisberg's
As a former partisan of the left, I can testify to how exhilarating it is
to breathe free in the conservative intellectual air. Today, in the pages
of magazines that Weisberg describes as under neo-Stalinist party discipline, conservatives war over immigration, abortion,
drug policy, homosexuality, openings to China, the place of religion, the
credibility of supply-side economics and the sanity of Jude Wanniski and
By contrast, liberals war over how to position themselves to get elected.
How many serious clashes of values are there in liberal ranks? Are there
liberals who view the ending of welfare as a positive good, who would like
to see the non-defense budget drastically cut, who want to reduce the
capital gains tax to zero? Consider a more volatile issue like affirmative
action. Anyone who inquires quickly learns that there are many, many
deeply troubled liberal consciences afraid to express themselves publicly.
Is there a single prominent liberal who has dared to remain publicly
faithful to the civil rights principle enunciated by Martin Luther King
Jr., or who has had the courage to denounce racial preferences in the '90s
in the same moral voice that liberals used to denounce racial preferences
in the '60s? If so, I certainly missed it.
Let's talk about the thought police. Two liberal reporters, Jane Mayer and
Jill Abramson, followed "The Real Anita Hill" with a counter-volume about
Clarence Thomas called "Strange Justice." The book was an unending sordid
personal attack on the only Supreme Court justice who is also an African-American, a man who rose against extreme odds of poverty and racial
oppression to achieve high office. The only blemish in his entire public
career (how many liberal public figures can say that?) is the result of an
unproven libel about alleged events in a distant past, coming from an
embittered, unreliable and partisan source whose gripings never should have
been given a public platform in the first place.
"Strange Justice" was promoted and celebrated by the same shameless chorus
that prevented Brock's own investigation from being taken seriously outside
the conservative ghetto. Was there a single liberal journalist or reviewer
who broke ranks to condemn the atrocity the left committed on the public
figure of Clarence Thomas and deplore the character assassination of an
On the other hand, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a longtime ideological leader
of the feminist left, was nominated to the Supreme Court, did
any conservative journalist rummage through Ginsburg's garbage and
personal records in order to smear and taint her, as liberals did to
Thomas? Did conservatives mount any effort to destroy her ability to be a
role model to women, in the way liberals tried to destroy Clarence Thomas'
public persona and keep him from becoming an inspiration to his community?
Meanwhile, David Brock has dropped his bid to become a truly independent
journalist and moved on to the greener pastures of the conservative-bashing
press corps. He claims that he has seen the light, and in particular that
"if sexual witch-hunts become the way to win in politics, if they become
our politics altogether, we can and will destroy everyone in public life."
Sounds like he's been taking spin lessons from Sidney Blumenthal, the genie
behind Hillary's "vast right-wing conspiracy" and inspiration of various
hit pieces against the staff of Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr.