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The David Brock Affair: Murder or Suicide? By: David Horowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, April 01, 1998


In the April 1998 issue of Esquire, David Brock, the slayer of Anita Hill, the outer of Paula Jones, the relentless scourge of sanctimonious liberals goes down on his knees to plant an unseemly kiss on the presidential rear. In an Open Letter, Brock apologizes to Clinton for not "really" being interested in "good government" when he wrote his Spectator story of governors sexcapades in Arkansas and use of state troopers to pimp his scores. The Spectator expose, which Brock modestly claims to be the true origin of the present presidential crisis, was apparently motivated by more primitive ambitions than ordinary journalism: "I wanted to pop you right between the eyes."

This confession is but the latest bizarre chapter in David Brocks unpleasant odyssey from the political right to the left. The first version of his tale appeared nine months earlier in the July Esquire under the headline "I Was A Right-Wing Hit Man." Promoting the article was a staged photo of Brock tied to a tree, one nipple seductively exposed. The editors didnt say whether he was waiting to be shot, or to nurse.

"Writer Tells Truth, Conservatives Cant Handle It" is the way Brock would like to spin the story of his exit from the political right. His opening salvo was hailed by hit men of the left, like Slates Jacob Weisberg who followed the mea culpa with a premature 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 himself.

As in all such capers, however, there is the story and the story.

David Brock first made a name for himself as the only reporter who bothered to track down the details of Anita Hills life and career. While the rest of the journalistic community lazily accepted her own version of self, Brock took the trouble to look for himself. In The Real Anita Hill he gathered enough evidence to blow a barn-size hole through the principal claims that had made Hills 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; that she was too shy, too timid, or too unsophisticated to have pressed sexual harassment charges at the time the incidents allegedly took place, ten years in the past.

Through painstaking leg-work, Brock showed the accusers reality to be quite different from her story. She 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 victomology she had picked up at Yale, which provided a convenient cover for personal inadequacy. 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 provided her with a new job in his office. Through diligent reporting of Hills career before, during and after the Thomas hearings, Brock convincingly established a character pattern of petty ambition and spiteful revenge that served to explain Hills otherwise inexplicable behavior before, during and after her celebrated performance in front of the nation.

For this valuable effort, Brock was pilloried mercilessly in the liberal press still the press of record and respect. In a typically overheated attack, NY Times columnist Anthony Lewis characterized the book as "sleaze with footnotes," only to confess privately afterwards that he had "breezed hastily" through it before publishing his condemnation. His performance was typical. Brock was contemptuously dismissed as "not only a sleazebag but the occasion in others for sleazebaggery," by writers like Garry Wills, who went along with the same wolf-pack that had picked over Thomass garbage, video-rental lists and divorce papers and rushed to the support of an embittered former employee peddling slander based on a ten-year-old incident that no one outside herself could corroborate. In another gutter attack, the NY Times poison pen, Frank Rich, accused Brock of hating the entire female sex not so subtly outing him as a homosexual in the process. Rich calculated that this would damage Brocks standing in the Right, having convinced himself that his previous attacks on conservatives as sub-human, homophobic bigots was something more than vacuous libel.

In the event, Brocks 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 self-respecting, non-partisan press should have done in the first place check out the story of a character-assassin and spare the nation the disgraceful spectacle of Hills malicious public assault. When Brock followed his coup by interviewing the Arkansas troopers moonlighting as panderers for the governor in Little Rock, his stock among conservatives soared even higher.

At this juncture, New Yorks only conservative publisher, The Free Press, offered Brock a $1 million advance to do an investigation of what else? the career of Hillary Clinton. Given what already was known about Hillarys luck in commodity markets, ambitious derailment of her husbands first term, obstructions of justice blatant enough to make Nixons look amateur, and rumored liason with Vince Foster, expectations about a Brock investigation were predictably high. A first printing of two hundred thousand copies was announced, enough to make the book a runaway best-seller. Newsweek arranged to run an excerpt, and a major book tour was planned.

But somewhere along the way Brock had 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 dont have Hillary in bed with Vince, or at least someone," was the message The 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 Hillarys Whitewater dealings, in fact, that James B. Stewart chided him in the NY Times for unnecessarily bending over backwards to defend the First Lady on points which were, after all, indefensible.

As the rest of the media became aware that the reporter had failed to deliver a story, network appearances and scheduled interviews were cancelled, while others didnt materialize. The national author tour was aborted before it had even started, and the stacks of books from the 200,000 first printing, piled high in Barnes & Noble and other chains, were pasted with "50% Off" stickers. The Seduction of Hillary Rodham had been remaindered almost before it was even published, and the publisher was looking at a total loss.

Brock had violated the most elementary principle of best-seller marketing: Dont defeat the expectations you raise. Fans of Brock, who expected an expose, felt let down by his kid glove treatment of a woman they despised. Fans of Hillary, who hated Brock for exposing Anita Hill, couldnt care less that he was now willing to bend over backwards to give another feminist icon a break. Neither audience bought the book. No surprise here.

But David Brock was surprised. And his reaction to failure, just like Anita Hills, was to go into denial and come out attacking. Brock 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 Esquire. The anecdote tells how Brock was disinvited to an A-list party of Washington conservatives and congressional staffers. "Given whats happened," Brock quotes a voice-mail message the hostess left him, "I dont think youd 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.

This is what is generously called a half-truth. 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.

David 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 screw-ups 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: "My side turned out to be as dirty as theirs." And again: "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 Berkeley." In short, that can punish David Brock.

This from a man whose conservative publisher accepted his final manuscript ("With my publishers blessing, I was faithful to my reporting," Brock reports without noticing the implication) and put out 200,000 copies of a book which didnt 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) was still the journalistic star of the Rights biggest and most Clinton-antagonistic magazine, with a half-million-dollar contract to prove it. In fact, the managing editor of The American Spectator, Wlady Plesczynski, had passionately defended Brocks book to this very writer six months before Brocks article, and had done so at a "Dark Ages Weekend," the big conservative New Years 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, well, appropriate.

David Brocks problem is not conservatism, it is narcissism. But once he published his mea culpa, it became politics as well. In the Esquire article, Brock declared his independence from the Right, even as he re-affirmed his conservative views. Apparently, he thought he could be a free-floating journalist sans partisan baggage, accepted as a writer for the liberal media the way he was still accepted at The American Spectator.* But the fall-out from his article was already radioactive.

Salon weighed in with a piece by David Futurelle ("Whos Sorry Now?") that will no doubt be the favored liberal response: You were a sleazebag then, and youre a sleazebag now. But Slate has gone a step further, deciding to seize the opportunity for a conservative blood-letting and let the score-settling wait for later. Jacob Weisbergs lead article in Slate was an attempt to deliver the death-blow to any further intellectual pretensions by conservative intellectuals. Weisberg is the man who once filed a cover piece for New York Magazine featuring head-shots of six prominent conservatives under a screaming three-inch headline labelling them "UN-AMERICANS."

In his Slate article, Weisberg predictably upped Brocks ante: "The party where humorless thought police work to enforce a rigid ideological discipline isnt made up of Democrats. It comprises Republicans.... Brock portrays a political subculture in which loyalty to the cause means everything, truth very little." As a liberal journalist, Weisberg is confident, of course, that he is under no obligation to check Brocks claims with a single reportorial call to sources. Who, in the universe of like-minded scribes, would call him to account?

Not content with a passing hit, Weisberg actually defines the relation between Left and Right as that between free men and slaves: "The treatment of Brock has no parallel among liberals. A few left-wing journalists, such as Nat Hentoff and Christopher Hitchens, have caught flak for dissenting from the conventional liberal position on abortion. But...."

This distortion of the journalistic and political realities is one that I take almost personally. Peter Collier and I were best-selling 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 doesnt exist. In my own case, it took more than ten years before an invitation came to write for a non-conservative magazine again Our mutual friend, 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 and imposed by the magazines founder and icon of democratic socialism, Irving Howe.

But this is far from a personal story. If liberal journalists lack a party line, perhaps Weisberg can refer us to the brave liberal souls who did not go along with the wolf-pack that descended on Bork and Thomas, or who may have suggested in some venue I overlooked that the Clinton obstructions of justice and the White House abuse of governmental agencies match (let alone overshadow) Watergate in their implications for constitutional order. Perhaps he will let us all know the names of those who departed from the politically correct line on AIDS. Perhaps he will give us the honor roll of those who broke ranks to describe the feminist witch-hunt in Americas military. Or perhaps Weisberg can refer us to a liberal journalist who exercised his professions legendary skepticism in writing about the recent release of the socio-path, killer, and former Black Panther, Geronimo Pratt.

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 labelled 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." Howard Kurtz, in a survey of laffaire Brock for the Washington Post 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, conceding that "The idea that conservative journalists have always marched in lock-step with with their ideological brethren is something of a myth." So much for the "Conintern."

As a former partisan of the Left, I can testify to how exhilarating it is to breathe free in the conservative intellectual air. Conservatism is a tent so big that the conventional wisdom is to doubt its coherence as a political movement. The impending break-up of the right in the post-Communist world because there will be nothing now to hold the squalling wings of conservatism together is almost a journalistic cliche. Today, in the pages of magazines that Weisberg describes as under 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 Jack Kemp.

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, or who has had the courage to denounce racial preferences in the Nineties in the same moral voice that liberals used to denounce racial preferences in the Sixties? If so, I certainly missed it.

Or consider the parallel case to Brocks original book. Two liberal reporters, Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, followed The Real Anita Hill with a counter-volume about Clarence Thomas called Strange Justice (even the pun shows who the sleaze artists are). This turned out to be an unoriginal but unerringly 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, and who has only a single blemish on his entire public career (and how many public figures can say that?) a blemish, moreover, which 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 Brocks 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 extraordinary African American jurist?

Or, consider the other side of Weisbergs equation: In the wake of the partisan lynching of Justice Thomas, Senator Orrin Hatch accepted, without demurral, Clintons nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a long-time ideological leader of the feminist left. Was Hatch read out of the conservative movement for this political surrender? Did any conservative journalist rummage through Ginsburgs garbage and personal secrets in order to smear and taint her, as liberals did Thomas and Bork? Was there a relentless Republican interrogation at the hearings aimed at ferreting out her ideological commitments? Did conservatives join in any effort to destroy her ability to be a role model to women, in the way liberals closed ranks to destroy Thomas public persona and keep him from becoming an inspiration to his community?

The media is so utterly and pervasively dominated by the liberal culture, that liberals have lost the ability to see who they are and what they do. Or to really give a damn? We are all driven by the sense of our own righteousness. But normally others are around to keep our hubris in check. When ours is the only voice audible, that becomes the only truth we hear.

Predictably, David Brock has now dropped his ambivalence and his bid for independent status, and moved on to the greener pastures of the conservative-bashing press. In his April "open letter," he claims that he has seen that light. "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." An interesting concept that manages to smear witch-hunt style a whole class of people without offering any evidence to support it. Brocks new mentor? Why, its Sidney Blumenthal, the genie behind the First Ladys "vast right-wing conspiracy" hysteria, along with several very real sexual witch-hunts against the staff of Clintons prosecutor Ken Starr.

David Horowitz is the founder of The David Horowitz Freedom Center and author of the new book, One Party Classroom.


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