A Chip Off The Old Brock
A Chip Off The Old Brock
A new David Brock is rising. Among the neo-conservative movement's most outspoken voices when he worked for the American Spectator and the Washington Times, Brock shot to stardom with his hatchet job, "The Real Anita Hill," and cemented it with his scurrilous "Troopergate" report on Bill Clinton's alleged Arkansas sexcapades. The old Brock was a trained attack-dog for the Right. The new Brock is propagandist-turned-penitent.
In his latest book, "Blinded by the Right," Brock describes how he abandoned journalistic ethics to become a big shot in what he calls the "right-wing Big Lie machine." In an interview with Working Assets Radio, the self-described "hit man" for the conservative movement admitted Hillary Clinton was correct when she claimed "there was a right-wing conspiracy" behind the campaign to bring her husband down. While that conspiracy may not have been that vast, it was tightly-knit, very affluent and highly effective -- dogging a presidency and almost totaling a president.
With Brock now offering so many mea culpas, it seems churlish not to forgive him. Political people have got to believe in redemption after all; if minds can't change, then what is the point of argument?
The progressive public is resistant. "If you're saying you lied then, why should we believe you now?" one caller from the San Francisco Bay Area challenged Brock live on the air. It's a question that comes with any political migration story.
"I am here voluntarily. I didn't have to do this. I had gotten away with a lot of this," responded Brock, adding that he wants to dedicate as much of the proceeds from his new book as he can to "good causes," including projects to combat sexual harassment.
It's true, Brock got away with a lot of guff -- but not because hardworking critics hadn't blown the whistle on his phony "facts." Many, such as Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer of the Wall Street Journal, and the media hounds at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting did just that, dismantling Brock's elaborate constructions. However, these scattered critiques were no match for the media "machine" behind Brock.
"There were people who called me to account," Brock said on the radio. "But those voices were drowned out by media partisanship." The New York Times even gave Brock's "Real Anita Hill" a rave review.
"Reviewers had to place a great degree of trust in my reliability as a reporter, and unfortunately I let them down," Brock writes. In fact, there was no "had to" about it; journalism is at least as open to critical review as novels or films.
In the Spectator article on which his book was based, Brock called Hill "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty." It was nothing but "degraded sarcasm -- inexcusable, disgusting," concludes Brock now. At the Times and elsewhere, his reporting was taken seriously. Had Brock been an ace reporter for a left-wing rag as disreputable as the privately-bankrolled Spectator, he would simply have been ignored at the Times, where valuable books from responsible progressive presses are thrown daily onto the reject pile.
To his credit, Brock outs a slew of once-popular right-wing pundits. By Brock's account, Laura Ingraham has a screw loose; she threatens to break all his windows after one of their wild nights on the town. Ann Coulter is a virulent anti-Semite. "That she wanted to leave her New York law firm 'to get away from all these Jews' was one of her gentler remarks," writes Brock. And Brock, who is gay, describes TV talk show host Armstrong Williams "peppering" him "with graphic questions about whether I was dominant or submissive in bed."
These pundit pawns saw their stars rise higher the more invective they hurled. The media outfits that hired them gave no similar pulpit to even polite-mouthed pundits from the Left and Brock's tales certainly illuminate this double-standard on what is considered acceptable political behavior and talk.
But with their cheap work largely done and invective against dissenters coming directly from the White House, the usefulness of these insta-pundits was already diminishing before Brock's book appeared. Indeed, their individual political fates don't much matter; the biases that corrupt our system are institutional, not individual.
And, while Brock's tell-all book is a tasty read, the redemption of his personal soul is not for us to grant him; his redemption in fact, is not the point. The habits of mud-slinging perfected by Brock and his old gang smeared a president, but they also injured untold numbers of people, lastingly and unjustly -- people who are in no position to forgive.
The "welfare queen," the "femi-Nazi," the "affirmative action hire," and "killer kids" -- the right-wing Big Lie machine fuelled a decade of dehumanizing slander about poor women, anti-violence activists, young people and advocates of equal rights. Pathological lying became the stuff of politics -- not just about a president's sex life -- but about why mothers go on welfare, who is hurt by sexism and racism, and what is at the root of crime. That lying and mudslinging translated into policies that are with us still -- and the miseducation of a generation of voters, for which we continue to pay day after day.
Forgive him? Sure. Yet, sadly, Brock's personal resurrection accomplishes little; the damage has been done, as he himself found when he sat down to read Anita Hill's own book, "Speaking Truth to Power."
"Learning about Anita Hill the human being behind the personal target was just too painful," said Brock. So painful, in fact, that Brock couldn't finish reading.
Perhaps the biggest cause Brock could contribute to now with his writing is the humanizing of some other people, not only of himself.
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