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David Brock, Liar
Slate ^ | 3/27/02 | Timothy Noah

Posted on 03/28/2002 9:11:07 PM PST by Croooow

A lifelong habit proves hard to break.
By Timothy Noah
Posted Wednesday, March 27, 2002, at 9:11 AM PT

Book cover
Chatterbox is slightly taken aback at the respectful attention some liberals have given David Brock's Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative. In the New York Times Magazine, Frank Rich called it "a key document for historians seeking to understand the ethos of the incoherent 90's." In The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg called it "an astounding account of fin-de-siecle Washington politics," "an entertaining backstage sketchbook of scores of eccentric and mostly obnoxious characters," and "a valuable book." In The Nation, Michael Tomasky called it "mind-boggling. ... You cannot fully understand this fevered era without reading this book."

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Chatterbox is more inclined to agree with David Brock's assessment in his prologue: "This is a terrible book." By "terrible," Brock means that it's about terrible things that he and his fellow conservatives did. But Chatterbox would argue that the book is also terrible in the more conventional sense: whiny, histrionic, and so factually unreliable that Chatterbox practically gave himself a migraine trying to figure out which parts of Brock's lurid story were true, and which parts were false. Chatterbox hasn't had so oppressive a reading experience since he reviewed Edmund Morris' Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan.

Chatterbox has noted before (see "Gödel, Escher, Brock" and "Gödel, Escher, Brock, Part 2") the unique difficulty posed by any narrative that begins, "I'm a liar, here's my tale." (This is a replay of Epimenides' Paradox, subsequently refashioned as Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem.) Rich addresses the Brock Riddle by noting that much of what Brock writes about is already on the public record, and, "for what it's worth, his accounts of events in which I figured are accurate." Rich's second assertion is, in fact, not worth much (Rich only figures in a few pages of the book). His first assertion is correct but doesn't really get Brock off the hook. We know, well before picking up Brock's book, that an appallingly well-financed hard right was obsessed with smearing Clinton, and that a large proportion of Clinton's hard-right accusers failed to conform to hard-right notions about morality, being either adulterers, homosexuals, or begetters of aborted fetuses. We know further that Clinton was placed deliberately into a perjury trap, whereupon he committed perjury. What we don't know, and what Brock purports to tell us, are the nuances—and it's the nuances that provide this book's real interest. Did Theodore Olson, now solicitor general, tell Brock that the American Spectator should publish speculation about Vince Foster's death, even though he himself believed that speculation was false, because doing so would turn up the heat on the administration until another scandal came along? Did Ann Coulter tell Brock that she wanted to leave her New York law firm "to get away from all these Jews"? Did Ricky Silberman, former vice chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, conclude, after reading an excerpt from Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer's Strange Justice, that Clarence Thomas really had harassed Anita Hill, yet helped Brock to discredit that book anyway?

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"[C]an we believe it?" Tomasky writes of Brock's book. "The short answer is yes, mostly." Tomasky argues that we should believe Brock because his narrative is full of specifics: "names, places, dates, the food and wine consumed, the color of the draperies." But the same could be said of many journalistic hoaxes, including Michael Finkel's recent New York Times Magazine cover profile of a West African teen-ager who turned out to be a "composite," and, closer to home, Slate's recent "Diary" by a man who claimed to be BMW's chief of North American operations but wasn't. Tomasky also argues that Brock's book has "the tenor of veracity and candor," an entirely subjective judgment. (To Chatterbox, the author's tendency to self-dramatize arouses mistrust.) Finally, Tomasky argues that "I've scarcely heard a peep" from the right about Brock's claims. But, he must then concede, "it's early yet." (R. Emmett Tyrrell has, in fact, challenged Brock's veracity, but not in a particularly persuasive or coherent fashion.)

The hopeful liberal narrative about David Brock, peddled by Hertzberg, Rich, Tomasky, and Brock himself, is that the conservative movement made Brock a distorter and a liar, and that the distortions and lies were all in the service of that movement. But Blinded by the Right offers plenty of evidence that for Brock, lying has been a lifelong habit. During his freshman year at Berkeley, when Brock was still a Naderite liberal, he lied to a man named Andrew, who would become his lover, about the fact that he was adopted. Andrew didn't learn the truth until after he and Brock had lived together many years. While campaigning to be editor in chief of the Daily Cal at Berkeley, Brock was "caught in an embarrassing lie" about an editor he didn't like. He told the Daily Cal's outgoing editor in chief that the university's vice chancellor had phoned to complain about a story that the enemy editor had presumably mangled. It wasn't true, and Brock got caught. By this time Brock had drifted right, but he offers no evidence that this particular conflict had any ideological content. Years later, Brock leaked his American Spectator piece about Troopergate to CNN, contrary to orders from his editors, who were enforcing an embargo on it. "When confronted, I came up with a clearly implausible lie," Brock confesses. Surely lying to one's comrades wasn't part of the conservative movement's playbook. The further one gets into Brock's book, the more one starts to suspect that Brock wasn't a liar for any larger cause, but simply … a liar.

Is he still? Without any particular effort, Chatterbox was able to find three very dubious assertions in Brock's book:

Dubious Assertion No. 1: "Michael Ledeen … pinned the death of Barbara Olson, a conservative pundit who perished, tragically, during the attack on the Pentagon, on the feminist establishment." (Page xiv.)

Ledeen told Chatterbox he never said this, and a Nexis search came up empty. Probably Brock is referring to "Who Killed Barbara Olson?"—an understandably overwrought obituary for his friend that Ledeen posted Sept. 13 on National Review Online. Although the piece does say high up that Olson and two similarly minded conservative women "became the feminists' targets," Ledeen doesn't connect that in any way to Olson's death. Later on in the piece, Ledeen does blame "a fraudulent and arrogant establishment" and "a corrupt elite that celebrates murder, provided that the killers hold the right views and slaughter those who are political lepers." But neither of these statements refers to feminists. The first refers to the intelligence and defense establishments, which Ledeen considers too weak-minded. The second refers to liberals who romanticize terror-bent liberation movements in the Third World, of whom there have never been as many as Ledeen imagines. Ledeen's gist is that national-security softies and Council on Foreign Relations-style intellectuals created conditions in the United States that the 9/11 terrorists were able to exploit. That's debatable, but logically defensible in a way that putting the blame on feminists would not be.

Dubious Assertion No. 2: When Brock wrote The Real Anita Hill, his smear job on Clarence Thomas' accuser, "I had never met … a Democrat working in politics." (Page 108.)

Brock wrote The Real Anita Hill in 1992, by which time Brock had lived and worked as a reporter in Washington more than five years. Even granting that Brock labored for publications like Insight (a newsmagazine put out by the Washington Times) and the American Spectator that don't put a premium on getting sourced up with Democrats, it's inconceivable that Brock had never even "met" a Democrat working in politics. Brock probably means that he had never gotten to know a Democrat working in politics particularly well, which is possible. But that's not what he wrote.

Dubious Assertion No. 3: "I hadn't known of Laura [Ingraham]'s antigay past at Dartmouth, where, along with her then-boyfriend Dinesh D'Souza, she had participated in the infamous outing of gay students, who were branded "sodomites," until I cringed as I read about her Dartmouth Review exploits in a 1995 profile in Vanity Fair." (Page 235.)

Wrong. The Vanity Fair profile (which appeared in the January 1997 issue) was written by Mrs. Chatterbox, who informs this column that she quizzed Brock (who was then openly gay) about his friend Ingraham's anti-gay Dartmouth activities in an on-the-record interview for the piece. (Incidentally, what Ingraham did was less a matter of "outing" than of secretly taping and then publishing the transcript of a meeting of the Gay Students Association.) According to Mrs. Chatterbox's notes, Brock said: "I think there's a sense that some of what they did was exaggerated or over the top—it was in your face, and it was consciously that way, the excesses of youth or whatever. I think that's partly what it was. I have gotten the sense that—it was a little irresponsible, and that was because they were young and conservative and bomb-throwing." Elsewhere in Brock's book, Brock says that throughout his time in the conservative movement he had a tendency to rationalize behavior by conservatives that was blatantly homophobic. That would seem to apply here. Presumably, Brock has simply forgotten about his conversation with Mrs. Chatterbox, and any other conversations he may have had about Ingraham's Dartmouth Review high jinks, which were widely written about before Vanity Fair reported them.

In scanning the letters column of the Washington Post's March 24 "Book World" section, Chatterbox encountered an unambiguously deliberate Brock lie, this one having to do with an unfavorable review of Brock's book that "Book World" published the week before. Here is Brock's letter of complaint:

Bruce Bawer, The Post's reviewer of my book Blinded by the Right, a memoir of my years at the American Spectator (Book World, March 17), a magazine I criticize as an example of conservative excess, is himself a former Spectator writer. My book also contains a passage that puts the credibility of Bawer's published account of his controversial departure from the magazine in question. Neither of these facts are disclosed in Bawer's review.

Brock makes it sound as though Bawer were some sort of Spectator partisan who took offense at Brock's criticisms of the magazine. But as Brock's book makes clear, Bawer (whose time at the Spectator did not overlap with Brock's) left the magazine to protest an editor's deletion of a passing reference to homosexuality in his review of the play Prelude to a Kiss. (Bawer is gay, Prelude's author, Craig Lucas, is gay, and the play has a much-discussed gay subtext.) Contrary to Brock's claim, Brock's book does not question the credibility of Bawer's published account of that departure. Rather, Brock writes that when he read Bawer's account (in Bawer's 1993 memoir, A Place at the Table), he asked the editor in question whether it was true, and the editor "awkwardly denied" it. Brock elaborates: "I shrugged it off and probed no further, since I didn't really want to know the truth. … I wasn't going to let possible prejudice against another writer, whom I did not know, upset my world. Some gays can be awfully hypersensitive, I told myself." The clear thrust of this passage is that Bawer's published version was right, and that Brock, in refusing to believe Bawer's version at the time, had been wrong. As this online chat shows, Brock managed to con Post Editor Leonard Downie and former Post Managing Editor Robert Kaiser, neither of whom must have actually read Brock's book, into thinking he'd somehow been wronged by "Book World." As a result, "Book World" editor Marie Arana ended up publishing a completely unnecessary apology.

How can we trust a writer who won't even summarize his own book truthfully?

TOPICS: Editorial; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: brock; davidbrock; turncoat

1 posted on 03/28/2002 9:11:07 PM PST by Croooow
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To: Croooow
How can we really trust a turncoat who went to the other side out of self-hatred and money? There's not a word in David Brock's book that's true. This isn't the kind of tome destined to make the best-seller list. Look for Blinded to make its way to the discount bin within a few weeks of publication.
2 posted on 03/28/2002 9:19:49 PM PST by goldstategop
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To: goldstategop
David switched because the majority of homosexuals are on the left and they were ignoring him.
3 posted on 03/28/2002 9:27:58 PM PST by LarryLied
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To: Croooow
I love the liberal concept of a "perjury trap." Clinton was sued under laws he himself signed into creation, then he was placed under oath and told to tell the truth. Under those unbearable circumstances, what other choice did he have but to lie?! Come to think of it, I guess asking Bill Clinton any question under any circumstances would be a "perjury trap," since you know the answer will be a lie before you even ask. Therefore, when he lies, it's your fault for asking the question. Now we're thinkin' like liberals!
4 posted on 03/28/2002 9:28:33 PM PST by HHFi
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To: HHFi
For Bill Clinton, reality is a perjury trap.
5 posted on 03/28/2002 9:36:46 PM PST by D-fendr
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To: goldstategop
I listened in stunned fascination to an interview Michael Medved had with David Brock the other day. I'm not kidding, I caught my jaw dropping in amazement at some of Brock's comments and have been thinking of him for several days now. I've come to the conclusion that he has been and is being abused. By whom, I don't know. His sanity is in undoubtedly in question and I think he's on some kind of tranquilizer-type of medication. The man is severely demented and to see someone in his condition participating in interviews and TV shows, with the hosts treating him as if he were sane is bizaare. [To give Medved credit, he seemed to be just as amazed as I was at Brock's comments.]
6 posted on 03/28/2002 9:40:37 PM PST by WillaJohns
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To: HHFi
Am proud to say that the LA Times printed my 1 sentence letter during the heat of the battle: "How does one get caught in a perjury trap?"
7 posted on 03/28/2002 9:43:18 PM PST by breakem
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To: breakem
David Crock.
8 posted on 03/28/2002 10:31:37 PM PST by f.Christian
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To: Croooow
Mr. Brock should stick with what Mr. Brock does best, sucking chrome off of trailer hitches.
9 posted on 03/28/2002 11:04:19 PM PST by A6M3
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To: WillaJohns
Perhaps you've just put your finger on the reason for Brock's turnabout (no pun intended).....his reversal of field, as it were, and his walking away from Tyrrell and other conservatives who'd reposed their trust in him.

A Freeper posting to another thread cited a relationship with Hillary Clinton's press aide. Put that together with your insights here about Medved's interview of Brock, and a really hideous scandal would seem to be in the making, in which a Hillary staffer may have played "swallow" to bring Brock close enough to torque him into a pretzel, until the "right" words came out of his mouth, and his Hillary book was defanged.

This could turn into one of the more horrifically interesting human and political stories since the Stanford White affair -- or even since Dr. Svengali himself.

Comments? Speculation?

10 posted on 03/28/2002 11:36:31 PM PST by lentulusgracchus
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Comment #11 Removed by Moderator

To: breakem
Brilliant AND pithy. Well done!
12 posted on 03/28/2002 11:55:32 PM PST by exit82
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To: exit82
Thanks and I'm hoping you don't type with a lithp.
13 posted on 03/29/2002 9:00:18 AM PST by breakem
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To: lentulusgracchus
Your theories seem sound. Brock was definitely "turned." I'll have to look up the "Stanford White" affair you mentioned. If Brock, in this lifetime, ever gets "cured," and by that I mean removes himself from his abusive relationship(s), he will forever be tarnished goods (as if he wasn't already), but then, isn't that always what happens to anyone who cuddles up to the Clinton's and their ilk?
14 posted on 03/29/2002 9:18:05 AM PST by WillaJohns
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To: WillaJohns
isn't that always what happens to anyone who cuddles up to the Clinton's and their ilk?

Oh, God, is it ever -- what is it with these people? So many broken lives and wrecked careers in their wake!.......and I won't even go into the more lurid stuff. Just think back -- Jimmy Carter's ascension wasn't marked by anything more obnoxious than the accusation, from an impeachable source, that Ham Jordan and Jody Powell had partied with cocaine, and the discovery that Libya had attempted an unusually hamfisted influence play with hard-drinking First Brother Billy. What a contrast!

I mean, if the Dims wanted a sorta-liberal president, a DLC type who would sign liberal bills, why didn't they just suck it up and run Jimmy Earl again? Why on earth did they pick up these rattlesnakes instead?

Brock's story sounds like a cross between Hard Core and the Jim Jones People's Temple story. His personality may disintegrate, and he may do a Vince Foster if the Klinton Stasi decide he's accomplished his purpose and his boyfriend drops him, case closed. In that case I would look for a fresh scandal -- that will be pooh-poohed by Margaret Carlson and Eleanor Clift.

Stanford White was a successful New York architect during the Gay Nineties who played the bachelor game back then of putting wayward girls up in nice apartments. The girls and their mothers also played the game, and one of the mothers, who was the darker double of a Hollywood stage mom, got her girl, Evelyn Nesbit, to diet down and achieve the titillating "waif look" which would become the "norm" for American women. Originally it was used as a troll.

This story was written up as part of "The American Experience" series by PBS a couple of years ago. Stanford White went for this pseudo-waif and commenced a classically unequal and exploitative on-again, off-again affair with her. Along the way, Evelyn met and married a half-crazy rich guy named Harry Thaw who abused her, found out about White's attentions to his (now) wife, tracked White down and shot him. The trial was a sensation, the "O.J." trial of its day, and it was sauced up even more by the discovery that White was seriously on his uppers financially while continuing to live the good life. Quelle scandale!

15 posted on 03/29/2002 10:26:32 AM PST by lentulusgracchus
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To: breakem
No, thatth wath a compliment!
16 posted on 03/29/2002 1:21:46 PM PST by exit82
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To: exit82
17 posted on 03/29/2002 3:58:49 PM PST by breakem
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To: Croooow
Good article from an unexpected source (Noah, like his ex-boss Michael Kinsley is more a picky, epicine liberal than anything else.) The Bruce Bawer review he links to is also worth reading. Bawer experienced some of the same disillusionment or disaffection Brock did -- and for similar reasons -- but he isn't afraid to take on Brock and take apart his latest. Brock has changed his political camp, but his journalistic standards haven't improved -- I'd say they've declined considerably. The more vicious liberals celebrate his book for political reasons, but even they regard him as a leper in private.
18 posted on 03/29/2002 4:45:52 PM PST by x
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To: Croooow
Many people are under the mistaken assumption that Brock was at one time a conservative. I say he never was at all a conservative but rather a trojan horse. Brock reminds me of the gay many who went to work for Gauy Bauers Presidential campaign. The man made sure to get a very bad flu and went around sneexing in his hands, wiping them on the file cabinet handles and door knobs and such, then gloating about it. He is a criminal.

Brock is really no different. Yes, I know he touted the lind quite handily, but look at him now. His words belie his real intentions all along. To become like ones enemy only to then use it against him is an old tactic, but in this instance, Brock tries to come off as having "Seen the light" and gone to where he should be. Nope. He has gone to where he has been all along.

Ever hear from a friend that a spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend has "Changed"? When in fact they simply found out how they really were?

19 posted on 04/15/2002 11:07:24 AM PDT by ICE-FLYER
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