The Seduction of David Brock
Columnist Holly Ivans called him "that foul little right-wing reporter." GQ called him "the Right's chief hatchet man." The Washington Post called him "the Bob Woodward of the right."The target of such praise and damnation was journalist David Brock, who with his book defending eventual Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas against sexual harassment charges leveled by Anita Hill, earned both widespread fame and infamy.But he didn't stop there.Reviled by the left, loved by the right, Brock went on to earn greater conservative kudos and liberal disdain by attacking, chiefly in The American Spectator, both the policies and personalities of President Clinton and his wife Hillary. It was Brock who turned "Troopergate" into a household word, encouraging Paula Jones to proceed with her claim of sexual harassment against Clinton. It was Brock who helped keep Whitewater before the public eye. And it was Brock who, with a million-dollar book deal from Simon & Schuster, was expected to deliver the death blow to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. There were knives to be flashed, and he was to be the butcher. Trouble was, Brock ran into the truth."If the image of Hillary as a greedy influence peddler was confounded by the evidence...If the paper trail substantiated Hillary's much-doubted claim that she had little involvement in sham deals at the Castle Grande trailer-park development...so be it."That "so be it," however, and the book that emerged from it, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, exacted a much greater toll than Brock could have imagined. Coupled with the revelation that he is gay, Brock was scorned by Republican politicians and expelled from the inner circles of conservative ranks. It's all in the July issue of Esquire, and it is a telling tale of how honest journalism often succumbs to the interests of partisan politics. For the darling of conservative media, it was quite a fall, and Brock takes much of the blame, admitting he "still has a lot to learn about what's really behind things in Washington, where the crucial distinction between political and journalistic or intellectual standards isn't recognized." But Brock's essay, "Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man," is not just a self-serving mea culpa. It contains many illuminating truths about the character of political journalism, how two competing value systems inevitably come in conflict, and how the values of journalism are often compromised to serve the needs of political ideology. That's not more apparent than in the conservative media's treatment of the Clintons. Brock quotes David Boaz of the Cato Institute, who says "People who hate the Clintons are supposed to write books about how evil they are. If you don't find any evil, you're not supposed to say you found no evil. You just don't write the book."Brock wrote the book. And the conservative backlash was fierce. Radio talk-show hosts Oliver North and G. Gordon Liddy refused to book Brock. New right leader Paul Weyrich said publicly that Brock's work couldn't be trusted. The National Review continued the attacks on his character, concluding that Brock "hates being trapped in the role of partisan conservative journalist, and this book is his misbegotten attempt at escape." But as Brock notes, "the criticism that I was 'soft' on Hillary was false. On the contrary, the book accepted and expanded on the predominant conservative view of Hillary as a committed leftist, ardent feminist, and hard-nosed political operator willing to compromise her ideals, cut ethical corners and defend a flawed marriage for power."Whether agreeing or not with Brock's portrait of the First Lady, what unmistakably emerges from The Seduction of Hillary Rodham is that it hasn't been only conservative publications such as The American Spectator, the National Review or The Weekly Standard that have launched nasty attacks on her character, personality and policy initiatives. The mainstream press has been as vicious and over-the-top in its attacks as any far right rag. This might mean that the mainstream media is not really mainstream at all, but conservative, or that the mainstream is conservative. But Brock's contention that "it is really the mainstream media's harsh portrait of Hillary that has stuck in the popular imagination" is uncontestable. A partial list of the more memorable slurs hurled her way contains these gems: According to the Wall Street Journal, Hillary is a "hard-edged, even mean-spirited, money grubber." Frank Rich in the New York Times called her a "congenital liar," Maureen Dowd in the same paper called her "mommie dearest." Other mainstream pundits have compared her to Leona Helmsley, Ma Barker, Eva Braun and Louis Farrakhan. Wow. That's some pretty bad press. And it didn't come from the pen of William F. Buckley.Personal attacks aside, perhaps the most distressing charges Brock makes against his former journalistic allies on the right concern what amounts to a willful disregard for the truth. Certainly there is always spin applied to most political reporting, be it from the left, the right or the center. But Brock cites examples of omission and deliberate deceit that rival the revisions of totalitarian hacks in the old Soviet Union. Discussing his role, for example, as a "source" in a book written by Gary Aldrich, a former FBI agent who at one time was assigned to cover the White House, Brock delineates how, even after he made it clear that he could not confirm the information attributed to him, and that it was in all likelihood false, editors at The Washington Times deleted his comments from a story challenging Aldrich's facts.At one point, Brock wonders "how much room there is in conservative politics for honest journalism." That's a good question, and one that needs to be asked of centrists and liberals as well. He might be as hit man, but this time Brock deserves high marks for straight shooting.