---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 19 Mar 2002 14:53:19 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: The Liar's Tale [Gitlin]
March 17 2002
The Liar's Tale
BLINDED BY THE RIGHT: THE CONSCIENCE OF AN EX-CONSERVATIVE,
BY DAVID BROCK, CROWN: 336 PP., $25.95
By TODD GITLIN
Decades ago, self-revolted ex-communists personified History with a
capital H when they brought back news of grand error and grand turnabout.
Big ideas were at stake--and to blame. The six fine writers who
contributed to the 1949 classic "The God That Failed" had chosen
communism in the dire 1930s before coming to realize its systematic
inhumanity. Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Stephen Spender, Richard
Wright, Louis Fischer and Andre Gide, intellectuals all, wrote
thoughtfully, even serenely.
By contrast, Whittaker Chambers' "Witness" (1952) was a fervid exercise
in spiritual self-renewal, flooded by the certainty that History, having
betrayed Chambers by recruiting him for Soviet espionage, was now on his
right side. Chambers, having arguably done far more direct damage, was
correspondingly more agitated in the aftermath.
David Brock's "Blinded by the Right" is a confession of a tawdrier color,
though no less a classic contribution to this significant literature of
our time. Arguably, Brock played a more momentous part in his movement
than did his confessional predecessors in theirs. Accordingly, he is
hugely contrite. He has much to be contrite about--much, much more than
he owned up to in a confessional article published in Esquire in 1997.
Anyone wishing to understand America in the 1990s will have to read his
book. This time the conspirators are assassins of character (of Anita
Hill, Bill Clinton), not of Trotsky. The right-wing crowd Brock fell in
with in the late 1980s and 1990s was not terribly interested in ideas.
These well-fed propagandists and lawyers (including an appellate court
judge) moved among Washington D.C. townhouses and restaurants scheming to
obstruct liberal causes and bring down the elected government of Clinton,
whom they mistook for the antichrist.
These slash-and-burn power-seekers fancied themselves "conservative" but
were, and are, Brock says, "a radical cult," well-placed, well-funded and
ruthless, who organized single-mindedly to get power by smearing their
opponents and who succeeded brilliantly, with no small assist from him.
As a student at UC Berkeley in the early 1980s, young Brock (born 1962)
found himself revolted by a stifling "political correctness," an
atmosphere he exaggerates. Berkeley seems to have sent him around the
bend, but it does not seem to have taken much to put him in a crusading
state of mind.
From Berkeley onward, a network of right-wing foundations, think tanks
and publications recruited, welcomed and subsidized him, escorting him
from assignment to assignment, putting him on the national map.
Right-wing campus journalism brought him to the attention of the Rev. Sun
Myung Moon's Washington Times in the Reagan years, which in turn took him
to the Heritage Foundation, from which he launched himself as a freelance
writer for the American Spectator, then onward and upward into the
innards of what he calls "a highly profitable, right-wing Big Lie machine
that flourished in book publishing, on talk radio and on the Internet
through the '90s."
Enamored of Clarence Thomas, Brock came to national notice as the author
of a Spectator article, "The Real Anita Hill," which gave the world the
memorable smear, "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty."
"Doing everything I could to ruin Hill's credibility," Brock writes, "I
took a scattershot approach, dumping virtually every derogatory--and
often contradictory--allegation I had collected on Hill from the Thomas
camp into the mix," producing "a witches' brew of fact, allegation,
hearsay, speculation, opinion, and invective labeled by my editors as
Boosted by Rush Limbaugh, Brock rolled this piece into a bestselling
attack book by the same name. "Inventing" a conspiracy theory, he writes,
he "unconsciously projected onto the liberals what I knew and saw and
learned of the right wing's operations."
How could such a career fail to flourish? He took money from a fervent
Republican investor named Peter Smith ("I was a whore for the cash"), who
put him in touch with a crew of Arkansas Clinton-haters. Failing to
unearth a Clinton love child, they did deliver the state troopers who fed
Brock with unsubstantiated allegations about Clinton's sexual exploits.
These Brock dutifully loaded into a Spectator article that, in passing,
mentioned a woman named Paula who alleged sexual harassment by then-
governor Clinton. On the strength of this mention, a young woman named
Paula Jones came forward to sue Clinton, permitting her right-wing
lawyers to take depositions on the now-president's sex life, and the rest
Brock has an important idea about the schemers who brought down Clinton.
Among the pungent details in his self-purgative, name-naming memoir are
these about the right-wing Washington organizer Grover Norquist: "Grover
admired the iron dedication of Lenin, whose dictum, 'Probe with bayonets,
looking for weakness' he often quoted, and whose majestic portrait hung
in Grover's Washington living room."
The morning of George W. Bush's inauguration, the same Norquist told a
Republican "unity breakfast": "The lefties, the takers, the coercive
utopians.... They are not stupid, they are evil. EVIL." Such overkill is
not incidental. When sufficiently well-funded ("sugar daddy" Richard
Mellon Scaife shoveled more than $200 million into right-wing causes),
rhetorical extravagance moves the rhetoric to a state of extremity at
which evidence does not matter and hatred burns out of control. Brock
was good at this genre, and he was only one fevered slinger of false
Another, he writes, was former George W. Bush lawyer and now-Solicitor
General Ted Olson who, he reveals, anonymously noted for the Spectator
that "the appropriate comparison for Clinton may well turn out to be Don
Corleone." What fuels such furies? What accounts for the take-no-
prisoners ferocity of what Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1998 was mocked for
calling a "vast right-wing conspiracy" to smear her husband long before
he set foot in the Oval Office? Even about himself there remain
mysteries, for Brock maintains that he "never shared" the "hard-right
ideology" that he served.
He does try out one interesting notion. A goodly number of his
co-conspirators are closeted gays, as Brock was. They called themselves
"laissez fairies." Most, he writes, were "in a constant state of panic
about being discovered." They were, Brock thinks, classic projectors of
their own inner demons.
But this is too simple. Brock knew many heterosexual ragers too, not the
least of which were many young attractive women. Why their fanatical
bitterness toward Clinton and all his works? The strength of Brock's
account does not lie in analysis. It's in his atmospherics and his moral
revulsion, his revolt against himself and his lies.
To supply sufficient motive to the protagonists of his tale, he might
have reflected on the right's demonization of Clinton. Long before Monica
Lewinsky had sent her curriculum vitae to the White House, Clinton was
cast as the draft-dodging, non-inhaling, Hillary-marrying, zipper-
lowering, deep-South-betraying smarty pants who had the talent and
audacity to win--and rescue the Democrats from the marginality to which
the Reagan movement had consigned them.
When he dwelt in "the depths of depravity," Brock did not reflect much on
the moral or political consequences of the Clinton-haters' corrupt
crusade. Certainly his allies did not quiver with conscience qualms. They
wanted results, period--and obtained them. Between judges and
journalists, they succeeded brilliantly. Their impeachment drive crippled
Clinton, stopped Al Gore in his tracks and ended the brief Democratic
Now the question arises of why Brock, who cut corners as "a witting cog
in the Republican sleaze machine," a knowing liar who "mounted a cover-up
to protect [Clarence] Thomas," deserves to be believed as a whistle-
blower. One reason to take him seriously is that he is not particularly
On Page 7, he admits to what he himself calls "an embarrassing lie"
during the time when he reacted to left-wing excess at Berkeley by
veering right as a journalist for the student-run Daily Californian. He
acknowledges other, bigger living lies: keeping from friends the facts
that he was adopted and gay.
He notes that, late in the game, he wrote a remorseful letter to Hill,
confessing that he had maligned her. Hill left him a voicemail message in
response. Even as he was turning, he "could not get up the nerve to
return Hill's call," Brock writes. Eventually Brock got up the courage to
detoxify, finding Hillary Clinton innocent of the voluminous charges his
buddies leveled against her.
There does not seem to have been a Hollywood moment, an Aha! when he
decided to end his career as a paid propagandist and resolved to save
himself. He tells us how he wearied of lying while confronting the
Juanita Broaddrick rape charge, an accusation against Clinton whose
plausibility melted away the closer Brock approached it. "When I examined
the underlying record" on Whitewater, he also writes, "I found that
rather than implicating Hillary along the lines suggested by the
Republicans, it exculpated her."
Despite a few trivial errors in his Berkeley pages, Brock's account
overall rings with plausibility. On Thomas and Hill, his account
dovetails with Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson's book, "Strange Justice."
On Clinton and Arkansas, his account dovetails with previous unrefuted
accounts by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons and Jeffrey Toobin.
Attack journalism will have its way with Brock and may shake some
details, but the last harsh laugh is likely to be his. Still, no one
concerned about truth will be laughing. Brock has the decency to come
clean and apologize, but his onetime allies ride unrepentant and high.
Todd Gitlin is the author of, most recently, "Media Unlimited: How the
Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives."
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