Blinded by the Right

by David Brock

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Anyone who took even a passing interest in American politics during the 1990’s could not fail to be aware of the acrimonious atmosphere that pervaded national politics. Partisan battles raged as left and right fought to win control over the political and cultural life of the nation. A taste of what was to come occurred in 1991, when the whole nation was riveted to its television screens during the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Thomas was accused by a law professor, Anita Hill, of sexual harassment, and the hearings contained the kind of lurid detail that is normally confined to supermarket tabloids. Thomas was narrowly confirmed to the Supreme Court, but the vicious infighting that accompanied the process would scar political debate for years to come.

Brock, who made his own contribution to the Thomas affair by writing a book that, he now admits, unjustly smeared Anita Hill, has written a memoir in which he in effect renounces his past. He freely admits to the most damning of sins in a journalist charged with delivering factual information to the public: he lied deliberately, repeatedly, and unashamedly. He was so caught up in his desire to serve the radical right that he lost his integrity in the process. Now he wants to cleanse his soul by confessing the truth. Blinded by the Right does not make pleasant reading, since there seem to be no depths of mendacity to which Brock, the right-wing hit man, would not sink in order to further his own journalistic career. He seems now to be genuinely ashamed of many of the things that he did, but given his consistent track record of lying to suit himself, the reader might be forgiven for wondering whether he is indeed telling the truth and nothing but the truth this time around.

Brock began his political life as a liberal; his hero was Democratic icon Robert F. Kennedy. However, when he attended the University of California at Berkeley in the early 1980’s, he underwent a conversion experience. Disturbed by what he saw as intolerance on the part of the student left, Brock’s misgivings came to a head when Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, visited the campus. Kirkpatrick was an outspoken supporter of U.S. anticommunist policies in Central America, and when she visited Berkeley, student liberal activists shouted her down and she was unable to deliver even a word of her speech. Shocked by this incident, Brock gravitated toward conservatism and in his remaining undergraduate years forged a reputation for himself as a conservative journalist on the main student newspaper at Berkeley, the Daily Cal. In 1986, Brock moved to Washington D.C. and got a job as a news reporter with the conservative Washington Times newspaper. He became increasingly devoted to the conservative cause, and for InsightThe Washington Times’ weekly newsmagazine, he wrote an article in support of the notoriously brutal regime of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile, ignoring the regime’s record of torture and other gross human rights abuses. This set the tone for Brock’s later work. He saw himself as part of a movement that had declared war on the political left and his job as the prosecution of a war with all the journalistic means he could muster. It was “us” against “them.”

In explaining how he got caught up in this way of thinking, Brock writes that he was content to think what everyone else in the conservative movement was thinking. He claims that he never thought deeply about conservative ideology, nor did he see...

(This entire section contains 1761 words.)

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any conflict in his being a homosexual man in the largely antihomosexual Republican party, although he did not publicly disclose his sexual orientation until 1994. During the 1980’s, according to Brock, the Republican Party did not show the hostility toward gays that would characterize it a decade later. Nonetheless, as a closeted homosexual, Brock admits that he was an unhappy man, unable to create meaningful personal relationships. He now realizes that it was his personal misery that in part produced his vituperative writings: “A mad dog, an emotional monster, was about to be released.”

The first fruit of the “mad dog” was The Real Anita Hill (1993), in which Brock tried to prove that Hill’s accusation of sexual harassment against Thomas was a liberal conspiracy to frame the nominee. Brock dressed up his theory to create a superficially plausible book, while accepting at face value virtually every salacious rumor about Hill that he could find. Now, Brock, the repentant sinner, can hardly find enough words to repudiate his work and to castigate himself. The book, he writes, was “a witches’ brew of fact, allegation, hearsay, speculation, opinion, and invective.” It was “sloppy, skewed, slanderous.” His famous phrase about Hill (“a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty”) was “degraded sarcasm—inexcusable, disgusting.” Rarely can an author have repudiated his own work with such loathing, although Brock still claims that at the time he believed his reporting was solid and accurate.

The success of The Real Anita Hill boosted Brock’s emerging status as a journalistic soldier of the right. It was at this time that a motley collection of right-wing activists, refusing to accept Bill Clinton as the nation’s legitimate president, was beginning its long, unscrupulous campaign to bring Clinton down. According to Brock, this effort to dig up scandals relating to both Bill and Hillary Clinton showed a “lack of fidelity to any standard of proof, principle, or propriety.” At the time, Brock was as eager as anyone to put his nose in the mud. He accepted money from a Republican activist named Peter Smith to investigate Clinton’s past in Arkansas. As he describes his role in this dirty tricks operation, Brook’s self-loathing surfaces once more: “I was a whore for the cash,” he writes.

This was the origin of “Troopergate.” As with the rumors masquerading as facts in The Real Anita Hill, none of the accusations against Clinton were anything more than unsubstantiated stories told by state troopers seeking financial reward by turning on their former boss. At the time, Brock did not see it that way and he even chose to publish rumors that the troopers themselves admitted were only their speculations. Brock now condemns this article as a “cruel smear disguised as a thorough ‘investigation.’”

Brock’s next adventure was to participate in the Arkansas Project, launched by The Spectatormagazine and financed by the reclusive billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. The aim was to comb the state of Arkansas searching for scandals that would bring Clinton down. It was this project that gave Brock insight into “the underbelly of Arkansas’s political culture, a hotbed of conspiracy and lunacy.”

At the same time that he was fishing in the murky waters of Arkansas politics, Brock’s journalistic integrity reached its nadir. It came in his response to the book Strange Justice (1994) by Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, two Wall Street Journal reporters. The book made it abundantly clear that it was Clarence Thomas, not Anita Hill, who had lied during Senate confirmation hearings. In a desperate attempt to discredit the book, Brock dug up sensitive personal information about one of Mayer and Abramson’s sources and threatened to use it against her, just as he “had blackened the reputations of all the other women who had come forward with damaging information about Thomas,” unless she cooperated with him. In the negative review he wrote forThe Spectator, Brock concluded that no evidence existed that Thomas had ever rented a pornographic video (which was an important part of the case against him). Brock now admits that when he wrote those words, he knew they were false. Further, he concludes, “I trashed the professional reputations of two journalists for reporting something I knew was correct. I coerced an unsteady source, I knowingly published a lie, and I falsified the historical record.”

Brock’s deliberate flouting of journalistic ethics finally brought on a crisis of conscience. In his next book, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham (1996), he refused to produce the kind of work that Clinton’s enemies were expecting. Instead, the book was a fair-minded, even sympathetic portrait of the First Lady. As a result, Brock’s days in the conservative movement were numbered. He had failed to do what was expected of him and he would now see how intolerant and ruthless his former associates, some of them personal friends, could be. He was, as he puts it, blackballed and excommunicated from the movement whose dirty work he had for so long been so willing to do.

How is one to assess such an unusual memoir, one in which the author, instead of burnishing his achievements, consistently denigrates and repudiates them? Certainly Brock deserves some credit for making what must have been a difficult public confession. The book is also startlingly illuminating regarding the lengths to which some activists on the right went in order to attack the Clintons and the unreasoning level of hatred that the political right bore them. However, Brock’s book, while often illuminating, is spoiled by its spiteful, gossipy tone. He has not been able to lose his habit of dishing out the dirt. For example, he accuses Richard Mellon Scaife of no less a crime than murder; he attempts to discredit Juanita Broderick, the woman who accused Clinton of raping her; he accuses one of his former friends, a female conservative well known as a television pundit, of anti-Semitism (she left her lawyer’s job in New York “to get away from all these Jews”); he sees fit to inform the reader that another former friend and cable television news personality once pulled a gun on a boyfriend after he broke up with her; he gratuitously insults liberal journalist Christopher Hitchens; and, perhaps worst of all, he “outs” a well-known media personality by printing a private e-mail that the man, who has publicly denied being gay, sent to him. It is a pity that Brock did not have an editor who could have advised him against this kind of pointless and mean- spirited disclosure, which serves nobody. In addition, it is ironic that, while Brock’s earlier work came complete with all the trappings of scholarship, this book has none. There are no footnotes and no index, and none of the quotations are referenced. One wonders why.

Sources for Further Study

Commentary 113 (May, 2002): 84.

Library Journal 127 (April 15, 2002): 108.

The Nation 274 (April 8, 2002): 25.

The New York Times Book Review 107 (March 24, 2002): 14.

Publishers Weekly 249 (April 8, 2002): 22.

Time 158 (July 9, 2001): 28.