Review

Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-conservative

by David Brock



Can David Brock be believed when he names names and kicks some
serious booty in BLINDED BY THE RIGHT? Today Show host Matt
Lauer posed the question in an interview when the book was first
released in hardcover. Brock writes in a new preface to the
paperback version of the New York Times bestseller that "as
a leading conservative writer in the 1990s, I was confessing to
having been complicit in a propagandistic campaign of lies against
liberal targets --- Anita Hill and the Clintons, among others. The
question, of course, is one that all whistle blowers, publicly
exposing nefarious activities in which they themselves were largely
compromised, inevitably must confront."

He says that the "once a liar, always a liar" question is nearly
impossible to answer. He finally decided to throw himself on the
mercy of the court: "People could choose to believe me and my
account of 'the vast right wing conspiracy,' or they could choose
not to."

When Brock learned that galleys of the book were being faxed around
Washington prior to its initial release, he waited anxiously for
the right shoe to drop. It never did. While the book was favorably
reviewed in the mainstream press, conservative news organs such as
the New Republic, National Review, Washington
Times
and New York Post, as well as the Wall Street
Journal
, all surprisingly took a pass. Surprising, because
specific reporters and editorialists from each of these papers are
pretty thoroughly kicked in the shins throughout the book. Even
more surprising was that no efforts surfaced to discredit anything
he wrote of a personal nature about players in the media and in the
political arena. And personal they are ---blushingly so. He avers
that he has not been sued or even, except in a "gotcha" on the date
of a wedding, caught in an inaccuracy. In one case, a columnist at
the New York Daily News called to say that Matt Drudge,
author of a well-known online newsletter, had denied Brock's
allegation that he had hit on him in Los Angeles, following up with
a sexually suggestive email. When Brock faxed a copy of the
offending email to the Daily News columnist, he heard
nothing more.

Is BLINDED BY THE RIGHT the gospel on how the right wing operated
in Washington during the turbulent 1990s. Is it a how-to of yellow
journalism? Is it an apology, a catharsis, or a get-even gesture by
a man who was once the darling of the Washington right but then
scourged when he strayed from the path? It is, perhaps, some of
each. Brock alternates between braggadocio and self-flagellation
for his role in the bringing down of a president. He declares that
the right sought retaliation for the Democrats' successful attacks
on Judge Robert Bork during his Supreme Court nomination hearings,
and for the grilling Clarence Thomas took in his successful bid for
the high court.

It was payback time, and Brock was handpicked to deliver the
bill.

He begins with his days at Berkeley, where he was a liberal student
activist. A hater of communism, he saw how radical the left had
become in the early 1970s, and switched to the right as much to
play devil's advocate as to placate his conservative father. He
wrote for a Berkeley student newspaper, the Berkeley
Journal
, a conservative counterpoint to the prestigious
Berkeley Review. Openly gay, he says that he ignored the
signs of anti-gay sentiment among his conservative colleagues, a
pattern that would play a role in his future career in
Washington.

During the first Bush administration he worked as a reporter at the
Washington Times, owned by Rev. Sun Myung Moon. He left to
serve a one-year fellowship at The Heritage Foundation. It was
there that he met movers and shakers of the neo-conservative elite.
He learned to his surprise what little regard this group held
President Bush, who was often ridiculed for being "squishy" and
"weak." He recalls one celebrated incident when the wife of Ben
Hart, a Heritage executive, gives a dinner party where a replica of
President Bush's head was presented on a silver platter.

He chronicles, with abounding hubris, his rapid upward climb to
hobnob with the highest and mightiest on the GOP far right. As a
new reporter at the American Spectator he succeeded in
gaining interviews with the Arkansas State Troopers, which became
known as Troopergate. This event first broke the barrier on a
hands-off attitude by the press on a public figure's private life.
Years later he seems apologetic for his role in that fiasco, since
the troopers' allegations were later proved false, and in fact were
regarded as tall tales of using their privilege as Governor
Clinton's drivers and bodyguards to set up dates for themselves,
not Clinton. In his eagerness to publish the scuttlebutt, he
skipped basic fact checking --- as did his editors --- though he
shoulders sole responsibility for his carelessness. He claims to
have bluffed the Los Angeles Times into publishing a
Troopergate story, which would give his version more credence when
it appeared in the now defunct American Spectator.

After Troopergate he is approached to write an expose on Anita
Hill, the lawyer who testified against Clarence Thomas during his
Supreme Court appointment hearings. THE REAL ANITA HILL became a
bestseller and elevated Brock to a favorite on talk shows, the
banquet circuit, and invitations into the super-elite circle of the
Washington right. The Newt Gingrich crowd embraces him, and he
covers and uncovers many escapades of his peers. He details how the
Wall Street Journal's editorial pages climbed aboard the
right wing express and writes that, despite rampant rumors that the
Clintons were directly responsible for White House lawyer Vince
Foster's death, perhaps even committing murder, Foster's suicide
note implicates the Journal's hit pieces as a factor in the
depression that led to his shooting himself in a Washington
park.

Brock spares no one, not even himself, from excoriation.

Many years, hundreds of thousands of words, and millions of dollars
later, he discovers that not only was Anita Hill probably accurate
in her descriptions of Thomas's sexual proclivities, but that
Thomas's strongest supporters, who were financing and encouraging
Brock to write THE REAL ANITA HILL, apparently knew all along of
Thomas's questionable activities. This is, Brock says, when the
blinders came off. His neo-conservative friends had held him to
their collective bosom. He had entertained them in his DC
townhouse, rubbed elbows with the mighty at state dinners, and had
been wined and dined in lavish weekends in resort getaways. He was
elevated to a pedestal, showered with awards, keynote speaking
engagements, and television interviews.

It was while he was researching another surefire muckraking book on
Hillary Clinton to follow up on the Anita Hill blockbuster that he
discovered there was no scandal to disclose. He spent months
agonizing over how to structure the book as, for the fist time, he
interviewed people on both sides of the ideological spectrum. As he
showed his backers pieces of the draft, it became evident to them
that he was softening his strident invective and may actually be
standing up for Ms. Clinton. Social invitations began to dry up.
Rumors about his until then accepted or ignored gay lifestyle began
to be whispered about. When THE SEDUCTION OF HILLARY RODHAM was
finally published, he became a pariah, flung aside as a poisonous
asp.

How credible is Brock's account of the part he plays in the
downfall of the Clinton White House? BLINDED BY THE RIGHT is touted
by the New York Times as "a key document for historians
seeking to understand the ethos of the incoherent 90s." The
Washington Post called it "A chilling portrait...of a
partisan attack machine." Meanwhile, Brock points out that the
who's who of the far right now sits in some of the highest
positions of power in Washington. Names that we see daily in the
media crop up generously throughout the book as major players in
the bringing down of a presidency.

Is David Brock the poster boy for success in irresponsible
reporting? How well a new book by Stephen Glass fares may be a
test. Fired for his "creative journalism" at the New
Republic
, his newly released fiction novel is based on his own
experience. We shall also see whether disgraced New York
Times
reporter Jason Blair can cash in on his transgressions.
Undoubtedly, there is an audience out there for the saga of a lazy
reporter with a propensity for peeking at his neighbor's test
paper.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 21, 2011

Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-conservative
by David Brock

  • Publication Date: February 25, 2003
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press
  • ISBN-10: 1400047285
  • ISBN-13: 9781400047284