David Brock Gets Slimed

Conservative hit-man journalist turned contrite Esquire contributor David Brock came home to his Georgetown town house the night of March 15 to find the front steps covered with an unidentifiable green slime. Mr. Brock followed the slime up the stairs, where he found still more slime, a champagne bottle filled with the same mysterious substance, and a slime-soaked note from his former editor at The American Spectator , Wladyslaw Pleszczynski. “David,” the note read, “Loyalty, alas, is a two-way proposition. For all I know, the bottle is filled with green goo.”

Mr. Brock was puzzled. “I thought it was some sort of prank that had something to do with my poor relationship with The American Spectator ,” he said. “But the note seemed so serious.”

It turns out that the green goo incident was a heartfelt gesture that went awry, the latest gaffe by conservatives who, despite their best efforts, are doing much to turn the roguish Mr. Brock into a sympathetic figure. (See New York Post editorial page editor John Podhoretz’s open letter to Mr. Brock on March 12, which was signed, in grade school fashion, “Your Former Friend.”) They’re sore at Mr. Brock-who made a name for himself by attacking Anita Hill and breaking the “Troopergate” story-for apologizing to President Bill Clinton in his latest Esquire piece, a letter to Mr. Clinton in which Mr. Brock wondered publicly, “What the hell was I doing investigating your private life in the first place?”

In the article, and in recent television appearances to promote it, Mr. Brock has discredited his original story and revealed unflattering information about his former employer, The American Spectator -e.g., that the magazine’s editor in chief, R. Emmett Tyrrell, offered to pay Arkansas state troopers to dish about Mr. Clinton, and that the magazine funded a shady Clinton-hating enterprise known as the Arkansas Project. “I have a certain authority to talk about the right-wing conspiracy because I was part of it,” Mr. Brock said. “That pisses them off.”

Apparently, one of the pissed-off conservatives was Mr. Pleszczynski. As Mr. Brock’s former champion at The Spectator , he took the comments personally. And Mr. Pleszczynski had an idea of how he could let his former protégé know of his displeasure.

For the past couple of years, Mr. Brock has given Mr. Pleszczynski a bottle of champagne at Christmas. Mr. Pleszczynski is not much of a drinker, so he still had last year’s champagne bottle at home. He decided he’d send the damn thing back. Mr. Pleszczynski dashed off a note-sarcastically adding the “green goo” line, a reference to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s March 11 query, “What is the green goo spewing out of David Brock’s mouth?” On Friday, March 13, Mr. Pleszczynski asked an intern at The Spectator to deliver the bottle and note to Mr. Brock’s Georgetown home.

Apparently, the intern was more of a drinker than Mr. Pleszczynski. Sometime over the weekend, he downed the champagne with some friends. Then the well-lubricated youngsters got a funny idea: They’d buy some green liquid detergent and pour it all over Mr. Brock’s house. Green goo!

Mr. Brock came home on Sunday evening-just hours after a Meet the Press appearance in which he had argued presciently, “In Washington, we’ve got to stop sliming each other”-to find he had indeed been slimed. Mr. Brock tiptoed around the goo puddles, found the champagne bottle and managed to extract Mr. Pleszczynski’s note from a sopping envelope. Its seriousness, in contrast to the adolescent nature of the prank, had Mr. Brock thinking: sociopath.

“I wondered if my dog was alive,” he said.

Mr. Brock was relieved to find his dog in good health. He concluded that Mr. Pleszczynski’s gesture was harmless, though the incident left him concerned about his former editor’s mental state. The two men haven’t spoken since the incident. Mr. Brock was relieved to learn that the goo-smearing was the work of a buzzed intern, not Mr. Pleszczynski. And Mr. Pleszczynski made it clear that he was embarrassed by the outcome of his heartfelt snub.

“The bottle was supposed to have been delivered unopened and unconsumed,” Mr. Pleszczyski said. He said that Mr. Brock should soon receive an apology from the intern, and added that the incident confirmed at least one argument Mr. Brock made at The Spectator before leaving. “One of David’s last complaints to me,” Mr. Pleszczynski said, “was that it’s hard to find good interns these days.”

The Esquire story and the backlash against Mr. Brock yielded yet another ancillary victim in the Washington, D.C., sex wars: a former press secretary to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton named Neel Lattimore.

In an attempt to impugn Mr. Brock in the days following his article, the conservative rumor mill produced a tale that the former attack-dog reporter, who is gay, had changed his political stripes out of loyalty to a purported boyfriend, Mr. Lattimore. The story came with a price for Mr. Lattimore, who now works at the Washington political consulting firm BSMG International. Before the rumor hit the airwaves-first broadcast by Paula Jones’ big-haired “adviser,” Susan Carpenter-McMillan, during a segment on MSNBC on March 13-Mr. Lattimore wasn’t exactly out.

“I was watching [MSNBC] on Friday when this came up, and I was just startled,” Mr. Lattimore said. “I just don’t talk about my personal life … I never wanted to be outed in this public of a way.”

The story had circulated widely by week’s end, and as Mr. Brock was preparing for an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on March 15, a source said, Tim Russert, the host, approached him and asked if he wanted an opportunity to address the Lattimore story. Mr. Brock said Yes. So later in the program, Mr. Russert lobbed up the question, and Mr. Brock called the Lattimore rumor “just false.”

“He does not live with me,” Mr. Brock said on TV. “We have not dated. There’s no affair. There’s nothing to that.” By the end of the afternoon, Mr. Lattimore said his home answering machine was full of messages from “people who were outraged I was gay.”

The incident seems to bear out one aspect of Mr. Brock’s mea culpa in Esquire, that the more political dialogue is supplanted by “sexual witch hunts,” the more likely “we will destroy everyone in public life.”

Mr. Lattimore is coping with the public discussion of his sexual orientation. “When you come into work and someone you barely know asks you if you’re dating David Brock,” he said, “well, you’re out.”

After a spate of articles appeared portraying him as an old crank, Harold Evans has called the dogs off the bothersome man he deemed a “journalistic stalker”-shiny-headed freelancer and aspiring dramatist Toby Young.

Mr. Evans started the row in the wake of an article Mr. Young wrote for the British magazine The Spectator that suggested, in Mr. Evans’ words, “that I have lied about my career, acted beyond my authority as president and publisher of Random House, am generally incompetent, and since my arrival in the United States in 1984 have had to be found ‘figurehead’ roles by a friend.” Mr. Evans first asked for a retraction, but when the editors of The Spectator refused, he upped the ante, demanding damages and legal fees and threatening to sue under Britain’s harsh libel laws.

The gamble backfired. Mr. Young, in a publicity coup even Mr. Evans could admire, told anyone who’d listen-first Off the Record, then a dozen or so other publications here and in the Britain-that Mr. Evans was really out to squelch Liberté, Egalité, Publicité , Mr. Young’s yet-to-be financed media-world farce about a couple who strongly resemble Mr. Evans and his wife, New Yorker editor Tina Brown. Newspapers in Britain sounded a common theme: “Harry has become truly American and lost his sense of humor,” wrote The Independent . “Give it up, Harry!”

Mr. Evans took the advice. In the end, through his lawyer in London, he dropped most of his demands. The Spectator agreed to run a lengthy 13-point rebuttal to Mr. Young’s “phony thesis,” as Mr. Evans put it. And the magazine agreed to give Mr. Evans 24 hours’ notice if it plans to reprint five particularly irksome allegations, e.g., that Mr. Evans “lied about the circumstances in which he left Random House,” or that his “new job as editorial director of the New York Daily News is nothing more than a ‘figurehead’ role.” The day’s notice affords Mr. Evans a chance to seek an injunction against publication of the offending material.

Despite the wave of “publicité,” Mr. Young reports that his media-world play still has no financing, but if the farce ever makes it to the stage, he said he’d consider giving Mr. Evans a cut. “Harry has given me a lot of great publicity,” Mr. Young said. “If my play ends up being produced, maybe I ought to give him 10 percent.”