Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative , by David Brock. Crown, 336 pages, $25.95.
I’m afraid you really are going to have to read this book just to see what you think of it. “This is a terrible book,” David Brock begins. “It is about lies told and reputations ruined. It is about what the conservative movement did, and what I did, as we plotted together in the shadows, disregarded the law, and abused power to win even greater power.”
He continues: “My story is about those familiar corrupting influences of ambition, greed and ego …. It is also about the dangers of extremism in a political cause, and about how one can be blinded to the ethics of one’s own actions.”
I believe Blinded by the Right lives up to Mr. Brock’s billing, but I recommend you make your own judgment. Passionate partisans of both right and left particularly need to read the book.
In some ways, it’s a moral version of The Perils of Pauline : Our hungry young protagonist set out from Berkeley, Calif., slipped, fell, went from bad to worse to unspeakable, and then found some dimensions beyond that. All in the blithe assumption he was serving the Greater Good. Well after he started questioning his own motives, Mr. Brock nastily tried to blackmail a woman who was someone else’s source into backing down on a story (the blackmail evidence was provided, according to Mr. Brock, by Justice Clarence Thomas). At this point, even if you’re sympathetic toward David Brock, you can’t help but be amazed by what a shit he was. And I’m not sure he hasn’t done it yet again in this book.
He keeps gamely trying to explain it all, with heavy emphasis on the inherent falsity of being a closeted gay. Even granted the moral quandaries of that dilemma, there’s too much closeted-gay angst in Blinded by the Right . Another recurring theme is how Mr. Brock and his fellow “Third Generation” conservatives were just reacting to the dread excesses of political correctness he says dominated campuses in the 1970’s. He could have saved himself a lot of trouble by going to Texas A&M.
At Berkeley he watched as then–U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick was shouted down by a group of leftist protesters-to the point where she could not speak at all. Mr. Brock, then a reporter for the college paper, quite rightly reacted against this offensive stupidity. He reports that the only support for free speech on the campus came from conservatives. As a longtime American Civil Liberties Union liberal who has been through innumerable battles on behalf of every damn body’s right to speak, my reaction is, What are we, chopped liver? You have to admit, the ACLU will go to bat for anybody-Nazis, Kluckers, Ollie North.
Our man went off to Washington where he fell into the big, fat middle not of a right-wing conspiracy, but a vast agglomeration of like-minded people possessed by both seething anger and stupefying self-righteousness. I find Mr. Brock’s hindsight comments on the nature of conspiracy quite sensible. What a web it is, with several peculiar foundations at the center of it, and the perfectly astonishing Richard Mellon Scaife at the heart of it.
Mr. Brock started at what has to be one of the most peculiar newspapers in America, The Washington Times , funded by the Rev. Sung Myung Moon. Here begins a third strain of self-exculpation: No one ever taught our man how to be a journalist. I think this theme deserves serious consideration. Poor Mr. Brock actually thought himself a reporter, as though he and Danny Pearl were of the same species. I don’t like the idea of credentializing journalism, which is more a craft than a profession. But someone has to teach you a craft, too. It seems to me there’s a real problem with letting loose to attack a President someone who has never had to report accurately a five-car pileup or a county commissioners’ meeting.
As though The Washington Times weren’t bad enough, Mr. Brock then moved on to The American Spectator , a publication whose practices left me blinking like an owl. I worked for a small political magazine myself for six years: The Spectator is from another planet. Here Mr. Brock had free rein to attack Anita Hill (“a little nutty and a little slutty”), not to mention the infamous Troopergate story, using sources that wouldn’t pass muster if you were writing “Elvis Lives!” for a tabloid. How this crap got into the mainstream media is one of the most fascinating parts of the book.
A lot of it, however, is not new. In the late 90’s, Mr. Brock wrote a series of articles for Esquire in which he explained much of what he’d done, and he turns out to have been a major source for Joe Conason and Gene Lyons in their excellent book The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton . The reason this material is still interesting is that mainstream journalism has yet to back off and look at the Clinton scandals with any perspective. As an occasional visitor to Washington during the final standoff, I never saw anything politically odder. Two great power centers, the White House and the Starr investigation, stood blazing hatred at one another across the city; I couldn’t find anyone who hadn’t taken sides. Mr. Brock tells a big piece of the story of how we got there.
Blinded by the Right has several weaknesses. David Brock still hasn’t learned how to attribute everything he needs to, and the writing is sometimes clunky-he has a tendency to start sentences with information about how someone looks and dresses before inserting a comma and moving on to the news. And fairly often Mr. Brock uses the wrong word, off by a shade or two. Perhaps I should be even more wary of his book: Remember that his Anita Hill hatchet job got respectful views from The New York Times , among others, for its supposedly damning accretion of fact.
I do have one major qualm: During his years in Washington, Mr. Brock’s “surrogate parents,” the couple that fed him dinners, cheered for him in victory, rooted for him in defeat and advised him (badly) in peril, were Judge Lawrence Silberman of the D.C. Court of Appeals and his wife, Ricky. If what I read in this book is true, Judge Silberman should be impeached as quickly as possible. Having known jurists of the ethical caliber of William Wayne Justice, who will not even voice his political opinions much less conspire for them, I almost vomited on reading of the Silbermans’ tawdry role in this cabal. (Journalists may need to examine their consciences over Clinton scandals, but by God there are a lot of lawyers and judges who deserve some dark nights of the soul.) So here’s David Brock, once again, this time stabbing in the back not someone whom he never met or even bothered to do an honest job of reporting on, but two people who were apparently endlessly kind to him. God help him.
I had forgotten about it until I saw it mentioned in his new book, but many years ago I wrote a column about Mr. Brock’s The Real Anita Hill headlined “Save Yourself $24.95.” This time around-not, I hope, for partisan reasons, but because I think everyone needs to gnaw through this one to reach his own conclusions-I’d say spend the $25.95.
Molly Ivins’ next book, Shrub II , will follow up on her best-seller, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (Vintage).