As he tells the story, David Brock's life changed profoundly one day during his sophomore year at the University of California at Berkeley. On that day, he began a journey that would eventually lead to a starring role in the "vast right-wing conspiracy" that crippled a presidency.
The date was February 15, 1983. United Nations ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick was scheduled to deliver a speech on human rights at Wheeler Auditorium on campus. At the time, Brock was a young reporter for the Daily Californian, and he recalls getting the assignment to cover Kirkpatrick's spiel "quite by chance." As a liberal who decorated his dormitory room with postcards depicting the Reagans as the victims of a nuclear holocaust, Brock didn't consider the speech a juicy assignment. He thought the talk would be a dry academic address from one of the Reagan administration's leading wonks.
It was anything but dry. Protesters repeatedly heckled Kirkpatrick, the architect of President Reagan's anticommunist foreign policy in Central America. According to several news accounts, they shouted "US out of El Salvador," "Genocide in Guatemala," "Forty thousand dead," and for an added touch of disrespect, loudly squeaked air from balloons. Kirkpatrick walked off the stage in frustration, escorted by security guards. Although she soon returned and finished the rest of her speech, Kirkpatrick went on to cancel another Cal appearance scheduled for the next day.
"The scene shook me deeply," Brock recalled in "The Making of a Conservative," a chapter from his new confessional memoir. "Was the harassment of an unpopular speaker the legacy of the Berkeley-campus Free Speech Movement, when students demanded the right to canvass for any and all political causes on the campus's Sproul Plaza? Wasn't free speech a liberal value? How, I wondered, could this thought police call itself liberal? As I raced back to the threadbare offices of the Daily Cal, where we tapped out stories on half-sheets of paper hunched over manual typewriters, my adrenaline was pumping. I knew I had the day's lead story."
There was just one problem with Brock's account of the event he claimed had radically altered his worldview: It wasn't true.
David Brock is a liar. It's one of the few things people of all political persuasions can agree he has told the truth about.
This well-earned reputation for dishonesty notwithstanding, Brock managed to wreak more havoc on American politics in the 1990s than any other journalist. As a reporter for the archconservative Washington Times, and later for the reactionary American Spectator, Brock was a participant in what Hillary Clinton once called the "vast right-wing conspiracy."
Brock's nasty stories for the Spectator earned him his credentials as a right-wing hit man. The victim of his breakthrough character assassination was Anita Hill, the woman who accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexually harassing her when she worked for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Brock's article, "The Real Anita Hill," portrayed Hill as, among other things, "a bit nutty and a bit slutty," although Brock misquotes himself in his book, recalling the line as "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty." Conservative radio kingpin Rush Limbaugh read excerpts from the story on his nationally syndicated program. Dittoheads gobbled it up. Brock's sensationalistic efforts helped boost the magazine's circulation from 30,000 to 300,000, and the young reporter parlayed his newfound notoriety into a best-selling book, also titled The Real Anita Hill.
Then came the election of Bill Clinton, the first Democrat sent to the White House in more than a decade. Culture warriors such as the mysterious multimillionaire Richard Mellon Scaife made ruining Clinton their top goal. Brock and the Spectator were only too happy to oblige. In December 1993, Brock wrote a lurid tale relying on interviews with four Arkansas state troopers who claimed that their official duties included helping Governor Clinton cheat on his wife. Portions of the article would later be discredited, including a suggestion that Clinton tried to silence a trooper by offering him a federal job. But it was a throwaway line from the piece that had the most lasting impact: Brock quoted a trooper as saying he helped facilitate a hotel encounter for his boss with a woman he only remembered as "Paula." Paula turned out to be Paula Jones, the woman who later filed a lawsuit against the president with the backing of Clinton-hating conservatives. That led to what some have called the "perjury trap," in which Clinton was asked under oath about having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. And that, of course, led to Clinton's impeachment by the House of Representatives.
Now Brock is promoting a tell-all book about his role in this conspiracy. Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative begins with an odd warning not often found in personal memoirs: "This is a terrible book. It is about lies told and reputations ruined. It is about what the conservative movement did, and what I did, as we plotted in the shadows, disregarded the law, and abused power to win even greater power."
Brock filled his book with a generous amount of scorn for himself and his former conservative coconspirators. He admits taking a $5,000 check from GOP fund-raiser Peter Smith to look into whether Clinton fathered a love child with a prostitute. He says pinup pundit Ann Coulter once told him she wanted to leave her New York law firm "to get away from all those Jews." He claims that former White House assistant counsel Mark Paoletta privately conceded to him that Thomas rented pornography, just as Anita Hill had alleged to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He charges that senatorial aide Terry Wooten, who later became a US district court judge in South Carolina, passed along the confidential FBI file of another female witness who could have offered damaging testimony on Thomas. He claims that US Solicitor General Ted Olson, then a high-powered Republican attorney and member of the Spectator's board of directors, played a prominent role in the Scaife-financed "Arkansas Project" that dug up dirt on Clinton. He says that friend and Thomas apologist Ricky Silberman gasped to him over the phone after reading a balanced account of the Thomas-Hill hearings, "He did it, didn't he?"
As the first insider account from this milieu, Blinded by the Right garnered its author a flurry of high-profile media interviews and a spot on the New York Times bestseller list for the past eight weeks. Brock has made countless TV appearances flogging his book, himself, and his old pals. Talk magazine printed an excerpt in which he admitted using dubious information to smear Anita Hill. New York Times columnist Frank Rich devoted 3,335 words in the paper's Sunday magazine to the book, which he said "may be a key document for historians seeking to understand the ethos of the incoherent '90s." But Rich also cautioned, "By his own account, Brock has lied so often that a reader can't take on faith some of the juicier newsbreaks from the impeachment era in his book."