Old Smoke: DUMBO's Track Marks

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Like most gossip columnists, the Washington Post’s Lloyd Grove is as political as any D.C. operative. He certainly knows whom he can get away with smearing and whom he cannot. It’s a fine line: You’ve got to show you have some balls–but go too far and you’ll have those balls cut off. In this context, someone like David Brock is an easy, virtually cost-free target, an individual few among the current regime in Washington would shed a tear over.

Surely there’s no love lost between Brock and Grove’s editors at the Post, either. The author of the bestselling Blinded by the Right, after all, did make fools of so many journalists in that town, revealing that his supposed exposes about Anita Hill and Bill Clinton–stories with which the journalism pack dutifully and sensationally ran–were mostly based on fabrications, distortions and half-truths.

It was no great surprise, then, when Grove smeared Brock last year after the publication of Blinded by the Right, floating a piece of Matt Drudge-inspired dirt about Brock in his column, attempting to discredit him. Nor was it a shocker when Grove went for a second helping two weeks ago, slamming Brock in an item about the star-studded D.C. party celebrating the publication of the paperback edition of the book. Grove once again offered up the Drudge sludge on Brock. He also quoted a negative review of the book from last year (out of scores of positive reviews), and ridiculed Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and Nevada Democratic Senator Harry Reid for hosting the release party.

Gossip columnists have a reputation for stretching facts, and in this instance Grove lived up to it even better than Page Six on its sleaziest day. He claimed that "many of Brock’s former allies disputed his stories," as recounted in the book. But in fact, no major players on the right have spoken up about Blinded by the Right, let alone refuted it in any detail. They seem afraid of it entirely. (There was David Horowitz’s distortion-filled slam of the book, but that hardly constitutes "many of Brock’s former allies." Nor did the nutty Horowitz dispute Blinded by the Right in a logical, coherent or honest manner.)

So is Grove an agenda-driven gossipist, a latter-day Walter Winchell on his own McCarthy-esque crusade? Or is he simply operating the way gossip columnists everywhere operate–paying off sources who give him valuable information by taking easy shots now and then at common adversaries? It’s true that Grove has been romantically involved with Amy Holmes, a right-wing Stepford-gal pundit (big on teeth, small on brains) who has worked for at least one individual whom Brock skewers in his book. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Grove shares her conservative sentiments. It could also be that Grove has cultivated sources through her and through others on the right, individuals who give him juicy Beltway gossip, and whom he repays handsomely.

In other words, for Grove, whose column is now syndicated across the country–gossip product he’s got to pump out and sell nationwide–it might not be about ideology as much as business. I know all about that business, as Grove and I fed at the very same gossip trough in New York in times past.

But before I get to that, let’s look at just what kind of crap Grove keeps pushing about Brock–as well as what he conveniently keeps leaving out of the story. The openly gay Brock recounted in his book how he and the sexually circumspect Drudge–darling of many an antigay moralist–went on what Drudge thought was a date back when Brock was a right-wing hit man in the 90s. Brock wrote that the lovesick Drudge sent Brock roses days later and expressed that he wanted the two to be "fuck buddies." Drudge, like the rest of the right, at first stayed quiet when Brock’s book was published. But after the book began racing up the New York Times bestseller list, Drudge finally erupted, running an item on his website stating that Brock had experienced a nervous breakdown while writing the book and had checked into a hospital (yawn).

Grove ate it up at the time, quoting Drudge in his column but not reporting the pertinent fact that Drudge had a motive in delving into Brock’s private medical information. Grove made no reference to the "fuck buddies" stuff, even in a G-rated way, and didn’t mention any relationship between Brock and Drudge.

Grove is a 20-year veteran of the Post. But he previously worked at a very specialized W. 57th St. p.r. outfit called Mike Hall Associates (I worked there as well, after Grove had left). That was where Grove learned all about buying and selling gossip. Mike Hall Associates, which has been around since the 1940s, is a "column planter." Clients used us in addition to their full-service publicists; we guaranteed them mentions in gossip columns like Liz Smith, Page Six, Cindy Adams, People’s "Chatter" Page, and Parade magazine’s q&a column called "Walter Scott’s Personality Parade," back when it was written by the late Lloyd Shearer (there was never any Walter Scott).

Our clients at the time included most of the major film companies, famous hotspots like the Russian Tea Room, Broadway theaters and producers. Here’s how it worked: We gave the gossip columnists a bunch of items on a page, each one usually no longer than a paragraph. Every other item was a "free" item–delicious, sometimes even scandalous gossip about a celebrity or a politician. The others were "client" items (which were always underlined, so as to distinguish them). We got our gossip from a variety of sources around town, as well as in Hollywood, Washington, Europe and elsewhere, and we’d often pay them off with screening passes to films or house seats for Broadway shows. If the columnists used a "free" item, it was understood that they had to use a "client" item. Sometimes they’d run it in the same column; other times the items would run days apart. Often we wrote much of Liz Smith’s column, and many of the columnists used our stuff word for word. We also penned both the questions and the answers for Personality Parade. From what publicist friends tell me, the gossip business doesn’t operate much differently today (though the noted journalist Ed Klein, who pens Personality Parade, said he writes his own answers to real questions, defending himself in an interview in the Boston Globe Magazine in 2001, in which it was claimed that some of the published letters seemed "questionable").

In Washington, it’s not necessarily "client" mentions that people want in return for a hot "free" item. They also want little political smears of their adversaries–including, perhaps, people like David Brock, Tom Daschle and others. So, from now on, when you read Grove’s column, look for what might be the "free" items and what might be the "client" items. You’ll be amazed at what you can figure out.


Michelangelo Signorile can be reached at [www.signorile.com](http://www.signorile.com).

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