David Brock's Out, and Sorry

| 16 Feb 2015 | 06:03

    While reading David Brock's illuminating and at times enraging new political memoir Blinded by the Right:The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, one question kept flashing through my head: Why the hell didn't I out this guy?

    There he was, a closeted gay right-wing journalist, working with such illustrious gay-bashers as religious zealots James Dobson and Pat Robertson, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, then-Washington Times editor John Podhoretz and American Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell in the late 80s and early 90s. He was conspiring with them and many others against what they saw as the evils of liberalism. In the guise of journalism Brock spun out, as he now describes it, a "witches' brew of fact, allegation, hearsay, speculation, opinion, and invective" about Anita Hill?the woman who'd accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his Senate confirmation hearings?and, later, an equally toxic potion of often unsubstantiated allegations about President Clinton. All the while Brock secretly harbored a libido that was precisely of the kind that many of his coconspirators were railing against at that time.

    Meanwhile, during roughly those same years, I was engaged in my own crusading and controversial journalism, revealing in columns and articles that publishing tycoon Malcolm Forbes, Hollywood mogul David Geffen, then Assistant Secretary of Defense Pete Williams (in Bush the elder's Pentagon) and quite a few other public figures were secretly gay while they promoted homophobes or enforced antigay policies. Surely Brock should have been on my list, and his hypocrisy should have been exposed long before he'd written his infamous "Troopergate" Clinton hit piece in the Spectator (which launched the Paula Jones lawsuit), before he'd become so valuable to the right that they'd just accept him as another house homo rather than dump him because of an embarrassing exposure. Reading Blinded, I was sometimes as mad at myself as I was at Brock.

    When I say that to Brock half-jokingly in an interview, he replies, "I'd have been outraged at the time?but I certainly deserved to be outed."

    It's a response that goes a long way toward showing the sincerity of Brock's apology for his past recklessness, as well as the validity of the political conversion from right to left that he lucidly details in his book.

    Truth be told, Brock hardly dated and kept his secret tightly hidden in the early years as he moved through conservative circles; he wasn't as sloppy as the closeted Pentagon officials and Republican Hill staffers?and even some closeted members of Congress at the time?who socialized often in gay circles and even in gay establishments. Brock wanted fame and fortune so badly, and was so "self-loathing" and in search of validation, he says, that he'd do whatever it took. And as his secret became more well-known in the early 90s, Brock then just came out himself?prodded by some right-wing colleagues' impressions of a critical Frank Rich column in 1994 that they claimed was sexually suggestive (though that was hardly the case).

    As Brock describes it, at that point, after the runaway success of his first book, The Real Anita Hill, and other attention-getting articles in the Spectator, he was worth too much as a hired character assassin for his homosexuality to matter to his benefactors. It was only when Brock, in his second book, 1996's The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, offered a more balanced look at the First Lady?rather than a hit job connecting her to criminal activity, which many expected?that his patrons on the right began to abandon him. That book, he says, was the very beginning of his long journey away from the right.

    Blinded discusses in detail the sleazy journalism of the Spectator?where Brock says no factchecker even existed to check the details in his distortion-filled stories?and the cult leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon's conservative Washington Times; the pack of manipulators close to Clarence Thomas who Brock says helped shape his Anita Hill book; the political operatives behind Paula Jones; the financier Richard Mellon Scaife, a major funder to the anti-Clinton campaigns; and the infamous Arkansas Project, which was the right-wing conspiracy Hillary Clinton was talking about. The basic facts of these stories have been confirmed over the years in books and articles by Joe Conason, Gene Lyons, Jane Mayer, Jill Abramson, Jeffrey Toobin and others. Brock now provides the intimate details.

    The cast of hypocrites, vipers and freaks doesn't get any more perverse than those in Blinded. There's the story about the often self-righteous media pundit Laura Ingraham?one of Brock's gaggle of "fag hags"?who, "in a drunken stupor, crawled?on her hands and knees,"looking for Brock at a dance club. There's the truly demented pundit Ann Coulter, who, Brock writes, "seemed to live on nothing but Chardonnay and cigarettes." (Brock tells me that Coulter, another of his "fag hags," used to give him "ex-gay" literature, trying to "convert" him to heterosexuality.) Former Clarence Thomas aide and current radio talk show host Armstrong Williams?who, you may recall, was sued by a male bodyguard a few years ago who claimed he was sexually harassed by Williams, a case that was settled out of court?appeared to have come on to him at Williams' apartment, writes Brock, while asking him whether he was "dominant or submissive in bed." (This is the same Armstrong Williams who wrote a column last week lambasting Rosie O'Donnell supporters for using children "to push alternative lifestyles into the mainstream.")

    And there's the bit about Web gossip Matt Drudge, who has reveled in exposing Clinton's sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky, in addition to spinning out sexual innuendo, half-truths and lies about others. Brock says he went on a date with Drudge (though Brock wasn't really interested in him) shortly after Brock and Ingraham cohosted a dinner party for Drudge in June of 1997 to draw Drudge closer into the right-wing cabal. While at the gay dance club Rage in L.A., Brock writes, the jealous Drudge purposely stepped on the foot of a man dancing nearby who was flirting with Brock. A few weeks later the heartsick Drudge sent Brock an e-mail saying that Ingraham was spreading the rumor that Brock and Drudge were "fuck buddies," opining that he should only be "so lucky." (Drudge was outed in MSNBC.com columnist Jeanette Walls' 2000 book Dish; in response he denied that he was gay, though Walls had on-the-record quotes from former friends and alleged boyfriends.)

    Some in the media understandably have raised the question of Brock's credibility, asking how anything he says can now be trusted, and a few have summarily dismissed him for that reason. But some of the media dismissals may be about something else: self-preservation. Certainly many reporters and editors would rather forget about those ugly times than reexamine their own roles in having furthered Brock's vicious tales. Many in the mainstream media are implicated in Blinded, including Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff who, Brock writes, "had passed on to me a handful of Clinton sex stories that he was not able to get past his editors in the hope that I would follow them up," presumably so that Isikoff could then write about them after Brock did. And who can forget the glowing reviews of The Real Anita Hill book, including from The New York Times' Christopher Lehmann-Haupt? By now admitting that the book was a pile of trash, Brock reveals what biased fools such respected reviewers were?particularly since many others saw the book for what it was at the time.

    Some of the media's impulse to dismiss Blinded was even on display March 17 when The Washington Post had the gay conservative author Bruce Bawer review Brock's book. Predictably, Bawer slammed the book and mocked its author. After a number of complaints the Post's editors admitted that Bawer shouldn't have reviewed the book because he had been a writer at The American Spectator as well. The decision to use Bawer seemed to betray an attempt, conscious or not, to marginalize Blinded by serving up a review that was a less-than-serious side-show?two queens, now political opposites, having a cat fight?rather than to examine some of the disturbing issues and events that Brock's confessions now raise.

    Some might say I believe Brock because I want to believe him. But actually, I'd been quite skeptical of Brock and his several-year-long conversion for some time, both to colleagues and in print; in 1998, I was strongly critical of him in a piece I wrote for The New York Observer. I still have some lingering doubts about his motivations, as I'm sure Brock hopes his confessions are as financially successful as his lies were (then again, who wouldn't?). But I'm glad that, unlike the notorious McCarthy sidekick Roy Cohn and many others, Brock isn't going to his death working for those who work against his own kind, taking all of the secrets with him. Instead, he's apologized, and he's written a convincing and highly instructive book.

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