The Defection of David Brock

[Classic: March 10, 1998] — David Brock has become the first journalist to confess his participation in the vast right-wing conspiracy to get President Clinton. Actually, he confessed it last year, but nobody was listening.

In an open letter to the president in the April issue of Esquire, Brock apologizes for his epoch-making 1993 article in The American Spectator, the one that gave “Arkansas state troopers” a special meaning, like “grassy knoll” as of 1963.

Or, more to the point, like “bimbo eruptions” as of 1992 and “White House intern” as of 1998. The article also led, inadvertently, to Paula Jones’s lawsuit. Hustler: The Clinton L... Joseph Sobran Best Price: $1.98 Buy New $60.62 (as of 12:35 EDT - Details)

The president has accepted Brock’s mea culpa, but he may feel it’s a little late for apologies. Confessing you started a forest fire doesn’t make the trees grow back. This forest just happened to be unusually combustible. (Georgia state troopers probably don’t have many colorful memories of former governor Jimmy Carter.)

Since 1993, Brock’s career has taken some setbacks. His book on Hillary Clinton, for which he received a huge advance, died on the shelves, and he lost his high-salary job at The American Spectator. Vilified as a “right-wing hit man,” he hasn’t had a right-wing hit lately.

So now he’s making a second career of defecting from the right wing. He’s even trying to discredit the sources who made him famous: those blasted troopers “took me for a ride” and have since “greatly damaged their credibility.”

Say what? As a reporter, Brock was supposed to be able to size up the “credibility” of his sources at the time, precisely so that he and his readers wouldn’t be “taken for a ride.”

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So it was all a pack of lies? Here he hedges. “I’m not saying they made the whole thing up,” he says now. “I do think there was probably room there for them to exaggerate.” He admits that his own “ideological desire to damage Clinton” made him unduly credulous. He admits the same of his own book attacking Anita Hill, in which he says he was guilty of “hypocrisy.”

But don’t worry: “I’ve abandoned that form of journalism.”

Great! But why not just abandon journalism? After all, he has virtually repudiated his whole career, which is not the smartest of career moves. Confessing your crimes is fine, but don’t expect it to win you a job as a cop. And complaining that you were the victim of your sources doesn’t burnish your credentials as a reporter.

Brock is now telling liberals that he has seen the error of his ways. Like many ex-conservative defectors before him, he is bidding for a niche among his former enemies by denouncing his former friends, including the good ole boys who gave him the scoop of his life.

Those troopers don’t seem to have exaggerated much, judging from subsequent developments. Only Brock seems skeptical of them, just when history has vindicated them with a whoop.

Brock probably hopes to peddle one more book, titled something like Nasty Right-Wingers with Whom I Should Never Have Allowed Myself to Have Become Entangled and Whose Money I Should Never Have Accepted but Have Already Spent, Alas.

But the book to read will be the memoirs of Mike McCurry. Right now the president’s press secretary has the safest job in America, including the president’s.

Why? Well, Spin Cycle, a new book by Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, tells a few inside stories about the Clinton White House and the press. One of them concerns a coarse crack McCurry once made to reporters about the Clintons’ sex life, comparing Mrs. Clinton unfavorably to a mummy. Rush Limbaugh has already repeated it about fifty times, and McCurry still has his job.

Under normal circumstances, the president would have himself a new press secretary by now, with the hearty concurrence of the first lady. But he apparently understands that the moment McCurry leaves, the biggest publishers in New York will be bidding zillions of dollars for a book titled something like Things Linda Tripp Never Dreamed of That I Couldn’t Talk About until Now. To paraphrase The Godfather, keep your friends close, but your press secretary closer.

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This is one of 82 essays in Joe Sobran’s collection of his writing on the President Clinton years, titled Hustler: The Clinton Legacy. FGF Books is hoping to publish the second edition of this book shortly.