David Brock, Gone Fishin'
David Brock should have listened to his dead father.
Brock is the founder and prime force behind Media Matters, the left-wing nonprofit that has set out to destroy Fox News. Once a conservative journalist who became rich attacking people like Bill Clinton and Anita Hill in the 1990s, Brock defected from the right in 1997 and has become a hit man for the left.
I recently read Blinded by the Right, Brock's autobiography. What I found was someone who is deeply needy emotionally, and who has a tendency to turn that need into political jihads. Of course, we are all emotionally needy to some degree. People who aren't tend to be psychopaths. But Brock's obsessive hatred of Fox goes beyond merely being a media watchdog. The network has become Moby Dick to his Ahab.
What is strange and disappointing is that it didn't have to be this way. In Blinded by the Right, Brock displays genuine self-awareness and high intelligence. What he lacks is an ability to tell the full truth when it doesn't suit him.
There are many examples of this, and they have been catalogued -- even by liberals.What I found most disappointing about Blinded by the Right is that it reveals just how close Brock came to a spiritual and intellectual conversion that would have made him a better person and a better journalist. It happened when his father died in 1999.
Brock Sr.'s death is one of what I see as two pivotal moments in Blinded by the Right. The first comes in the 1980s, when Brock is a student at Berkeley. There he sees a conservative speaker, Jeane Kirkpatrick, denied to right to speak by protesting leftists in the audience. The experience leaves Brock "deeply shaken," and thus begins his journey to the right after being a reactionary liberal in high school. In fact, Brock witnessed the left doing to Kirkpatrick what Brock is now trying to do to Fox.
The Kirkpatrick episode is a key story in Blinded by the Right because it stands out as a moment of moral clarity that offers truth with minimal emotional interference. As a young man Brock realized he was homosexual, and his crusading as a liberal journalist for his high school newspaper comes across as a way to simply get attention from his conservative peers. But at UC Berkeley, Brock simply saw a speaker censored by hooligans. No reasonable person would be for that, whatever his emotional history.
Instead of clinging to that and developing a reasonable conservative philosophy, Brock went hard right. He did this because of the need for love and acceptance. He admits that he saw conservative leaders as surrogate fathers, and that when one romantic relationship blew up he unleashed his fury in the form of attack journalism.
Throughout the book, Brock shows that he requires deep levels of affirmation and love -- in fact, more than any one person can deliver. I was struck by how many times in the book he depicts his conservative friends as people who gauge their emotions and empathy to how much you agree with them, only to reveal -- sometimes only a page later -- that those same people showed Brock love when Brock was going through a difficult emotional time:
- Again and again Laura Ingraham is portrayed as a ruthless right-wing berserker. But then Brock writes about Ingraham literally crawling on her hands and knees through a club in Washington, D.C. to find Brock, who was blitzed out on drugs and in the bathroom. Two pages later he dismisses her as someone who wasn't really a friend. (Even after Brock's decamping for the left, Ingraham, a cancer survivor, offers sympathy when she hears that Brock's father has died.)
- When Brock reveals his homosexuality, the American Spectator -- Brock's employer at the time -- responds with an apology from one of the editors, who had made gay jokes in the past.
- When Brock writes a book sympathetic to Hilary Clinton, Tod Lindberg, a conservative Brock worked with at the Washington Times, takes him out to dinner and defends Brock's intellectual independence to other conservatives.
These are thoughtless, ruthless neanderthals?
Brock's father died of cancer in 1999, and the scene describing that, which comes at the end of Blinded by the Right, is the best in the book. Brock is adopted, and there has been some speculation, at least on Fox News, that his mercurial and extreme politics have been a quest for paternal approval or a response to his shame at being adopted.
I think it's much more simple: Brock was a shy, highly intelligent kid who in high school was awkward and homosexual. He craved acceptance. A talented writer interested in politics, he was appalled by the antics of the crazy left at Berkeley, and as a result he was embraced by conservatives.
The thrill of the money and fame was like a drug. Brock pushed his stories to further and further extremes. A few years ago Slate, the liberal online magazine, revealed that "Monkeyfishing," a story it had published about human being fishing for moneys, was a complete fabrication. Jack Shafer, the Slate editor who published the piece, explained that he had sent writer Jay Forman back to produce better versions of the story with more "writerly verisimilitude." Forman obliged. What happened to Brock is that, thirsty for love and affection and with the extreme right in the Jack Shafer role, he went monkeyfishing.
In Blinded by the Right, Brock finally pulls back when he is assigned to to a hit job on Hillary Clinton in the late 1990s. He instead writes a book favorable to Hillary. Shortly after, his father dies. Brock describes the scene beautifully, including a late-night visit from the "energy" of his father's soul.
"The impact of my father's death was such that I took the probings of my prior political commitments and ethical failings to a deeper level," Brock writes. "I wondered whether the lessons I learned during my time in the right wing might be applied more broadly to the dangers of all political zealotry, whether on the right or the left."
Well, yes. For instance, you may not want to launch a multimillion dollar nonprofit whose sole objective is to censor a network whose political views you disagree with.
At some point in your life, you form your own opinions, hopefully based on reason and life experience, and stop caring so much what other people think. You realize that you will probably make two or three genuine friends in this life, and that that's OK. You understand that, while the demonic is very real in this life, few people are actually the devil.
David Brock was on the brink of realizing this, of becoming somewhat wise, when his father's soul visited him for the last time in 1999. Instead, he went back to looking for love in all the wrong places. He returned to stalking Moby Dick. He went back to monkeyfishing.