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The best place to act on Brock's challenge is at the university where it all began. Brock writes that he came to Berkeley in 1981 partly to anger his conservative Irish-Catholic dad, whom he describes as "pro-life, anti-busing, pro-death-penalty." He arrived from Texas as a self-described liberal whose hero was Bobby Kennedy. He joined the Naderites at the California Public Interest Research Group. He also started writing for the Daily Californian, the main student newspaper. He was named a full-fledged staff writer before the end of his first year. By his sophomore year in the fall of 1982, his byline regularly graced the paper's front page. He was a rising star.
Around the time Jeane Kirkpatrick visited campus, Brock was preoccupied with an altogether different story: Who was going to become the next president of the University of California? On February 11, 1983, in a front-page story copyrighted by the paper, Brock reported that Berkeley chancellor Ira Heyman was one of three finalists in the competition to succeed David Saxon as UC president. Two weeks later, Brock scored a major scoop -- one still remembered by some of his former colleagues -- when he reported that David Gardner was going to get the job. The following week, Gardner indeed got the job.
So by the time Kirkpatrick rolled into town, four days after Brock's Heyman scoop, Brock was hardly the "cub reporter" he describes in Blinded by the Right. "He was one of our best reporters," recalls then-Daily Cal editor-in-chief Dan Woo, now a senior producer at ABC News. But the selection of the next UC president was a more important story for an ambitious young campus reporter than a protest of an unpopular administration official. Protests in Berkeley? They happened all the time.
But this particular protest was destined to spur a national debate over campus free speech. In 1983, US foreign policy in Central America inspired protests at college campuses across the country, especially Berkeley. And at the time, Students Against Intervention in El Salvador was one of the most prominent and vocal critics of the Reagan administration's policy.
When Kirkpatrick came to Berkeley, the byline atop the Daily Cal's coverage was not Brock's. It belonged to Chris Norton, a freelance writer who contributed news stories and editorials about US foreign policy. Back issues of the February 16, 1983 paper show Norton's name beneath the lead headline "Kirkpatrick clashes with hecklers over US policy." "Someone told me to go cover this and I said okay," says Norton, who later became a Central American correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and Newsday. "He didn't write the story; I wrote the story," adds Norton, who expressed disbelief when told that Brock claims to have written that day's main story. Indeed, Brock did not have any story in the paper that day.
The next day, Norton wrote a brief follow-up noting that Kirkpatrick had canceled her next scheduled speech at Cal. Brock, meanwhile, cowrote a front-page story on a class boycott over student fee increases. Three days after Kirkpatrick's appearance, Brock did finally publish a piece about the event -- albeit a short article on student body president Kathy Read proposing to yank the funding of Students Against Intervention in El Salvador because of the group's role in shouting down Kirkpatrick.
Of course, no one can be expected to remember every event from their past in perfect detail nearly twenty years after the fact. Indeed, most of the nineteen former Daily Cal staffers interviewed for this story struggled to recall the exact circumstances of Kirkpatrick's visit. Still, you'd expect a reporter who casts an event as a defining moment in his life to remember whether or not he wrote about it. Former Daily Cal city editor David Lazarus, now a business columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, doesn't remember Brock acting like he'd had some great epiphany during the Kirkpatrick aftermath. "I don't recall him jumping up and down from the furniture shouting, 'I've seen the light.' " If the event was indeed a defining moment for Brock, "he kept it to himself," Lazarus says. And from what other contemporaries recall of Brock, that would not have been his style. Larry Levitt, a Daily Cal editorial page editor in the winter of 1983, recalls Brock being the kind of reporter who would lobby his editors to get top billing for one of his stories if he felt strongly about it. "I distinctly remember him fighting persuasively for stories he wanted," adds former university editor Michael Ciraolo, who would probably have assigned the Kirkpatrick story.
Nor is Brock's faulty memory limited to that detail. Brock makes other errors in the section of his book about his Berkeley days -- more than enough to suggest that something other than a poor memory was at work. He wrongly identified Dwinelle Hall as the venue for Kirkpatrick's speech; in fact, the ambassador spoke at Wheeler Auditorium.
Brock also described a moment when "a protester leaped from his seat just offstage and splashed simulated blood on the podium." But three people who attended the speech -- Norton, Bob Bryzman of Students Against Intervention in El Salvador, and former law school dean Jesse Choper -- don't remember anyone throwing fake blood. Additionally, no stories in the next two days from the Daily Cal, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Berkeley Gazette, Oakland Tribune, or Los Angeles Times mentioned anything about fake blood being hurled near Kirkpatrick, an action that surely would have elicited some ink.
Brock has long cited Kirkpatrick's shabby treatment as the point at which he began to reject the left and embrace conservatism. By the fall of 1983, his newfound ideology found its way into the editorial pages of the Daily Cal. On Halloween, Brock penned a defense of the American invasion of Grenada. The signed opinion piece didn't go over well with everyone at the decidedly liberal paper. As the newsroom's only real conservative, Brock was a divisive figure. "He became a lightning rod," says Anita M. Seline, editor-in-chief when the Grenada editorial ran. "People didn't like his politics."
But Brock relished the attention he attracted as a conservative provocateur on the lefty-dominated campus. He also took to wearing bow ties to stand out more -- something his former Daily Cal compatriots still chuckle about. David Lazarus recalls, "David enjoyed being the pebble in everyone's shoe."
Brock still managed to maintain a few allies at the Daily Cal after the Grenada fallout. In August 1984, he and a few colleagues started their own campus paper. "Feeling responsible for some Daily Cal colleagues who were blackballed at the paper because of their affiliation with me, I helped found another outlet, a dignified, neoconservative weekly magazine we called the Berkeley Journal," Brock wrote in Blinded by the Right. "We raised money from conservative alumni by convincing them that the campus needed a voice more in tune with the mainstream politics of '80s students."
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