The Unreal David Brock 

David Brock lied when he wrote about Anita Hill. He played it loose when he covered Bill Clinton. Then he misled us when he apologized for lying. What are we to make of his memories of Berkeley?

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Rich identified the central conundrum facing historians and readers who evaluate Brock's work: Is the liar telling the truth now?

The answer lies in Berkeley.

Questions about Brock's truthfulness and reliability have plagued the writer ever since reporters Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer debunked many of his accusations about Anita Hill in their 1994 book Strange Justice. Afterward, Brock set out to preserve his tarnished journalistic reputation by attempting to poke holes in Abramson and Mayer's reporting. But Brock now admits that he knew he was the one who screwed up. For instance, he wrote at the time that there was no evidence Clarence Thomas had ever rented pornography, although by then he had solid information to the contrary. "When I wrote those words," Brock now maintains, "I knew they were false."

Following the huge success of The Real Anita Hill, Brock received a $1 million advance to write a biography of the First Lady. According to Brock, the only question publisher Jack Romanos of Simon & Schuster asked before cutting the check was, "Did I think Hillary Clinton was a lesbian?" But The Seduction of Hillary Rodham didn't deliver the sizzle its publisher or conservative audience may have hoped for. Suddenly, Brock found himself snubbed by prominent conservatives. He even began hearing his former pals using his homosexuality -- which he publicly acknowledged in 1994 -- to besmirch him behind his back.

So Brock took his career into a new direction -- repudiating the very right-wingers who had made him rich. In a 1997 Esquire article "Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man," Brock wrote that Clinton-haters were more interested in hatchet jobs than good journalism. The following year, Brock wrote a public apology to President Clinton in Esquire for not checking out his sources' claims more thoroughly and for invading the president's personal life with his coverage of what later was dubbed "Troopergate." Last year, he upped the confessional ante with his Talk mea culpa.

But even when Brock has struck a confessional pose, he's been less than forthright. In his 1998 apology to President Clinton in Esquire, Brock conveniently failed to name Peter Smith, a Chicago investment banker, as his initial link to the operations in Arkansas. After the piece came out, Smith told the Chicago Sun-Times he personally paid Brock $5,000 to investigate Clinton. In a follow-up, The New York Post quoted unnamed sources saying that Brock had denied taking Smith's money until he was confronted with proof -- the canceled check with his name on it. "I didn't immediately remember, but I never denied it," Brock told the Post. "I said if Smith has the documentation, I'd be happy to confirm it."

Many of the people Brock accused in Blinded by the Right have vocally rejected his latest version of events. Wooten denied giving Brock Angela Wright's FBI file. Paoletta has said he never confirmed for Brock that Thomas rented porn videos. Ricky Silberman told the Washington Post, "I never in a million years could have, would have, or did say what he said I said." And Ted Olson denied playing a role in the Arkansas Project during his confirmation hearings after being named solicitor general by President George W. Bush.

Brock's dubious credibility puts his erstwhile conservative supporters in an awkward position. If we're not supposed to believe Brock now as he dishes dirt on the right, then we also probably shouldn't believe anything he wrote about Anita Hill or Bill Clinton's libido. Of course, Brock's conversion also puts liberals who'd like to believe his latest disclosures in an awkward spot: They must justify why he now should be deemed trustworthy.

Like many liberal readers who want to believe Brock's insider account, Michael Tomasky argued in The Nation that we should trust Brock today. "Brock names names, places, dates, the food and wine consumed, the color of the draperies," Tomasky wrote. Todd Gitlin, a liberal media critic who teaches journalism and sociology at New York University, also seemed inclined to believe Brock in his Los Angeles Times review. "One reason to take him seriously is that he is not particularly self-serving," Gitlin wrote, citing two embarrassing personal admissions as reasons to believe Brock must now be telling the truth. In one, Brock wrote that he tried to get a former Daily Cal colleague in trouble by falsely accusing the editor of being the subject of a complaint by the vice-chancellor. In another, he said he falsely denied to his longtime boyfriend that he's an adopted child.

Predictably, Brock's former conservative pals have been less generous. Last month Wall Street Journal editor Robert L. Bartley called Brock "the John Walker Lindh of contemporary conservatism." Liberal-bashing syndicated columnist L. Brent Bozell called Brock "a pathetic little man." On the point of Brock's credibility, Bozell wrote, "Consider that Brock's first two books were weighed down with footnotes, with zealous research of the public record. The new screed against conservatives has no footnotes, no index, no real historical substance. Why not?"

But in spite of this raging debate, no one has conclusively refuted the assertions in Blinded by the Right. Part of the reason is that many of his revelations concerned events that happened in private, as National Public Radio reporter Nina Totenberg observed in an interview last year. "Everyone I contact that you mention by name, either I have or other reporters have gotten denials, so we're back to the question of how we can believe you?" said Totenberg, who first reported the Anita Hill story. Brock told Totenberg: "Good credible journalists can look into what I'm saying, examine it, and get to the bottom of this, and they can find the truth."

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