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Hitchens' Hatchet Job
May 16, 2002
By Noel O' Connor

On reading Mr. Hitchens' latest article in The Nation concerning David Brock's book, "Blinded by the Right", I was struck by three things. 1) The sloppy, unprofessional manner in which Mr Hitchens attempted to perform a hatchet job on the book without disputing any more salient detail than the date of Ted and Barbara Olsen's marriage, 2) that his unsubstantiated attack was a self-serving diatribe against a book that cast him personally in a non-flattering light, and 3) that The Nation would really be vastly more credible without him.

For the record:

"The whole book is an exercise in self-love, disguised as an exercise in self-abnegation. How could he, asks the author of himself, have possibly gone on so long in telling lies, smearing reputations and inventing facts? The obvious answer - that he adored the easy money and the cheap fame that this brought him - was more than enough to still his doubts for several years. However, his publisher seems to have required a more high-toned explanation before furnishing him with a fresh tranche of money and renown. And Brock's new story - that he was taken in by a vast right-wing conspiracy - is just as much of a lie as his earlier ones."

Does Mr Hitchens deny Brock's admission to reputation-smearing and fact-inventing in the past? He paints himself into a rhetorical corner by acknowledging Brock's earlier lies, yet insists his current admissions are lies also - a logical contradiction. Either that, or he is simply attaching the word "lie" to his own opinion of Brock's motives, in order to sully the message by assaulting the writer. He also sets up a straw man to knock down.

David Brock does not make any attempt in the book to deny his seduction by fame, power and wealth - described of course by Mr Hitchens as "easy money and...cheap fame" for emphasis - as the main factors in his development. He most certainly never claims to be an unwilling dupe, taken in by the very real "vast right-wing conspiracy."

"On page 128, Brock does what many defectors do, and claims that it was his party, not he, that had changed.........Brock is a phony......So he's plainly still lying about his past. He's also lying about his future...."

I am at something of a loss. Four times in this paragraph Mr Brock is described as either a "defector", a "phony" or a liar. Certainly David Brock is an admitted defector - from a group of people that paid him to smear and lie for political gain. Such a defection would surely be laudable if true.

He asserts numerous sleazy, unethical and possibly illegal activities that he both witnessed and was complicit in during his time there. Mr Hitchens disputes the veracity of none of them, citing only the defection itself. Using Mr Hitchens twisted logic, a sinner's greatest transgression admitted in the quiet of the confessional is not the sin, but the confession.

His label of "liar" applies to Mr Brock's claim that "there was far less ideological affinity between the GOP and me than when I had first come to Washington. The party had left me and many other libertarian-leaning conservatives back in Houston", a matter of personal opinion on Mr Brock's part - hardly within the realm of dispute by anyone else but him.

Mr Hitchens' claims about the apparent obviousness of the Party of Reagan's 1980s homophobic disposition is arguably true - but laughably irrelevant as to what Mr Brock may have believed at that time. Or does Mr Hitchens believe it is still so obviously apparent to every Republican today?

As for...

"the 'Troopergate' allegations appeared under his name a good while later than 1992, and sometime well after that he was billed as a featured speaker by the Christian Coalition......"

I fail to see the relevance also. Brock never claims to have a Saul-like road-to-Damascus conversion in 1992 or any time shortly thereafter. He goes to great pains in the book to paint his journey from sleaze-writer to penitent as a slow progression over a number of years. He admits to being a participant and willing if somewhat confused member in Republican circles for some time further than 1992. Whether Mr Hitchens chooses to believe it is neither here or there - the fact is that Brock never claims otherwise.

"Brock masks his deep-seated mendacity from others and (perhaps) from himself by a simple if contemptible device of rhetoric. He switches between passive and active. Thus of one conservative smear-op, he tells us that 'I allowed myself to get mixed up' in it."

Once again, does Mr Hitchens deny the existence of the "conservative smear-op?" Let us grant him an enormous benefit of doubt and allow that Brock is attempting to minimalize his complicity with a "contemptible device of rhetoric". What "mendacity" is Brock "masking" with it? Mr Hitchens claims that Brock is employing literary dishonesty in order to cover up a lie, without challenging the lie or even informing us as to it's nature. In actual fact, Brock is exhibiting his previous mendacity in public for the whole world to see, that is the point of the book. And if Mr Hitchens disputes this, it is incumbent upon him to argue his case. Why is Brock lying now if he didn't lie then?

"His masochism even permits him to say, at a reactionary award ceremony in far-off St. Louis, at which he somehow found himself, that 'I was miserable. Yet this was how I made my living and it was who I had become. The conservatives had bought my brain.' And paid well over the odds for it, I should say. Never mind, he always cheers up by letting himself be drawn in to another bad business. And here we get the same paltry narcissism in its opposite form: 'I was a full-scale combatant, I had war-wounds to show for it, and I needed the thrill of another round of battle.'"

Leaving aside the cheap jibes at the value of Mr Brock's brain, Mr Hitchens ridiculously attributes "paltry narcissism" to Brock's words when they are so obviously a bitter appraisal of his feelings at the time. It is this surge of misguided fervor from days past that Brock is sadly commenting on now. The "bad business" here is Mr Hitchens unfortunate inability to realize that Brock's previous "paltry narcissism" is what Brock himself is so wryly pointing out.

"He finds it difficult to refer to himself - when he isn't crippled by self-loathing - without using the words 'icon' and 'poster boy.'"

This is such an egregious act of deliberate dissembling that Mr Hitchens should hang his head in shame. Brock never refers to himself as an "icon" or "poster boy" for anything - as Mr Hitchens is most definitely is aware - rather he refers to what others on the right-wing Republican circuit saw him as. What inexplicable sense of pride does Mr Hitchens suspect Brock could possibly attain from describing his perceived role as an "icon" for a muck-raking smear-machine that he is soundly lambasting? And as for "self-loathing?" Brock was evidently not so crippled by it that he didn't find the moxy to do something about it. How does Mr Hitchens deal with his?

"There are actually very few revelations in the book, unless you are surprised to learn that a cabal of right-wingers tried to frame the Clintons for killing Vince Foster. (Brock now prefers the even more far-out view that Foster was murdered by the Wall Street Journal.)"

There may be very few revelations in the book about the workings of the right-wing smear-machine - if you are already a member and well versed in it's workings. To some of the less well-connected among us, of course, this book served up a horrifying conveyor belt of insights into the ethical void that "journalists" like Mr Brock and Mr Hitchens occupied.

And, yet once again, is Mr Hitchens denying that "a cabal of right-wingers tried to frame the Clintons for killing Vince Foster?" It is a matter of historical fact that members of the Republican media machine accused the Clintons of complicity in the "murder" of Foster. It is a matter of historical fact that no evidence ever existed to warrant such accusations and that no charges were ever filed nor were any retractions or apologies ever published. Does Mr Hitchens dispute this? No.

The point is brought up simply as lead into attributing a conspiratorial "far-out view" to Brock that "Foster was murdered by the Wall Street Journal." Anyone familiar with the book knows that Brock was referring to the emotional anguish that Foster suffered at the hands of the Wall St. Journal's editorial page - a contributing factor in his decision to take his own life according to one very trustworthy source: Foster's own suicide note.

"There are countless silly mistakes, including the date of Theodore and Barbara Olson's wedding..."

...so many mistakes in fact that, in an full length article written to tear the book's foundation apart, Mr Hitchens fails to bring up a single other one of them - silly or not.

"In his coarse attack on Juanita Broaddrick, whose allegation of rape was supported by several contemporaneous witnesses and has not yet been denied by Clinton himself, Brock does not even do the elementary work of stating the case he is trying to rebut. Instead, he inserts a completely gratuitous slander against a decent woman, all of whose independent assertions have survived meticulous fact-checking. The defamation game is still all that this creep knows."

Here, Mr Hitchens apparently becomes panicked at the complete lack of truth on his side and so, instead, reverts to actual bald-faced lying. Juanita Broaddrick's credibility has been decimated so completely and comprehensively (not least by her own affidavit) that one is slack-jawed with wonder at Mr Hitchens' cahones and/or ignorance in bringing it up.

If these "independent assertions" have survived such "meticulous fact-checking", would Mr Hitchens be so kind as to let us know why criminal charges have not been brought? Oh, yes - it's the reluctance of the media and goverment to report on and prosecute Bill Clinton's wrongdoings, right? Perhaps unsubtantiated allegations have become the gold standard of proof in Mr Hitchens' world, but thankfully not in law. Yet.

"Etiquette requires that I mention a very rude description of myself, concentrating on the grossly physical, which includes the assertion that I am unwashed as well as unkempt. Those who know me will confirm that while I may not be tidy, I am so clean you could eat your dinner off me. Perhaps I did not want to put Mr. Brock to the labor of proving this. At any rate, I am relieved to find I am not his type. However, I forgive him this sophomoric passage because its empty hatred was so obviously feigned after the event, and because it describes me as five years younger than I am."

This is the one passage I have no quarrel with. As I have no personal knowledge of Mr Hitchens, I will take his personal description for what he says it is. Mr Brock is entitled to his opinion of Mr Hitchens appearance and Mr Hitchens is entitled to refute it without question.

The only eyebrow raised on my part was Mr Hitchens label of "sophomoric" for Brock's passage, while immediately preceding it with a exceptionally juvenile stab at Mr Brock's sexual orientation. The literary equivalent of "I know you are, but what am I?" At any rate, I must confess to a small touch of schadenfreude on detecting Mr Hitchens' unmistakable indignation at having to defend something so personal as his personal hygiene record.

"Still, I wanted to take an extra shower after trudging through this dismally written, pick-nose, spiteful and furtive little book. It glitters with malice and the more cowardly kind of 'disclosure'; it's a dank, filthy tissue turned inside out. And it is all written allegedly as a defense of the Clintons' right to privacy! As someone who despised Clinton from the very first, I remember resenting the damage done by hysterical and fabricated right-wing attacks, which bought him time and sympathy."

Yes, and of course we all got very little sleep at the time due to sitting up all night reading the endless tracts written by Mr Hitchens in Clinton's defense against those "hysterical and fabricated right-wing attacks," didn't we? As for cowardice - yes, I suppose Brock took the easy way by inviting upon himself the howling masses of rabid wingers he has been hearing from lately.

The final irony, of course, is that in this last paragraph - after attempting to smear and dissemble and distort without ever tackling the facts raised by Brock - Mr Hitchens actually manages to miss the whole point of the book! Brock never wrote this in "defense of the Clintons' right to privacy" - he wrote this in defense of the journalistic ideals that, only belatedly, he finally discovered: honesty, integrity, factual reporting that respects the rule of law and the ethics that must go along with it. Brock came to realize that the Clintons' rights - not just to privacy, but to fairness and due process - are the rights of us all.

My own feelings on David Brock are still painfully ambigious - I applaud his courageous (and it is courageous, despite what Mr Hitchens thinks) ability to face up to what he was and who he is now - but I am also too aware of the horrendous damage done to our systems of government and public discourse that he is partially responsible for.

I read his book with the kind of awful fascination one usually reserves for stories of brutality and dismemberment - frighteningly appropiate when considering the brutality of spirit needed to butcher truth in the pursuit of an ideology. What cause deserves following if it's adherents must bury their opposition with lies?


Noel O Connor lives in Florida and is still waiting for the votes to be counted....

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