May 16, 2002
By Noel O' Connor
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
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?
"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
"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?
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
"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
"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
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
Noel O Connor lives in Florida and is still waiting for
the votes to be counted....