Editor's Desk

Hard-Core Conflicts

Brock's best buddies operate out of a far-left website.

By 3.25.02

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A few noteworthy exchanges from today's Media Backtalk chat between Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz and readers:

"Washington, D.C.:
"Hello Howard,

"I know how you probably hate this topic, but with the success of FoxNews as the #1 cable network, Rush as the #1 talk host, could you possibly consider that they are #1 precisely because they are conservative outlets for news/analysis and that Americans are flocking to them because they've had enough of soft leftward bias in the mainstream media? If you think they are just successful creations for a conservative market and if you think the overall media is mainstream how do you address the lack of a liberal cable network or liberal talk radio hosts?
Thanks a lot. I think Media Notes is one of the freshest features in the Post."

"Howard Kurtz: Thanks. I don't think there's any question that Rush and Fox have found an audience in part because many conservatives feel alienated by the mainstream media. I don't think they appeal only to conservatives, but Limbaugh in particular is constantly hammering the press for a left-leaning bias. Hard-core liberals may not feel the need for a 'separate' network, and libs have failed to come up with compelling personalities in talk radio who could build an audience even a fraction of Limbaugh's. Maybe Carville will carry the banner when he starts (albeit it only part-time) at Crossfire."

Pay attention to that notion of "hard-core liberals." For one thing, it's relevant to the very next question that came up in today's chat:

"Kansas City, Mo.: Howie,

"Considering the flap over the Post having an ex-American Spectator writer review 'The Hunting of the President,' how did the Post repeat that by having another ex-American Spectator writer review David Brock's book. I read the limited explanation but there was no mention of how Bawer was picked in the first place.

"Does this have something to do with the Post's coverage? Last year the Columbia Journalism Review's asked 'How do editors explain to already distrustful readers why favorable reviews of The Hunting of the President could be found only in papers not cited by the authors in their "most damning indictment" of the press?' Any comments?"

"Howard Kurtz: I wrote critically of the assigning of the first review to an ex-Spectator person. While Book World's offense is a little less egregious in this case -- Bawer left the Spectator before Brock got there and, more importantly, didn't reveal the connection to the editors -- it was still a bad move. They clearly need to press reviewers more aggressively about whether they've got any ties to the author or the major institutions described in the book being assigned. But there is no Post agenda here; weeks before the review, I wrote a lengthy piece on David Brock and his book that most people seem to regard as fair (though some conservatives say I wasn't hard enough on Brock)."

There's a lot going on here, so let me sort it out. For starters, even if "hard-core" liberals may not feel a need for a separate network, as Kurtz remarked, a great many of them will be happy to tell you that papers like the Washington Post and the New York Times are too right-wing for their taste. The contretemps over the Post's review of the Brock book is a case in point. The reviewer, Bruce Bawer, who is openly gay, dismissed the book as nothing more than posturing and humbug. Rather than address the points Bawer raised, Brock's defenders (and Brock himself, even though in his famous opening he admits his book is "terrible") immediately cried foul and charged that Bawer had concealed his one-time connection as movie critic of The American Spectator -- the same magazine he roundly denounced after breaking with it and the right in 1990. Bawer would have a conflict of interest only if he still defended the magazine, which his review made clear is the last thing he would be prepared to do.

In any case, so much for Brock's gratitude to Bawer for his pioneering work. Meanwhile, the Post, in Kurtz's reply as in an earlier reply, paid lip service to the possibility of conflict, though without doing anything to satisfy the Brock contingent. (There is a wonderful obsessiveness in this "conflict" business: The New York Times Book Review yesterday ran a fawningly pro-Clinton review in which the reviewer, William Kennedy, a well-known novelist, is first described as "one of 40 Irish-Americans who traveled to Ireland with President Clinton in 1995." If not for that trip, evidently, Kennedy would today be working for Kenneth Starr.)

Brock and his fanatical defenders now complain that the right is not reviewing his book. But why should it? What should one do after being stabbed in the back? Turn around to get stabbed in the stomach and chest?

The Bawer example offers ample reason to ignore Brock. In his book Brock describes Bawer's departure from the Spectator as a specimen of the "magazine's earlier history involving one gay conservative writer." He mentions asking me about Bawer and then shrugging off my "awkward" response and probing no further. "I wasn't going to let possible prejudice against another writer, whom I did not know, upset my world," he confesses. That's the extent of what he has to say about Bawer in his book.

Yet in his complaint to the Post, he outright lies (as he reportedly did when asked about the review in an appearance on C-Span): "My book also contains a passage that puts the credibility of Bawer's published account of his controversial departure from the magazine in question." No wonder he now finds Clinton appealing. He does no such thing in his book, but apparently thinks that because he asked a third party about Bawer that meant he was questioning his credibility. This is someone who deserves critical engagement?

Any talk respectable liberal opinion would have sympathy for Brock was put to rest in yesterday's New York Times Book Review by this passage in Frank Bruni's review regarding Brock's purported "awakening at long last to the concept of integrity":

"A less charitable interpretation might be that Brock wanted a new act, and found it in self-flagellation. For a photograph that accompanied a 1997 article in Esquire in which he first began to confess his right-wing sins, he let himself be tied to a tree and surrounded by kindling, the pose of a heretic on the precipice of immolation. He subsequently wrote yet another confessional for Esquire. 'Blinded by the Right' is only his latest stab at a rather theatrical brand of contrition."

Written out of polite company, Brock is now stuck with a collection of defenders who make themselves heard at a website sweetly named Media Whores Online -- it's the place to go to keep up with the latest on Brock's book, with links to most every review now out. In best leftist fashion, this website keeps its identity obscure -- though one will be hard-pressed to find a more unadulterated practitioner of the agit-prop style. Who is not with them and with Brock or Clinton or Conason is against them and must be crushed -- or at least inundated with e-mails demanding a retraction, an abject apology, and (in the case of the Washington Post Book World), a new review and erasure of the offending original from its archives.

Media Whores Online was first out of the gate denouncing Bawer's review -- though it never did link to Bawer's immediate reply posted on Jim Romenesko's MediaNews.org. By that point, it was attacking Robert Ray for his final report and Susan Schmidt's reporting on Clinton.

By hard-core standards, the gigolos at Media Whores Online display occasional wit, if unwittingly. Still on its main page is a photograph of a bumper sticker displayed on a rear window. "I Believe David Brock" it reads, just the sort of thing that could make a jealous Anita Hill act a bit nutty.

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About the Author
Wlady Pleszczynski is editorial director of The American Spectator and the editor of AmSpec Online.