A 'right-wing hit man' wises up

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- It's disappointing to be disinvited to something you have been invited to. But sometimes you are not surprised.

I was invited recently to speak at a national conference of young black conservatives in Washington. I was flattered, but skeptical. I had written favorably about some conservative ideas, but I am not what you would call a movement person. In fact, I tend to view movements of all types with the skepticism Groucho Marx reserved for any club that would have him as a member.

My skepticism was rewarded. Within days, I was disinvited. The young man who invited me was forced to call me back to tell me that "there was some opposition expressed" to my being

booked. Translation: I was not conservative enough.

I was disappointed, but not terribly surprised. I had hoped, fleetingly, that maybe this group of conservatives might be open-minded enough to invite a keynote speaker who might help them bridge gaps with the mainstream. No way. They wanted real bona fide, get-down, hard-core, fire-breathing right-wingers.

With that in mind, I think my conservative friend David Brock sounds a bit naive in his essay "Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man" in the July issue of Esquire.

Mr. Brock, you may recall, became a darling of the right with the best-seller "The Real Anita Hill," an attack on Ms. Hill's truthfulness in charging Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with sexual harassment. He endeared himself even more to bashers of President Clinton when his reports in the conservative monthly American Spectator put "Troopergate" into headlines and caused Paula Jones to go public with her charges of sexual harassment against Mr. Clinton.

But when his latest book, "The Seduction of Hillary Rodham," failed not only to deliver a death blow to the Clintons but actually was sympathetic in many ways to its subject, Mr. Brock was stunned to find himself suddenly a pariah among his friends in Washington's conservative community.

Suddenly he found himself disinvited to a house party to be attended by the cream of Washington's Clinton-bashing establishment, including Justice Thomas' wife, Ginni Thomas, an aide to House Republican leader Dick Armey. A message left on Mr. Brock's voice mail by Barbara Olson, a Republican lawyer working on the firing of the White House Travel Office workers, said, "Given what's happened, I don't think you'd be comfortable at the party."

That's how things work in Washington. Nothing announces a fall from social grace more decisively than ejection from one of the town's A-lists.

Off the air

The disinvitations didn't stop there. None of the radio talk shows of Gordon Liddy, Oliver North or other right-wing voices who had hosted Mr. Brock repeatedly after his earlier works called him after this book. Right-wing pundits pilloried his Hillary book without even reading it, as liberal pundits pilloried his earlier work.

Worse, when Mr. Brock challenged the accuracy of FBI agent-turned-author Gary Aldrich's best-selling Clinton expose "Unlimited Access," he was told by at least one conservative friend that he should have simply hid from reporters rather than ++ tell the truth.

That's what hurts, Mr. Brock writes. He walked away from liberalism as a college student, he recalls, because too many liberals were more committed to ideology than to ideas. Now, he finds, to his dismay, the same can be said of many right-wingers.

Well, as the young people say, duh-uh. I telephoned Mr. Brock to ask if he thought maybe he was a bit naive to think otherwise.

"I do," he admitted. "Because I thought conservatives had more noble ideas than the liberals, that they were more noble people. That was naive. I'm young."

But the 34-year-old Brock is growing up. "The right-wing hit man is dead," he says. "My commitment to reporting trumps my commitment to politics."

Even so, he had no immediate plans to quit the Spectator, a right-wing hit magazine. To its credit, the magazine was tolerant enough to avoid firing him after the Hillary Clinton book came out, even though he had bitten the party line that feeds him.

Mr. Brock is hardly the first journalistic darling of the left or the right to be castigated by former fans for stepping off the ideological reservation. Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff stirred an avalanche of negative mail and some of his friends stopped speaking to him when he came out against abortion. When the reports of ABC's John Stossel, a former consumer reporter, began to expose excesses of government regulation, he outraged Ralph Nader and other former allies.

What's troubling is how many of Mr. Brock's former friends criticized his journalism without reading it, just as many of his liberal critics had. That's the trouble with movements, whether of the right, the left or the wobbly middle. Movement supporters make a big mistake when they refuse to let facts get in the way of their version of truths.

Clarence Page is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 6/25/97

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