David Brock, head of Media Matters for America, has gotten a lot of press lately with his attacks on Bill Bennett. As it happens, he is also mentioned in the new issue of The Atlantic Monthly, in the final installment of Bernard-Henri Levy’s series on traveling across America. It begins with Levy visiting Democrats in Washington — first Al From, then John Podesta, and then…
We are always a little ashamed, Baudelaire wrote, of mentioning names that won’t mean anything to anyone in fifty years.
In the case of David Brock the shame is redoubled.
First of all because you won’t need fifty years, or twenty, or even ten, to see this name disappear from American political memory. But also because the character himself is in many respects one of the most objectively loathsome I’ve met in the ten months I’ve been traveling through this country.
He is a little over forty years old. Dark brown hair, smug good looks, thin wire-rimmed glasses. The well-defined square jaw of a tennis pro. Yet in the corners of his mouth; in the self-satisfied bitterness of his smile; in his morose, fugitive glance; last, in his odd complacency in not sparing any detail of his shadowy past, there is something that makes me deeply uneasy.
Here is his story, as he tells it to me.
This is the guy that a Republican lawyer summoned to Arkansas in 1994, to offer him, keys in hand, the so-called secrets of Bill Clinton’s bodyguards.
He is the journalist who, based on these cobbled-together pieces of information gave The American Spectator the article (titled “His Cheatin’
Heart) that launched the whole affair of Clinton’s sex scandals.
But after he’d done his dirty work, and the president was crucified and his private life spread out on all the American networks and throughout the world; after the delayed-action bomb had been thrown that would poison the political life of the country for a decade; then he regretted what he had provoked, and made it his new specialty — on all the airwaves, in the columns of all the newspapers, in an interminable, conceited memoir that immediately became a best seller, in a thundering letter of excuse to Clinton himself, published in Esquire, in which he asked forgiveness for wanting “to pop [him] right between the eyes” — to declare his shame, his very great shame, and he went over to the Democratic Party to which he had done so much harm, but which he wanted thereafter, cross his heart, to serve with all his remaining strength.
Now, in this Washington office where he receives me and where, since his conversion, he has set up Media Matters for America, an agency that works against Republican disinformation, and which he created with the help of a handful of Democratic sponsors, here again is this theatrical way of covering his head with ashes. The impression I get comes across like this: I invented facts…I rigged information…I’m a faker…I have no honor…In this affair I did just what I did ten years earlier, to that poor Anita Hill…I didn’t even care about the rules of my profession but about fame…not even fame, but money…just money…the lure of a reward…Now I regret it…Oh! I so regret it…There is not enough time left in my life to redeem myself, to ask for forgiveness, to grovel at the feet of my new friends, hoping they’ll one day forgive me.
Just think, say the bigwig Democrats who recommended that I see him, for whom the winning over of such an individual is obviously perceived, even today, as a godsend — an apostate! A renegade! Someone who comes to us with, in his beggar’s bundle, the stuff, the secrets, the list of the enemy camp’s dirty tricks! The ideal political spy! The most valuable of turned spies! He was in the heart of the machine, had close contact with the Beast, and he’s just abandoned it all! You can’t get much better than that, can you?