One of the oldest jokes in the world is the one about the three-legged pig. There are dozens of versions, but they all basically go like this:
There’s a traveling salesman making his way through the backwoods when he approaches a farmer to make a sale. He sees a three-legged pig hopping around behind the farmer and asks, “Hey, why does your pig only have three legs?”
“That’s no ordinary pig!” exclaims the farmer. “That is the smartest pig in the whole world. It saved my family’s life.” The farmer continues, “Last summer, the stove done broke and gas was leaking all over the place. That there pig pounded on the door and woke everybody up.”
“Okay, but why is it missing a leg?”
“And then, last summer, the pig pulled my wife out of the lake when she’d done cramped up and near drown.”
“Yeah, but why only three legs?”
“Well, son, with a pig that special, you don’t eat it all at once.”
Well, we have a new version of the pig joke. This time the pig is David Brock. And the punch line goes something like, “You don’t sell credibility like mine all at once.”
In the late 1980s and early 1990s David Brock was a prized hatchet man for the American Spectator. He wrote a devastating piece exposing the obvious fact that the forces and individuals arrayed against Clarence Thomas were hardly political rubes. Of Anita Hill, he said she was “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.” I can’t say a word about the slutty, but the “nutty” assertion didn’t require an investigative reporter to nail down; all you had to do was read her academic writings. But that’s a different story.
Later, David Brock wrote some articles in The American Spectator about the fact that, as governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton’s behavior toward state female employees was akin to Fredo Corleone’s behavior toward cocktail waitresses after the family sent him to the Tropicana.
Then, something happened.
Brock took a mammoth, $550,000 advance to write a book about Hillary Clinton, but by the mid 1990s no liberal source in the world would talk to Brock. The famed investigative reporter of the Right couldn’t get the story, unless by “getting the story” you mean dissecting a stack of newspaper clippings compiled by an intern. So, in a desperate gamble to save his reputation and the lifestyle to which he’d grown accustomed, Brock tried to make his failure a selling point: If I, the greatest and most attractive investigative reporter in the world, can’t get the story, there must be no story!
The idea was inspired. Declare that you’ve closed the book on Hillary Clinton simply because you couldn’t write one in the first place. Now, the market for your dull and plodding clip job is vastly broadened by Clinton fans everywhere.
Alas, while writing The Seduction of Hillary Clinton, Brock was seduced himself, by the coprophagic Clinton sycophant Sid Blumenthal. Whether the smell of sulfur caused him to further lose his senses is unknown. But, the fact remains, a process had begun. By claiming, implicitly and explicitly, that Hillary Clinton’s critics were all wrong, Brock won himself few friends on the Right. Meanwhile, perhaps, Brock discovered that the cocktail parties on the liberal side of the ledger were very accommodating to a man like him who was willing to trash those knuckle-dragging meanies on the Right.
Like the pig best eaten slowly, Brock — once hailed by the Washington Post as the “Bob Woodward of the Right” — started feeding on his own reputation and credibility. In an essay for Esquire, “Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man,” he assured readers that while his own credibility was always and everywhere accurate, the people he had associated with were hate-filled ideologues, largely because they didn’t like his book. As Ramesh Ponnuru put it in an excellent essay, Brock “mostly confessed other people’s supposed sins.”
Oh, and before I forget, Brock punctuated his sincerity by showing readers his own nipple as he bound himself to a tree for an Esquire photo that perfectly typified that magazine’s ever-increasing New York gay sensibilities and Brock’s own self-involvement.
The internal logic of Brock’s own personal fire sale soon took over. Though hailed by liberals for “coming clean,” they would never really trust him. As Jill Abramson told the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, “the problem with Brock’s credibility” is that “once you admit you’ve knowingly written false things, how do you know when to believe what he writes?”
Brock tried to write standard-fare hit pieces about conservatives like William Bennett, but that didn’t work because no one on the Right would tell him anything interesting either (not that there’s much salacious info about Bennett to be told). Suddenly, the only “reporting” available to the fallen would-be Woodward was news about, well, himself. Indeed, he became the one and only source who would tell him everything and anything he wanted to hear, true or not.
So, then, amidst the Lewinsky scandal, Brock wrote another Esquire opus, an open “Letter to the President,” this time sans nipple (because that would be gratuitous). Here he questioned his own work even more forcefully. “I’ve had occasional pangs of doubt: Is it possible that [Clinton's State troopers] took me for a ride, embellishing their account for fame and fortune?”
You can almost see David sitting at his computer typing the words as Sid cooed words of encouragement and applied a friendly back rub.
But the reality is likely far closer to the fact that Brock was now taking himself for a ride. He was rewriting and embellishing his own accounts to preserve what was left of his own fading fame and fortune and to keep the cocktail invites coming.
“Perhaps it was my own tortured experience as a muckraker that has made my reaction to Ken Starr’s attempt to find a crime in the Monica Lewinsky case so different from that of almost anyone I know in Washington,” he wrote. That’s right; the story isn’t about the various and sundry transgressions of the president — it’s about David’s own tortured “experience” — quotation marks required.
In recent months this pattern has taken him into the realm of self-parody. In Talk magazine, for example, he tried to make the Florida reelection battle a mere postscript to his own experiences on the Right. And then there was his attempt to piggyback some publicity on Ted Olson’s confirmation hearings.
And then, just yesterday, comes a piece in the Washington Post by Howard Kurtz on Brock’s new book on — guess what? — more of his tortured “experiences.”
He says he “lost my soul” when he wrote untrue things about Anita Hill and attempted to discredit Thomas opponents. He says he lied about Clarence Thomas not renting porn movies. “I not only wrote a book I now believe was wrong, I consciously lied in print in a book review on this subject,” he told Kurtz from his Washington home. “I think I owe a debt to the historical record to correct it. If I made a mistake here, the mistake would be that I knew these facts five years ago and didn’t disclose them.”
As Brock devours himself to the point where he is little more than a disembodied talking head, the irony is luxuriously rich. Again, as Ramesh Ponnuru points out, Brock’s early work helped create or at least broaden the notion that the personal is political. By going after Bill Clinton’s vastly more egregious personal shortcomings, and by triggering in the Clinton camp a campaign to smear all accusers at any cost (he may have used bigger words and rhymed less, but Blumenthal did call Monica a little bit nutty, and a little bit slutty, didn’t he?), Brock immunized Thomas against any such complaints from the Left.
If Brock is telling the truth — and I don’t think he is — then all Thomas is guilty of is asking an employee out for a date, watching some dirty movies, and making some off-color jokes to a mature professional woman. How exactly is that worse than the Oval Office Triple-X employer-employee action described in the Starr Report’s footnotes? How is it worse than attempting to defame an intern in Grand Jury testimony? How is it worse than the abuses of power, the perjury, etc., etc? Indeed, in the ensuing years, the cultural elite has become wedded to the idea that getting jiggy with it with an employee is a badge of honor. Even Gloria Steinem was forced to endorse the “one-free-grope” standard for politicians. Nobody ever accused Thomas of groping.
Indeed, even if such invasion into one’s private life have become, in the words of Richard Cohen, “an Orwellian intrusion by the gumshoes of the state”; even if Ken Starr was a “zealous prig out of The Crucible” for following up on Clinton’s now admitted lies under oath; even if it’s none of our business that Bill Clinton “mentored” Monica Lewinsky senseless on the presidential seal; what does that make someone whose only alleged crime was to rent On Golden Blonde or Drive This Miss Daisy“?
All joking aside, few people I know take Brock seriously. Too many people knew him and were in the room when all of the various right-wing horrors he rails against allegedly occurred. In fact, most people think he’s more than a bit sad. Clarence Thomas’s wife asked that people “pray” for Brock. Indeed, there are many who argue that we should just let Brock’s self-feeding frenzy continue without comment. That Brock’s only “source” has discovered even more wrongdoing by Brock, is old and stale and age hasn’t improved its plausibility. So why pour gravy on his meal?
It’s a fair point, but like the one about the three-legged pig, some jokes are timeless.