Brock made his name during the roaring ’90s, when talk radio, conservative journals, and sharp-tongued cable pundits kept the Clinton administration under relentless assault. A Berkeley graduate, Brock worked at the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Washington Times before hitting his stride at the American Spectator, a publication that saw its circulation skyrocket from roughly 30,000 to about 300,000 by the mid ’90s. He eviscerated the woman who nearly derailed Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination in a 16,000-word article titled "The Real Anita Hill," which later became a book. In his equally memorable and lurid "Troopergate" assault on the Clintons’ morals and lifestyle, Brock unearthed the Paula Jones episode.
By the tender age of 32, Brock — a photogenic, powerful, and gay conservative — had graced the cover of the New York Times Magazine as part of a new "opinion elite."
But then came a stunning cycle of confession and contrition. It started with a 1997 Esquire story titled "I Was a Conservative Hit Man." Brock followed up with a 1998 Esquire piece that went even further: he offered a personal apology to Bill Clinton, the man he once tormented.
In his 2002 book Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, Brock copped to "the lies told and reputations ruined" during his days as a conservative. "I fought on the wrong side of an ideological and cultural war that divided our country and poisoned our politics," he admitted. (Brock says he has never spoken with Anita Hill, but did send her a personal apology along with an excerpt of the book. Hill could not be reached for comment.)
In 2004 Brock followed Blinded with The Republican Noise Machine: Right Wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy, a book that described the nation’s media "as a powerful conveyer belt for conservative-generated ‘news,’ commentary, story lines, jargon and spin."
While researching that book and learning that the creation of conservative media-watchdog groups "was a foundation piece of everything else [the right] did," Brock says he got the idea for Media Matters.
These days, Brock has virtually no ties with his former colleagues. "I still have some friends that are Republican," he says. "I don’t have relationships with professional conservatives, let’s put it that way."
MATTER OF TRUST
Some other media watchdogs with a non-ideological perspective have a decidedly mixed view of Media Matters — and Brock.
"In terms of accuracy, they’re generally pretty good as far as they go," says Bryan Keefer, assistant manager editor of CJRDaily.org, an online media-monitoring site created by the Columbia Journalism Review. But they are "self-consciously lefty.... They’re really only looking for things where liberals have been treated unfairly or where conservatives have gotten away with things."
Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Washington, DC–based Project for Excellence in Journalism, says, "I don’t have a lot of patience for any media criticism that is based in ideology. Frankly, [for] reporters who cover the news business, it makes our lives more complicated."
Brock responds to such criticism by asserting that Media Matters is filling a "niche" and not competing with groups that conduct extensive content analyses and monitor standards and practices. "We have a more narrow mission," he says. "To work against undue conservative influence in the media."
More vexing for Brock is the cloud of suspicion that continues to hang over his work, in light of his ideological journey and confessed unethical behavior. "Once somebody has demonstrated himself to be an utterly untrustworthy liar," asks Rosenstiel, "why in the world would anybody think he has credibility now that he has switched teams?"
Brent Baker, a vice-president at the conservative MRC, says, "I just don’t see how he has any credibility when he does a 100 percent flip-flop."
FAIR’s Rendall is kinder, saying, "The most important part of the change is not ideological, but that he seems to be getting the facts right now." But speaking "tongue-in-cheek," Rendall does add, "I would compare Brock to ‘Scrooge’ or ‘the Grinch.’"
Brock pauses when trying to grapple with the personal-integrity issue. "If people don’t know me it can be difficult," he says, "and it’s a totally legitimate and understandable question.
"In the history of ideological conversions," he adds — a man now firmly planted on the left — "I’m not really aware of any that have changed twice."
Read Mark Jurkowitz’s daily media blog, go to BostonPhoenix.com. Mark Jurkowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 2
Issue Date: July 29 - August 4, 2005
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