There may be no greater testament to David Brock’s central role in the vast left-wing conspiracy than the lengths to which Rupert Murdoch will go to avoid him.
In November, a researcher at Media Matters for America, the liberal press-watchdog group that Brock founded seven years ago, noticed that the website Charitybuzz was auctioning a “friendly lunch” with Murdoch to benefit the Global Poverty Project. That one of Brock’s worker bees would be keeping tabs on the News Corp. chairman’s calendar should not be terribly surprising. At Media Matters’ headquarters in Washington, D.C., scores of headphone-wearing staffers spend their days (and nights) staring into their television screens and computer monitors, waiting for the latest bits of “conservative misinformation” to emerge from the Fox News Channel and other corners of the right-wing media landscape, all of which are saved on “the big TiVo”—270 terabytes’ worth of hard drive that store over 300,000 hours of TV shows—so that the offending clips can be uploaded to Media Matters’ website. Are you in need of a compendium of the “50 Worst Things Glenn Beck Said on Fox News”? Fear not, Media Matters’ site has one.
But in the past few months, the group has begun to do more than merely monitor Fox’s programming. “What happened after the Obama election, I think, is that Fox morphed into something that isn’t even recognizable as a form of media,” Brock recently told me. “It looks more like a political committee than what it looked like pre-Obama, which was essentially talk radio on television. It’s more dangerous now; it’s more lethal. And so as Fox has doubled down, we’ve doubled down.” In practice, that means no longer just pointing out inaccuracies. Instead, Media Matters is going on the offensive.
“The truth is that the more responsible the media outlet, the more responsive they are to constructive criticism. But with a Sean Hannity, you can correct the same lie ten times and he’ll keep saying it, so you reach your limits with what you can do defensively,” Brock continued. “Now the idea is: What does it take to get the attention of people above the News Channel? What does it take to get the attention of Murdoch?”
Having the media mogul as a captive audience over lunch certainly seemed like one way to do that. So when the charity auction was brought to Brock’s attention, he told one of his deputies to “go get it”; $86,000 later, Brock had bought the opportunity for himself and five guests to break bread with Murdoch. But Murdoch apparently began to have second thoughts. For months, Media Matters was unable to schedule the lunch. Then in March, Charitybuzz passed along demands that Brock and his guests submit to “a full background check” and promise not to record or report on the conversation.
Media Matters balked at these conditions—proposing instead that Brock and Murdoch select a third-party journalist to attend the lunch and report on their interactions. But Murdoch refused. Finally, last month, News Corp. informed Charitybuzz that Media Matters’ anti-Fox agenda meant the “very high likelihood that the lunch would be neither friendly nor productive”; the company would donate $86,000 to the Global Poverty Project instead. In other words, while Brock was willing to pay $86,000 for the privilege of having lunch with Murdoch, Murdoch was willing to pay that much in order not to have lunch with Brock.
In politics, there is no such thing as a lonely apostate: The very act of betrayal makes a political figure instantly irresistible to his new comrades. When the ex-Communist spy Whittaker Chambers publicly accused Alger Hiss of having been a fellow traveler—first in testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1948, then in his memoir Witness—he became a hero to a generation of conservative politicians and intellectuals. The Democratic senator Zell Miller earned himself a spot as the keynote speaker at the 2004 Republican National Convention for denouncing his party. And for the past three decades, David Horowitz has made a living as a right-wing commentator by repeatedly renouncing his past as a member of the sixties New Left.
And then there’s David Brock, who made his name in the early nineties as an investigative reporter for The American Spectator and a self-described right-wing hit man. The bigger the liberal target, the bigger the teardown job. Anita Hill was, in Brock’s infamous estimation, “a bit nutty and a bit slutty”; in a lengthy exposé on Bill Clinton’s sexual romps back in Arkansas, Brock mentioned one at a Little Rock hotel with a woman named “Paula”—which eventually led to Paula Jones’s sexual-harassment lawsuit, which almost ended Clinton’s presidency. Off the page, Brock reveled in his reputation as a destroyer of liberal icons. He ostentatiously smoked a pipe and swaggered around Washington with a walking stick (affectations made even more ridiculous by the fact that Brock was still in his twenties); callers to his home phone during the Clinton administration were greeted by the answering-machine message “I’m out trying to bring down the president.”