The story of Brock’s successful reinvention is, in some ways, a story of serendipity: Right around the time liberals were trying to build a political infrastructure that rivaled the one conservatives had created, along comes someone who’d spent years in the belly of that beast—and was willing to share everything he’d learned. “The liberal side is incredibly envious of the machine the right wing built,” says the left-wing media critic Eric Alterman. “Brock saw it from the inside, and he knows the secrets. He heard what Grover Norquist was saying after the reporters left the room.”
But it’s also a story of meticulous planning and exceptional diligence. “David is pure strategy,” says his friend the literary agent Will Lippincott. “He is constantly thinking about how to make things work. He sets goals and then he figures out how to achieve them. And he does so methodically and with a great deal of care.” Brock quickly concluded that the most useful contribution he could make to the left—and his best shot at securing a prominent perch in the emerging political infrastructure—would be to create an organization to police journalism. But first he would need to win over the very people he’d spent the previous decade savaging. When Brock was beginning to write a business plan for Media Matters in 2003, Alefantis suggested he seek advice from the liberal legal doyenne Judith Lichtman, whose daughter had grown up with Alefantis. “After James called Judy, I literally went upstairs to the library and got The Real Anita Hill and looked up Lichtman in the index,” Brock recalls. “There were fifteen references. And we were like, ‘Oh, shit.’ ” When they later met, the first thing he did was apologize.
No amends were more important than the ones he made to Bill and Hillary Clinton. “It wasn’t that he wanted forgiveness from the Clintons,” one Brock friend says. “He wanted in. He wanted to be part of this progressive restoration, and the only way he could do that was to seek reconciliation from the Big Dog and his wife.” Brock appealed to the Clintons through their confidants, especially the former journalist and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal. He also addressed the couple in print—not just in Esquire, where he apologized to Bill for “conspir[ing] to damage you and your presidency,” but also in between the lines of Blinded by the Right. Brock says he wrote his memoir, in part, as a form of personal catharsis, but it’s easy to read it as a love letter to the Clintons, repeatedly validating their contention that a vast right-wing conspiracy had sought to bring them down.
It wasn’t long after the book’s publication, in March 2002, that Bill Clinton began pressing copies on people like Daschle and the heavyweight donor Steve Bing, both of whom eventually became crucial early supporters of Media Matters. “His sending of that book out was a big help in terms of door-opening,” Brock says, speculating that Clinton passed it on to “dozens,” maybe even “hundreds” of people. When Brock eventually was invited to meet with the former president in his Harlem office, he noticed an entire cabinet was filled with copies of Blinded by the Right.
With doors opened, Brock got busy with what has emerged as perhaps his greatest talent: persuading rich liberals to give him their money. Last year alone, he raked in $23 million for Media Matters and its affiliated groups. Brock’s fund-raising prowess is the stuff of legend—and some mystery—on the left. He explains it as simply a question of having the right attitude. “I think that you genuinely have to enjoy the interaction with donors,” he says, noting that he solicits their advice on everything from political strategy to management techniques.
But Brock’s greatest fund-raising tool is his personal story, and Blinded by the Right plays the same role for today’s rich liberals that Witness played for conservative intellectuals a half-century ago. Peter Lewis, the billionaire who gave Brock $1 million to help get Media Matters off the ground and has been a major donor ever since, says he was initially inspired to contribute because he’d read Brock’s memoir. “Seeing the things he couldn’t deal with over there on the conservative side and then being abused because of his sexual preference—his whole story was just compelling to me,” Lewis says. Other major contributors to Media Matters tell similar tales. “His having been among the right and rejected them is really emotionally comforting to donors,” says Brock’s friend Jon Cowan, who heads the progressive think tank Third Way. “They know he’s damn good at what he does, but it also means a lot to them that he hates the right as much as they do.” One Democratic politico who has chased after some of the same money says that Brock is simply a captivating character: “The tortured gay intellectual and dark complicated figure who wrestled with his soul. Some of it is cultivated, some of it is real, but man, is it a good fucking show.”