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Book Review: David Brock's 'Killing the Messenger'

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 05, 2015 1:10 am    Post subject: Book Review: David Brock's 'Killing the Messenger' Reply with quote

A renowned veteran of the Republican propaganda machine tells how he came to help Democrats.


The Right-Wing Plot to Derail Hillary and Hijack Your Government
By David Brock
296 pp. Twelve. $28.

The New York Times Book Review
SEPT. 27, 2015
David Brock’s ‘Killing the Messenger’

I’ve always wondered about the details of the reconciliation between
Hillary Clinton and David Brock. As an investigative reporter for The
American Spectator in the 1990s, Brock published whatever the Arkansas
state troopers told him about Bill Clinton and his women and put the rumor
about Vince Foster and Hillary into print. His tone and loose reporting
ethics arguably unleashed two decades of cheap tabloid right-wing best
sellers that still dog Hillary and Bill today. Is that really something
the Clintons ever got past?

Brock’s new book, “Killing the Messenger: The Right-Wing Plot to
Derail Hillary and Hijack Your Government,” provides the answer, which
is yes, and without hesitation. In January 2003 Brock was alone in his
Georgetown home when he got a call from Bill Clinton. Brock had recently
published “Blinded by the Right,” his extravagant mea culpa claiming
that just as Hillary suspected, there had been a “vast right-wing
conspiracy” out to destroy the Clintons, and he was sorry to have been a
part of it. Bill was very well versed in the book, according to Brock, and
had purchased dozens of copies for friends. Bill suggested, nay,
“insisted” that Brock see Clinton’s speaker’s agent right away,
and start touring the country to expose the lies of the right; Brock
countered them with a permanent organization, which eventually turned into
Media Matters.

Hillary, meanwhile, “sprang into action,” inviting Brock to pitch her
Senate fund-raising council and speak at a dinner for donors in her
Chappaqua home. She even followed him down the driveway to list the dinner
guests who had already expressed interest. Brock’s book had made him a
pariah among his conservative friends. The Clintons gave him a new place
to be a hero.

This must be a distinctly Clintonian trajectory of forgiveness: If you are
no longer my enemy, then I must immediately weaponize you. (Bill has made
up with several of his old Arkansas foes. He even gave a fond eulogy at
the memorial service for Richard Mellon Scaife, the chief funder of the
vast right-wing conspiracy.) Being savvy and experienced politicians, the
Clintons probably intuited what was changing in the political landscape,
and what Brock lays out in his latest book: The conservatives had built an
extensive and very effective propaganda machine, and the Democrats were
going to need all the help they could get.

On this last point, Brock’s book makes a convincing case. When he was
part of the enemy team, he and his fellow conspirators were hatching their
stories at bars in Little Rock and, if they were lucky, getting a little
viral bump from Matt Drudge. Now the enemies have offices on K Street and
the full power of Fox News, plus dozens of other conservative media
outlets, PACs and opposition research groups. The conspiracy has matured
into a formidable conglomerate, amply funded and thoroughly integrated
with the Republican establishment. It’s an important historical shift,
but I wish someone else were documenting it. So dogged is Brock’s
devotion to Hillary that it often gets in the way of his being credible,
not to mention interesting.

Sometimes reading the book feels like being trapped in a particularly dull
town hall meeting — as on the ­pages that ­bullet-point Hillary’s
accomplishments as secretary of state or the achievements of the Clinton
Foundation: “More than 33,500 tons of greenhouse gas emissions have been
reduced annually,” etc., etc. Sometimes it reads like a generic ad
designed to introduce a political newbie: Hillary is “a woman with a
steadfast commitment to public service, a clear political vision and a
deep well of personal integrity.” Or the version that might fit on a
bumper sticker: “America is so ready for Hillary,” because “she is
so ready to lead.”

In Brockworld no criticism of the Clintons has ever contained a shred of
truth. Hillary was an “outstanding” secretary of state. Benghazi is a
“pseudoscandal.” The Clinton Foundation does “pathbreaking global
philanthropy.” Hillary’s use of nongovernmental email when she was
secretary of state was totally legit. Clinton fatigue is a myth. And after
Bill left office, the Clintons actually were pretty broke, because “at
every opportunity, they chose to devote their time and energy to improving
their community, their country and their world . . . rather than cash
out.” It doesn’t even seem to matter to Brock if the criticism was
made on Glenn Beck’s show or in The New York Times; it’s always
“sloppy” and “innuendo-laden,” as Brock complained to The Times
about an early article on the email scandal. Or contradictory. Or sexist.

Brock is right about some of these criticisms. Benghazi does seem at this
point like a trumped-up scandal merely designed to remind voters of all
the other scandals attached to the Clintons. He is half right about some
of them. Hillary may not have technically broken any laws by using a
private email server, for example, but does she really expect us to
believe that she did it because it was inconvenient to carry two
BlackBerrys? And some of his defenses are just laughable — for instance,
arguing that “there’s never been any evidence that the country is
tired of the Clintons,” as if weariness needed data.

In his chapter on sexism, Brock recycles some of the low points of her
last run for president: the heckler who yelled “Iron my shirt!,” the
voter who asked John McCain, “How do we beat the bitch?” and the
dozens of negative columns by Maureen Dowd. There is an interesting
conversation to have about sexism and Hillary hatred, but this isn’t it.
Eight years after her first run, the Republicans — Trump excepted, of
course — have gotten more nervous about appearing sexist, more
sophisticated about hinting at ugly thoughts without outright saying them.
They know better than to say Hillary is too old to be president, for
example. Instead, they say that she has old ideas. But Brock, who’s in
permanent combat mode, goes for the easy targets.

Brock could be the ideal anthropologist of Clintonia in all its glorious
forms. He was there from the beginning and is intimately familiar with the
mind-set and tactics of the right. He knows the Clintons well, and if he
weren’t always fighting could probably do an excellent and sophisticated
analysis of how the haters have morphed over time. He’s even constructed
for Hillary her own personal media watchdog, Correct the Record, which
tracks and instantly zaps any negative stories about her. He really
hasn’t missed a moment.

But he just doesn’t have enough distance to piece together the history
effectively. “I am,” Brock writes at one point, “much more of a
practical person than I am an ideological one.” I’m not sure why he
would tell us that. Ideologues are unreliable narrators, but at least
there is passion in their prose. Mercenaries, by contrast, are skilled at
writing what this book sometimes feels like, which is an extended press

Hanna Rosin is the author, most recently, of “The End of Men: And the
Rise of Women.”

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