David Brock, who made his name raking Anita Hill over the coals after the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, now says he lied--and he's sorry.
The formerly right-wing author, in a forthcoming book, says he "lost my soul" in printing allegations he knew to be untrue. Brock writes that he was "dumping virtually every derogatory --and often contradictory--allegation I had collected on Hill into the vituperative mix."
Brock now charges that Supreme Court Justice Thomas used him to spread derogatory information about one of Thomas' critics--an allegation strongly denied by the man who Brock says was the intermediary between them.
"Thomas was complicit in an effort to discredit another witness against him with negative personal information, which is exactly what he claimed the Anita Hill forces had done to him," Brock said in an interview. Thomas declined to comment. [The justice's wife, Virginia Thomas, calling in to WMAL radio's "Chris Core Show," in Washington D.C., on Wednesday, said, "My heart is so heavy for David Brock .... I think he's a tortured man who's really struggling on this earth."]
Brock's new book, "Blinded by the Right," which continues his recent renunciation of his conservative past, is excerpted in the August issue of Talk magazine.
Why is he confessing now? "I not only wrote a book I now believe was wrong, I consciously lied in print in a book review on this subject," he said 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."
Brock rose to prominence with his bestselling 1993 book "The Real Anita Hill"--calling the woman who accused Thomas of making offensive sexual remarks "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty"--and became a star anti-Clinton writer for the American Spectator.
In the Anita Hill book, he now writes, "I demonized Democratic senators, their staffs and Hill's feminist supporters without ever interviewing any of them .... I was so blinded by my partisan tunnel vision and my tortured desire to make it in the movement that I believed my own propaganda."
At one party, he says, Thomas' wife, Ginni, "tearfully embraced me." Hill, who now teaches at Brandeis University, wants to keep her reaction "personal and private," spokesman Dennis Nealon said.
The most startling section of this about-face involves Brock's attempt to discredit "Strange Justice," a 1994 book on the Hill-Thomas clash by Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson.
As "a witting cog in the Republican sleaze machine," Brock writes, he had access to Thomas through an intermediary, Mark Paoletta, a close Thomas friend who worked on his confirmation as a lawyer in the first Bush White House.
According to Brock, Thomas passed along, through Paoletta, "unverified embarrassing personal information about his friend [Kaye] Savage that Thomas claimed had been raised against her in a divorce proceeding .... Thomas was playing dirty, and so was I."
Savage, who had made some disparaging comments about Thomas in "Strange Justice," soon got a visit from Brock. Armed with the personal information, Brock says, he demanded that Savage "give me a written statement retracting the statements in 'Strange Justice' ... or I would blacken her name, just as I had done to every other woman who had impugned Thomas' reputation." He says Savage later faxed him a statement backing off her earlier criticism.
Paoletta, who now works for a House committee, called the account "simply not true. Justice Thomas did not ask me to pass along any derogatory information to David Brock about Kaye Savage."
Savage said in an interview that "I feel grateful to Mr. Brock that he has admitted he tried to intimidate me and appreciate that the public record is now clear .... I think it takes a great deal of courage." She called her experience with Brock "a little frightening."
Brock says he also tried to "blow away" Mayer and Abramson's contention that Thomas had been a frequent customer at the X-rated video store Graffiti during the early 1980s, when Hill alleged he had graphically discussed such videos with her. According to Brock, Thomas confirmed, again through Paoletta, that he often rented pornographic videos from Graffiti.
"Confirmation that Thomas frequently rented porno tapes made Hill's entire story much more plausible," Brock writes. Nevertheless, in a Spectator review of "Strange Justice," Brock wrote that there was no evidence that Thomas had ever rented a single X-rated video, dismissing the book as "one of the most outrageous journalistic hoaxes in recent memory."
"When I wrote those words," Brock admits in his new book, "I knew they were false."
Paoletta said he "did not confirm to David Brock that Justice Thomas ever rented videos from the Graffiti video store. In fact, to this day, I do not personally know whether he, in fact, rented videos from that store
Mayer, now a New Yorker staff writer, said: "I'm glad he's finally confessed the truth, which we knew all along, which is that he fabricated material, suppressed evidence and falsified the record in order to undermine the truth, which is what we wrote in the first place. I'm sorry that he waited so long. It was personally painful."
Abramson, now Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, said that "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? .... It'd be awfully convenient to now say because what he's writing is personally pleasing to me that he's a 100% solid reporter. That would be a little disingenuous."
Although relations have thawed to the point that Brock spoke to a class Abramson was teaching at Princeton last fall, "I still have quite a bit of contempt for the kind of journalism he practiced," she said.
Activist Barbara Ledeen challenged one part of the Brock excerpt in which he contends that the two of them wrote a radio script attacking "Strange Justice" and faxed it to conservative Rush Limbaugh, who is said to have used it on his radio show. "I completely deny that," Ledeen said. "I have never done anything with David Brock except attend a few parties." Limbaugh said he had no recollection of receiving such a script.
Ledeen, who currently works for the Senate Republican leadership, laughingly dismissed Brock's contention that she threatened to "firebomb" his residence after he wrote a sympathetic biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"Firebombing is not part of the resume for a middle-class lady from Chevy Chase," Ledeen said.
In recent years, Brock has made a second career of denouncing his earlier work as a conservative reporter. In 1998, he expressed regrets in an Esquire article for digging into President Clinton's sex life and said he believed his sources exaggerated the details. Brock's 1993 "Troopergate" article in the Spectator, filled with allegations about Arkansas womanizing, described a woman named "Paula," which led Paula Jones to file her sexual harassment suit against Clinton.
Could Brock now be described as betraying those who were once his conservative friends--some of whom the man who was then a closeted gay now describes as "racist, homophobic Clinton-haters"?
"I came to view these relationships as mutual-use relationships rather than friendships," Brock says. "I was using them, and they were using me."