Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative

Overview

In a powerful and deeply personal memoir in the tradition of Arthur Koestler’s The God That Failed, David Brock, the original right-wing scandal reporter, chronicles his rise to the pinnacle of the conservative movement and his painful break with it.

David Brock pilloried Anita Hill in a bestseller. His reporting in The American Spectator as part of the infamous “Arkansas Project” triggered the course of events that led to the historic impeachment trial of President Clinton. ...

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Overview

In a powerful and deeply personal memoir in the tradition of Arthur Koestler’s The God That Failed, David Brock, the original right-wing scandal reporter, chronicles his rise to the pinnacle of the conservative movement and his painful break with it.

David Brock pilloried Anita Hill in a bestseller. His reporting in The American Spectator as part of the infamous “Arkansas Project” triggered the course of events that led to the historic impeachment trial of President Clinton. Brock was at the center of the right-wing dirty tricks operation of the Gingrich era–and a true believer–until he could no longer deny that the political force he was advancing was built on little more than lies, hate, and hypocrisy.

In Blinded By the Right, Brock, who came out of the closet at the height of his conservative renown, tells his riveting story from the beginning, giving us the first insider’s view of what Hillary Rodham Clinton called “the vast right-wing conspiracy.” Whether dealing with the right-wing press, the richly endowed think tanks, Republican political operatives, or the Paula Jones case, Brock names names from Clarence Thomas on down, uncovers hidden links, and demonstrates how the Republican Right’s zeal for power created the poisonous political climate that culminated in George W. Bush’s election.

Now in paperback and with a new afterword by the author, Blinded By the Right is a classic political memoir of our times.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
When former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton claimed on national TV that she and her husband were being opposed by "a vast right-wing conspiracy," most watchers scoffed. Sure, there were people opposed to President Clinton and his Democratic administration, but they were just the usual collection of typical conservatives, right? Well, according to author and journalist David Brock -- the man who helped Clarence Thomas ascend to the Supreme Court by working to falsely discredit his accuser, Anita Hill -- there were a tremendous number of right-wing activists at work to bring down the Clintons, their efforts funded by conservative millionaires.

In this book, Brock, who started to "see the light" and move away from the right-wingers with his portrait of Mrs. Clinton, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham -- Brock had set out to do a hatchet job, but found himself writing an evenhanded portrait, incensing his conservative backers -- firmly divorces himself from their influence with this account of how a deeply closeted gay man, desperate to be accepted, found professional acclaim by allying himself with the sorts of people who, in reality, are antipathetic to the gay lifestyle.

Brock spares no one in this detailed account of how publications such as The American Spectator and The Washington Times -- funded, respectively, by right-winger Richard Mellon Scaife and Unification Church bankroller Sun Myung Moon -- thought nothing of printing known lies and distortions in an attempt to further their own causes. Brock tellingly points out that he never learned how to be a good reporter until after he escaped the clutches of these propaganda papers.

Brock, learning all the wrong lessons about journalism, became a conservative icon by going on to assist the "Arkansas Project," a conservative-funded "dirty tricks operation" against the Clintons. The Project would involve and influence many of the people involved in the investigations into "Troopergate" and the subsequent Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky investigations (Brock's portrayal of special prosecutor Ken Starr leaves no doubt in the reader's mind that Starr was on an ideological crusade against Clinton.)

This is one gigantic mea culpa, as Brock, now happily "out" as a gay man, comes clean and gives a chilling account of the many men and women (some of whom went on to be firmly ensconced in the George W. Bush administration) who poured their frightening hate of the Clintons into their every thought and deed. One gets the impression of the author exhaling with relief. (Nicholas Sinisi)

Nicholas Sinisi is the Barnes & Noble.com Current Affairs editor.

From the Publisher
“A chilling portrait . . . of a partisan attack machine.”—Washington Post

“A key document for historians seeking to understand the ethos of the incoherent ’90s.”—New York Times
“A cracking good story . . . Blinded by the Right is . . . something that is owed not only from its author but also from the political cadre he has so spectacularly served and forsaken: an apology.”—The New Yorker

“Anyone wishing to understand America in the 1990s will have to read [Brock’s] book.”—Los Angeles Times

“A fascinating look into the murky world of the politics of personal destruction.”—USA Today

“A mea culpa for an entire era.”—New York Times Magazine

“You cannot fully understand this fevered era without reading this book.”—The Nation

“If you’re looking for proof of corruption and immoral behavior among the nation’s most famous conservatives—read this book.”—Bill Press, CNN

Michael Tomasky
....the writing has about it the tenor of veracity and candor. Brock comes clean on things he has no contemporary motive to come clean on...
The Nation
Todd Gitlin
Anyone wishing to understand America in the 1990s will have to read his book.
Los Angeles Times
Steve Neal
Brock draws vivid portraits of his contemporaries in the conservative movement, from the hypocritical Newt Gingrich to the sloppy Matt Drudge and socialite Arianne Huffington, who padded her syndicated column by writing down the thoughts of others at cocktail parties.
Chicago Sun Times
Frank Rich
....literary antecedent for Blinded by the Right is less The God That Failed than Julia Phillips's scorched-earth memoir of Hollywood, You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again. But Brock, unlike Phillips, can write, and he seems to have expelled much of the bile that marked his past writing. In his portrayal, there are some honorable and principled conservatives who cross his path -- John O'Sullivan of The National Review (which had the guts to pan The Real Anita Hill), Tod Lindberg of The Washington Times, the writer Christopher Caldwell -- and there's a humanity to some (though not all) of the gargoyles and lunatics who outnumber them.
New York Times
Michelangelo Signorile
...illuminating and at times enraging ....[the] cast of hypocrites, vipers and freaks doesn’t get any more perverse than those in Blinded.
NYPress
John Aloysius Farrell
Blinded by the Right is terrific. It's bitchy. Audacious. Malevolent. An indulging, mesmerizing treat....No one on the right comes off looking clean in this book. Not the hypocritical House Republicans who investigated Clinton's sex life while nursing their own adulteries. Not the closeted conservative columnists and office holders who chased and pawed Brock at parties, clubs, and dance floors while their party preached the depravity of gay life. Not the high-ranking Republican legal establishment, whose rage at the left's tactics in the confirmation battles over Robert Bork and Thomas was such that they abandoned time-tested conservative principles such as truth, fair play, and patriotism.
Boston Globe
Clara Frenk
.... fascinating look into the murky world of the politics of personal destruction that led to a $70 million impeachment inquiry. Most important, in a town where everyone from journalists to political appointees does everything to avoid admitting past transgressions, Brock not only says he was wrong -- he tries to make amends.
USA Today
Bill Press
If you're looking for proof of corruption and immoral behavior among the nation's most famous conservatives -- read this book.

If you want to learn all about organized crime -- for God's sake, read this book.

David Brock's Blinded by the Right reads like the memoirs of a mafia hit man. But it's the personal story of a former Republican hit man, instead.
Tribune Media Services

Hendrik Hertzberg
Blinded by the Right is a valuable book. It is not an apologia. It is something rarer, and it is something that is owed not only from its author but also from the political cadre he has so spectacularly served and forsaken: an apology.
New Yorker
Joe Conason
By journalistic standards, then, Mr. Brock is a credible person; more credible, certainly, than those who tried to deny the existence of the Arkansas Project and, more broadly, the "right-wing conspiracy" to undermine the Clinton Presidency. But there are elements of his story that are perhaps more compelling than the dry corroboration of names, dates and bank accounts.
New York Observer
Andrew Milner
Blinded by the Right is a terrific personal account of the seamier side of American political life.
Philadelphia City Paper
Library Journal
When Brock (The Real Anita Hill; The Seduction of Hillary Rodham) was a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley in 1981, his political idol was Bobby Kennedy. Four years later, he was a committed conservative who idolized Oliver North and Robert Bork. In this book, Brock chronicles the political round trip back to his more liberal roots. Along the way, he earned the adoration of the extreme right, even after he acknowledged that he was gay, because he worked feverishly as a writer for conservative publications such as the Washington Times and American Spectator, promoting and validating conservative causes. An American Spectator article in early 1994 broke the "Troopergate" scandal and laid the groundwork for the Paula Jones suits against President Clinton, but Brock says he was troubled by the relentless investigations of the Clintons and came to regret his part in them. Eventually, the shallowness of his relationship with the conservatives forced him to make a final break in 1997. Although readers may doubt the sincerity of Brock's latest conversion, the book offers a revealing inside look at the conservative media and provides a careful chronicling of the investigations of the Clintons. Recommended for media studies and political science collections and for larger public libraries. Jill Ortner, SUNY at Buffalo Libs. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400047284
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/25/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 412,347
  • Product dimensions: 5.26 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

David Brock, a writer in Washington, D.C., is the author of The Real Anita Hill and The Seduction of Hillary Rodham. He has written for Esquire, New York, Rolling Stone, Talk, and the New York Times and Washington Post op-ed pages. He appears regularly on television talk shows, and his work has been featured on National Public Radio.
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Read an Excerpt

THE MAKING OF A CONSERVATIVE

Bobby Kennedy was my first political hero; his legend helped shape my early social conscience. Before heading off to college, I looked forward to serving as an intern at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., which was dedicated to continuing RFK's work. The year was 1980, and the country was at an ideological crossroads in the presidential election between Democratic President Jimmy Carter, who had defeated Senator Edward Kennedy in a bitterly contested primary battle, and Carter's conservative challenger, Ronald Reagan, the former governor of California. In Washington, I worked out of a charming old town house with polished pinewood floors for a man named David Hackett, a close friend of Bobby Kennedy's who had worked in the Kennedy Justice Department in the 1960s. A man in his late fifties, with a lean, athletic build and the endearing air of an absentminded professor, Hackett possessed both the brimming idealism of the Kennedy clan and the Kennedy swagger. He zoomed into work each day in a plum-colored Fiat Spider.

Working comfortably with a group of fellow aspiring journalists and liberal public policy advocates from around the country, I was assigned to one of the foundation's projects, the Student Press Service, a youth-run newswire that dispatched reports from the nation's capital on federal policy dealing with young people--financial aid, child welfare, bilingual education, youth employment, national service--to subscribing high school and college newspapers. I had been living in Washington only a few months when I cast my first vote, for Jimmy Carter, who lost his bid for reelection. With the Reagan administration now in power, the mood at the foundation turned grim. Many of the government programs we advocated were in peril; the Student Press Service reported sympathetically on Democratic efforts to save them. "Budget Plans May Hurt School Desegregation Efforts," read one headline. "Voting Act Extension Causes Controversy," warned another. The cover story for a press service report in late April 1981 was an exposé by me on the Ku Klux Klan Youth Corps--a "segregated Boy Scouts" that was conducting "paramilitary youth camps" throughout the South and West in the early months of the Reagan era. Working the phones and tapping out copy, we were following a liberal political line, which conformed to a view of journalism I had come to in high school, after reading Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel The Jungle, a muckraking exposé on the abysmal working conditions in Chicago's meat-packing industry. Journalism was a forum to agitate for social justice.

I took these concerns with me to Berkeley, California, where I enrolled as a freshman in the fall of 1981. I had chosen the University of California at Berkeley specifically because of its long tradition of liberal political activism, beginning with the famed Free Speech Movement of 1964 and culminating in protests against the war in Vietnam in the early 1970s. Yet my first year on the Berkeley campus was not at all what I had anticipated. Rather than a liberal bastion of intellectual tolerance and academic freedom, the campus was--though the phrase hadn't yet been coined--politically correct, sometimes stiflingly so. Many on the faculty, having come of age in the 1960s, adhered to a doctrinaire leftism to which I had never been exposed. Though it is a blunt overgeneralization, the sociology department seemed to me to be filled with socialists, the philosophy department with devotees of Michel Foucault's relativistic deconstructionism. History tended to be taught from the perspective of New Left revisionists, who blamed the Cold War on the United States. In English literature, the Western canon, composed of "dead white European males," was out of fashion.

The politically correct culture was even more ubiquitous in the surrounding left-wing city of Berkeley--some called it Berzerkeley--where many of the sandal-clad 1960s campus activists had settled and were now running fiefdoms like the Rent Control Board. The evils of Reagan's anti-Communist policies in Central America, the campaign to establish a Third World College on campus--these were the subjects of endless rants over lattes at Café Roma. As the arms race with the Soviet Union escalated under Reagan, the nuclear weapons labs run by the university in Livermore and Los Alamos were a rallying point for sometimes-violent student protests. Researchers there were branded "fascists." I decorated my dorm room with postcards portraying the Reagans as victims of a nuclear holocaust, but something felt wrong.

In my sophomore year, as a cub reporter for the Daily Californian, the student-run newspaper that was widely read both on the sprawling Berkeley campus and in the city, one of the first assignments that I drew, quite by chance, was to cover a campus speech by Jeane Kirkpatrick, Ronald Reagan's United Nations ambassador and an architect of his hard-line anti-Communist policies in El Salvador and Nicaragua, which countenanced human rights violations throughout the region by our anti-Communist allies. An acerbic, schoolmarmish neoconservative Democrat and former university professor, Kirkpatrick had been invited to deliver the Jefferson Lectures, a distinguished annual series on the history of American political values. As with nearly every campus event in Berkeley, a protest was announced in leaflets that had been stapled onto bulletin boards in the main plaza.

When I arrived at the auditorium at the appointed hour, the expected conga line of sign-holding protesters had not materialized. Berkeley's lecture halls were cavernous, and on this warm day in early fall Dwinelle Hall was filled to capacity. I walked into the hushed room and took a seat up front near the platform. Opening my reporter's notebook, I was set to jot down the details of what I expected to be a rather dry academic address. Kirkpatrick was introduced by the mild-mannered Berkeley law school dean, and she approached the podium with a clutch of papers in a hand that looked more like a bird's claw. No sooner had she begun speaking than several dozen protesters, clad in black sheets with white skeletons painted on them, bolted from their seats, repeatedly shouting, "U.S. Out of El Salvador," and "Forty Thousand Dead," a reference to political assassinations by death squads linked to the U.S.-backed Salvadoran military junta. Kirkpatrick stopped speaking, waiting patiently for the din to die down; but as soon as she uttered another word, the chanting commenced, and it grew louder and louder with each recitation. As an exasperated Kirkpatrick pivoted toward the law school dean for assistance, a protester leaped from his seat just offstage and splashed simulated blood on the podium. After several more attempts to be heard with no help from the hapless dean, Kirkpatrick curled her lip, turned on her heels, and surrendered to the mob.

The scene shook me deeply: Was the harassment of an unpopular speaker the legacy of the Berkeley-campus Free Speech Movement, when students demanded the right to canvass for any and all political causes on the campus's Sproul Plaza? Wasn't free speech a liberal value? How, I wondered, could this thought police call itself liberal? As I raced back to the threadbare offices of the Daily Cal, where we tapped out stories on half-sheets of paper hunched over manual typewriters, my adrenaline was pumping. I knew I had the day's lead story. For the rest of the academic year, a controversy raged in the faculty senate and within the board of regents, where several of former Governor Reagan's appointees still sat, over whether the campus administration should have done more to secure Kirkpatrick's ability to speak freely. The few outspoken conservatives on the faculty, and the Reagan regents, raised their voices in support of Kirkpatrick's free speech rights. The liberals seemed to me to be defending censorship.

Later that year, I declared a major in history with an emphasis on European and American diplomacy. Repelled by the Berkeley left, especially in the months following the Kirkpatrick incident, I gravitated toward the few conservatives on the faculty who had taken up the cudgels against the anti-Kirkpatrick protesters. Through my studies, including seminars with Walter McDougall, a young, mustachioed foreign policy hawk and occasional contributor to conservative intellectual William F. Buckley's National Review, I formed some early ideas about the need for vigilant American defense policies, and under his tutelage I developed a strong anti-Communist viewpoint.

Outside the classroom, my political education consisted of devouring copies of Norman Podhoretz's Commentary, the leading monthly magazine of the ex-liberals known as neoconservatives. I stumbled upon an issue of Commentary on a library reading rack and charged off into the stacks of Moffitt Library, where I read back issues for days. Like Podhoretz's famous piece "The Present Danger," Commentary specialized in alarming essays on the Soviet threat, some of them by Kirkpatrick herself. The intellectual vigor and fiery polemics appealed to me more than the foppish, Anglophilic bent of National Review or the American Spectator, the other leading conservative magazines of the day. Commentary seemed to speak to everything I was learning in class at that young age--the need for a strong military was so plain, if you studied history--and also to everything that troubled me about Berkeley's political extremism. I couldn't get enough.

I loved writing for the Daily Cal, and I thrived there as a reporter, fitting in easily with the brainy newspaper crowd. In my junior year, I was elected by the staff to a top-level news-editing post. I won election because I had worked hard breaking stories, including a series of investigative articles proving that a university vice president had misappropriated university resources to benefit a private company he ran on the side. The articles forced his resignation. I was a respected reporter on the staff, and as an aspiring young journalist exposing corruption, I was gratified to win my first scalp.

With my new post came a seat on the paper's editorial board and the opportunity to write signed op-ed columns. For some weeks, the editorial page editor had been after me to contribute a column for the paper's international opinion page. The October 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada, where American forces overthrew a Marxist-leaning regime, seemed like an obvious chance to hone my polemical skills. Inspired by a McDougall seminar on "just war" theory, and a bracing op-ed in the New York Times by right-wing columnist William Safire, I sat in Café Roma and scribbled out in longhand a ringing endorsement of the "liberation" of Grenada from the Soviet sphere of influence that steamrolled over legitimate arguments against the invasion. To me, the column was an academic exercise; I hadn't realized that it would be received in Berkeley as a political thunderclap. While I wasn't knowingly playing the part of provocateur, when the column was published on a Monday morning, all hell broke loose.

By the early 1980s, most of the thirty-thousand-plus Berkeley student body had no interest in carrying on the scruffy activist traditions of the 1960s. They were tall and blond and from places like Orange County and had keg parties at their frats. Or they were the studious children of immigrants, devoted to their engineering books. While most students seemed unconcerned with events in Grenada, the military operation was deeply unpopular with Berkeley's small but very vocal population of activists, who saw it as an example of rapacious American imperialism and had taken to the streets with flag-burning protests. My column stoked the flames of the local fires, and I rather unintentionally became the focus for the protesters' rage.

The main opposition to my column came from some lefty faculty members, like Charlie Schultze, the award-winning chemist who was always protesting at the Livermore weapons lab, and the city of Berkeley's political establishment--Mayor Gus Newport, an avowed socialist, and liberal Democratic Congressman Ron Dellums, whose staff had close relations with Maurice Bishop's ousted Grenadan regime. There was opposition, too, within the Daily Cal, an off-campus cooperative run independently of the university, led by the general manager, Marty Rabkin, one of those '60s types who had come to Berkeley and never left. "How could you?" an indignant Marty said to me in his office as we watched the desecration of the American flag in the streets below.

How could I? I wasn't the one burning the flag. Though critics, including Rabkin, were outraged by what they saw as the grave injustices of U.S. foreign policy in Grenada, I didn't see their point of view, just as I had been unable to credit the position of the anti-Kirkpatrick demonstrators, who believed that her policies condoned murder. All I understood was that I was being targeted in a campaign by the left to recall me from my post as editor for speaking my mind. I remember rushing by, feeling vulnerable and turning my face away in embarrassment, as huge rolls of brown paper petitions against me were unfurled on Sproul Plaza.

To me, liberals were flatly and unapologetically advocating censorship of opinions they considered illegitimate and immoral, a rerun of the Kirkpatrick incident. The argument went: An editor at a newspaper with a 150-year progressive tradition should not be allowed to publish such obscene views. I was branded a warmonger, a fascist, and worse. I was determined to stand my ground and fight, all the more so because, as I saw it, the fight was not about Grenada, but about the First Amendment. Viewing it this way, as a moral rather than an ideological struggle, I became as self-righteous and rigid as my critics, who in my eyes were not just wrong but un-American.

I survived the threatened recall only on a technicality. The bylaws governing the cooperative had no provision for removing editors, and they could be amended only at the end of the academic year when new editors were elected. Continuing on as editor, I accepted and even embraced the controversy I incited, willfully doing everything I could to enhance my outsider status. I baited my liberal adversaries, publishing a diatribe against a board of regents proposal to strengthen affirmative action programs. Meanwhile, every editorial decision I made was seen by many on the staff as motivated by an evil right-wing plot. Being an outspoken conservative in Berkeley got me noticed, which I relished. I imagined myself as David against the liberal Goliath.

By the end of my junior year, I had become both a hated--and, I'm sorry to say, something of a hateful--figure in the newsroom. I demonized my enemies on the staff, led by a bubbly blond from Pasadena and a brooding Hispanic fellow, both of whom I openly and wrongly scorned as witless affirmative action hires. I was also caught in an embarrassing lie. A small cadre of loyalists had stuck by me through the Grenada controversy. As a way of building up my power base, when a problem arose in a story one of them had written after it was published, I sought to tarnish the reputation of one of my foes, who had edited the piece. I told the editor in chief that the vice chancellor had called to complain about the story. She immediately called the university official and found out the truth: He hadn't called. When the editor confronted me about the lie, I froze, speechless, and walked away. Soon enough, everyone in the newsroom knew I had lied. Though my poor cadre knew about my lie and voted for me anyway, I lost overwhelmingly in my campaign to be elected editor in chief. For good measure, the bylaws were amended to provide for the removal of editors on a majority vote of the staff: the Brock Amendment.

Though my discomfort with the extremist elements in Berkeley was understandable and in some ways valid, it was distorted by an emotional overreaction to the Grenada controversy. Like most political arguments in college, the episode had a distinctly personal edge. Rather than settling in some reasonable middle ground between left and right, my feelings of persecution caused me to swing to the right. To hold myself together during the campaign to recall me, I dug in my heels, assumed a warlike posture, and closed my mind and my heart to all things left and liberal for good. Moreover, I now viewed politics as a knife fight, my critics as blood enemies. My still-nascent ideological commitments acquired a vengeful overlay: I'll get them.

At the same time, I was able to find comfort--a sense of belonging and a measure of stature--in the sectarian right-wing Berkeley campus underground that rose up to defend and embrace me. In addition to historian Walter McDougall, there was the witty political scientist Paul Seabury, whose lectures were sometimes protested because he was a member of Reagan's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. The bald, bespectacled Seabury was a smoker, and after class I would sit with him as he indulged himself and told me of his political journey from left to right, in reaction to the radical anti-Americanism and what he called "the fascistic style" of the 1960s left. I also became a research assistant to Aaron Wildavsky, a renowned neoconservative social theorist, on his book The Beleaguered Presidency, in which he argued that the Democrats were becoming "a party that delegitimized the nation's second-largest constituency--white, working, Christian males." I romanticized these faculty conservatives as stalwart defenders of constitutional protections, civility, and tolerance, never once wondering if they might have jumped into the fray to defend Jeane Kirkpatrick and me for ideological reasons. With McDougall, Seabury, and Wildavsky taking me under their wings, happy to have a bright new recruit with a sharp pen in the cause, I settled comfortably into conservatism.

I fell easily under the spell of my surrogate father figures, as though anyone who gave me attention could dictate my beliefs. From them I found the moral and ideological clarity, the critical affirmation and acceptance, and the firm sense of who I was that my fragile psyche yearned for. I slapped the label of the entire conservative movement on my lapel, gave it authority over my being, without even understanding what it meant. Stumbling into a fight over Grenada at the age of twenty, I came out of it playing the role of right-wing ideologue--right-wing robot, really--to the hilt. I jumped on a conservative trajectory that would cause me to live my life along a certain but wrong course for the next fifteen years.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

Preface to the Paperback Edition
Prologue
Ch. 1 The Making of a Conservative 1
Ch. 2 The Third Generation 23
Ch. 3 Leninists of the Right 52
Ch. 4 "A Counter-Intelligentsia" 77
Ch. 5 The Real Anita Hill 95
Ch. 6 Holy War 132
Ch. 7 Troopergate 146
Ch. 8 Out of the Closet 175
Ch. 9 "A Woman Named Paula" 192
Ch. 10 The Arkansas Project 210
Ch. 11 The Best and the Rightist 234
Ch. 12 Strange Lies 258
Ch. 13 The Seduction of Hillary Rodham 271
Ch. 14 The Gary Aldrich Affair 288
Ch. 15 Breaking Ranks 298
Ch. 16 Monica, Sidney, and Me 327
Epilogue 360
Index 367
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First Chapter

THE MAKING OF A CONSERVATIVE

Bobby Kennedy was my first political hero; his legend helped shape my early social conscience. Before heading off to college, I looked forward to serving as an intern at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., which was dedicated to continuing RFK's work. The year was 1980, and the country was at an ideological crossroads in the presidential election between Democratic President Jimmy Carter, who had defeated Senator Edward Kennedy in a bitterly contested primary battle, and Carter's conservative challenger, Ronald Reagan, the former governor of California. In Washington, I worked out of a charming old town house with polished pinewood floors for a man named David Hackett, a close friend of Bobby Kennedy's who had worked in the Kennedy Justice Department in the 1960s. A man in his late fifties, with a lean, athletic build and the endearing air of an absentminded professor, Hackett possessed both the brimming idealism of the Kennedy clan and the Kennedy swagger. He zoomed into work each day in a plum-colored Fiat Spider.

Working comfortably with a group of fellow aspiring journalists and liberal public policy advocates from around the country, I was assigned to one of the foundation's projects, the Student Press Service, a youth-run newswire that dispatched reports from the nation's capital on federal policy dealing with young people—financial aid, child welfare, bilingual education, youth employment, national service—to subscribing high school and college newspapers. I had been living in Washington only a few months when I cast my first vote, for Jimmy Carter, who lost his bid for reelection. With the Reagan administration now in power, the mood at the foundation turned grim. Many of the government programs we advocated were in peril; the Student Press Service reported sympathetically on Democratic efforts to save them. "Budget Plans May Hurt School Desegregation Efforts," read one headline. "Voting Act Extension Causes Controversy," warned another. The cover story for a press service report in late April 1981 was an exposé by me on the Ku Klux Klan Youth Corps—a "segregated Boy Scouts" that was conducting "paramilitary youth camps" throughout the South and West in the early months of the Reagan era. Working the phones and tapping out copy, we were following a liberal political line, which conformed to a view of journalism I had come to in high school, after reading Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel The Jungle, a muckraking exposé on the abysmal working conditions in Chicago's meat-packing industry. Journalism was a forum to agitate for social justice.

I took these concerns with me to Berkeley, California, where I enrolled as a freshman in the fall of 1981. I had chosen the University of California at Berkeley specifically because of its long tradition of liberal political activism, beginning with the famed Free Speech Movement of 1964 and culminating in protests against the war in Vietnam in the early 1970s. Yet my first year on the Berkeley campus was not at all what I had anticipated. Rather than a liberal bastion of intellectual tolerance and academic freedom, the campus was—though the phrase hadn't yet been coined—politically correct, sometimes stiflingly so. Many on the faculty, having come of age in the 1960s, adhered to a doctrinaire leftism to which I had never been exposed. Though it is a blunt overgeneralization, the sociology department seemed to me to be filled with socialists, the philosophy department with devotees of Michel Foucault's relativistic deconstructionism. History tended to be taught from the perspective of New Left revisionists, who blamed the Cold War on the United States. In English literature, the Western canon, composed of "dead white European males," was out of fashion.

The politically correct culture was even more ubiquitous in the surrounding left-wing city of Berkeley—some called it Berzerkeley—where many of the sandal-clad 1960s campus activists had settled and were now running fiefdoms like the Rent Control Board. The evils of Reagan's anti-Communist policies in Central America, the campaign to establish a Third World College on campus—these were the subjects of endless rants over lattes at Café Roma. As the arms race with the Soviet Union escalated under Reagan, the nuclear weapons labs run by the university in Livermore and Los Alamos were a rallying point for sometimes-violent student protests. Researchers there were branded "fascists." I decorated my dorm room with postcards portraying the Reagans as victims of a nuclear holocaust, but something felt wrong.

In my sophomore year, as a cub reporter for the Daily Californian, the student-run newspaper that was widely read both on the sprawling Berkeley campus and in the city, one of the first assignments that I drew, quite by chance, was to cover a campus speech by Jeane Kirkpatrick, Ronald Reagan's United Nations ambassador and an architect of his hard-line anti-Communist policies in El Salvador and Nicaragua, which countenanced human rights violations throughout the region by our anti-Communist allies. An acerbic, schoolmarmish neoconservative Democrat and former university professor, Kirkpatrick had been invited to deliver the Jefferson Lectures, a distinguished annual series on the history of American political values. As with nearly every campus event in Berkeley, a protest was announced in leaflets that had been stapled onto bulletin boards in the main plaza.

When I arrived at the auditorium at the appointed hour, the expected conga line of sign-holding protesters had not materialized. Berkeley's lecture halls were cavernous, and on this warm day in early fall Dwinelle Hall was filled to capacity. I walked into the hushed room and took a seat up front near the platform. Opening my reporter's notebook, I was set to jot down the details of what I expected to be a rather dry academic address. Kirkpatrick was introduced by the mild-mannered Berkeley law school dean, and she approached the podium with a clutch of papers in a hand that looked more like a bird's claw. No sooner had she begun speaking than several dozen protesters, clad in black sheets with white skeletons painted on them, bolted from their seats, repeatedly shouting, "U.S. Out of El Salvador," and "Forty Thousand Dead," a reference to political assassinations by death squads linked to the U.S.-backed Salvadoran military junta. Kirkpatrick stopped speaking, waiting patiently for the din to die down; but as soon as she uttered another word, the chanting commenced, and it grew louder and louder with each recitation. As an exasperated Kirkpatrick pivoted toward the law school dean for assistance, a protester leaped from his seat just offstage and splashed simulated blood on the podium. After several more attempts to be heard with no help from the hapless dean, Kirkpatrick curled her lip, turned on her heels, and surrendered to the mob.

The scene shook me deeply: Was the harassment of an unpopular speaker the legacy of the Berkeley-campus Free Speech Movement, when students demanded the right to canvass for any and all political causes on the campus's Sproul Plaza? Wasn't free speech a liberal value? How, I wondered, could this thought police call itself liberal? As I raced back to the threadbare offices of the Daily Cal, where we tapped out stories on half-sheets of paper hunched over manual typewriters, my adrenaline was pumping. I knew I had the day's lead story. For the rest of the academic year, a controversy raged in the faculty senate and within the board of regents, where several of former Governor Reagan's appointees still sat, over whether the campus administration should have done more to secure Kirkpatrick's ability to speak freely. The few outspoken conservatives on the faculty, and the Reagan regents, raised their voices in support of Kirkpatrick's free speech rights. The liberals seemed to me to be defending censorship.

Later that year, I declared a major in history with an emphasis on European and American diplomacy. Repelled by the Berkeley left, especially in the months following the Kirkpatrick incident, I gravitated toward the few conservatives on the faculty who had taken up the cudgels against the anti-Kirkpatrick protesters. Through my studies, including seminars with Walter McDougall, a young, mustachioed foreign policy hawk and occasional contributor to conservative intellectual William F. Buckley's National Review, I formed some early ideas about the need for vigilant American defense policies, and under his tutelage I developed a strong anti-Communist viewpoint.

Outside the classroom, my political education consisted of devouring copies of Norman Podhoretz's Commentary, the leading monthly magazine of the ex-liberals known as neoconservatives. I stumbled upon an issue of Commentary on a library reading rack and charged off into the stacks of Moffitt Library, where I read back issues for days. Like Podhoretz's famous piece "The Present Danger," Commentary specialized in alarming essays on the Soviet threat, some of them by Kirkpatrick herself. The intellectual vigor and fiery polemics appealed to me more than the foppish, Anglophilic bent of National Review or the American Spectator, the other leading conservative magazines of the day. Commentary seemed to speak to everything I was learning in class at that young age—the need for a strong military was so plain, if you studied history—and also to everything that troubled me about Berkeley's political extremism. I couldn't get enough.

I loved writing for the Daily Cal, and I thrived there as a reporter, fitting in easily with the brainy newspaper crowd. In my junior year, I was elected by the staff to a top-level news-editing post. I won election because I had worked hard breaking stories, including a series of investigative articles proving that a university vice president had misappropriated university resources to benefit a private company he ran on the side. The articles forced his resignation. I was a respected reporter on the staff, and as an aspiring young journalist exposing corruption, I was gratified to win my first scalp.

With my new post came a seat on the paper's editorial board and the opportunity to write signed op-ed columns. For some weeks, the editorial page editor had been after me to contribute a column for the paper's international opinion page. The October 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada, where American forces overthrew a Marxist-leaning regime, seemed like an obvious chance to hone my polemical skills. Inspired by a McDougall seminar on "just war" theory, and a bracing op-ed in the New York Times by right-wing columnist William Safire, I sat in Café Roma and scribbled out in longhand a ringing endorsement of the "liberation" of Grenada from the Soviet sphere of influence that steamrolled over legitimate arguments against the invasion. To me, the column was an academic exercise; I hadn't realized that it would be received in Berkeley as a political thunderclap. While I wasn't knowingly playing the part of provocateur, when the column was published on a Monday morning, all hell broke loose.

By the early 1980s, most of the thirty-thousand-plus Berkeley student body had no interest in carrying on the scruffy activist traditions of the 1960s. They were tall and blond and from places like Orange County and had keg parties at their frats. Or they were the studious children of immigrants, devoted to their engineering books. While most students seemed unconcerned with events in Grenada, the military operation was deeply unpopular with Berkeley's small but very vocal population of activists, who saw it as an example of rapacious American imperialism and had taken to the streets with flag-burning protests. My column stoked the flames of the local fires, and I rather unintentionally became the focus for the protesters' rage.

The main opposition to my column came from some lefty faculty members, like Charlie Schultze, the award-winning chemist who was always protesting at the Livermore weapons lab, and the city of Berkeley's political establishment—Mayor Gus Newport, an avowed socialist, and liberal Democratic Congressman Ron Dellums, whose staff had close relations with Maurice Bishop's ousted Grenadan regime. There was opposition, too, within the Daily Cal, an off-campus cooperative run independently of the university, led by the general manager, Marty Rabkin, one of those '60s types who had come to Berkeley and never left. "How could you?" an indignant Marty said to me in his office as we watched the desecration of the American flag in the streets below.

How could I? I wasn't the one burning the flag. Though critics, including Rabkin, were outraged by what they saw as the grave injustices of U.S. foreign policy in Grenada, I didn't see their point of view, just as I had been unable to credit the position of the anti-Kirkpatrick demonstrators, who believed that her policies condoned murder. All I understood was that I was being targeted in a campaign by the left to recall me from my post as editor for speaking my mind. I remember rushing by, feeling vulnerable and turning my face away in embarrassment, as huge rolls of brown paper petitions against me were unfurled on Sproul Plaza.

To me, liberals were flatly and unapologetically advocating censorship of opinions they considered illegitimate and immoral, a rerun of the Kirkpatrick incident. The argument went: An editor at a newspaper with a 150-year progressive tradition should not be allowed to publish such obscene views. I was branded a warmonger, a fascist, and worse. I was determined to stand my ground and fight, all the more so because, as I saw it, the fight was not about Grenada, but about the First Amendment. Viewing it this way, as a moral rather than an ideological struggle, I became as self-righteous and rigid as my critics, who in my eyes were not just wrong but un-American.

I survived the threatened recall only on a technicality. The bylaws governing the cooperative had no provision for removing editors, and they could be amended only at the end of the academic year when new editors were elected. Continuing on as editor, I accepted and even embraced the controversy I incited, willfully doing everything I could to enhance my outsider status. I baited my liberal adversaries, publishing a diatribe against a board of regents proposal to strengthen affirmative action programs. Meanwhile, every editorial decision I made was seen by many on the staff as motivated by an evil right-wing plot. Being an outspoken conservative in Berkeley got me noticed, which I relished. I imagined myself as David against the liberal Goliath.

By the end of my junior year, I had become both a hated—and, I'm sorry to say, something of a hateful—figure in the newsroom. I demonized my enemies on the staff, led by a bubbly blond from Pasadena and a brooding Hispanic fellow, both of whom I openly and wrongly scorned as witless affirmative action hires. I was also caught in an embarrassing lie. A small cadre of loyalists had stuck by me through the Grenada controversy. As a way of building up my power base, when a problem arose in a story one of them had written after it was published, I sought to tarnish the reputation of one of my foes, who had edited the piece. I told the editor in chief that the vice chancellor had called to complain about the story. She immediately called the university official and found out the truth: He hadn't called. When the editor confronted me about the lie, I froze, speechless, and walked away. Soon enough, everyone in the newsroom knew I had lied. Though my poor cadre knew about my lie and voted for me anyway, I lost overwhelmingly in my campaign to be elected editor in chief. For good measure, the bylaws were amended to provide for the removal of editors on a majority vote of the staff: the Brock Amendment.

Though my discomfort with the extremist elements in Berkeley was understandable and in some ways valid, it was distorted by an emotional overreaction to the Grenada controversy. Like most political arguments in college, the episode had a distinctly personal edge. Rather than settling in some reasonable middle ground between left and right, my feelings of persecution caused me to swing to the right. To hold myself together during the campaign to recall me, I dug in my heels, assumed a warlike posture, and closed my mind and my heart to all things left and liberal for good. Moreover, I now viewed politics as a knife fight, my critics as blood enemies. My still-nascent ideological commitments acquired a vengeful overlay: I'll get them.

At the same time, I was able to find comfort—a sense of belonging and a measure of stature—in the sectarian right-wing Berkeley campus underground that rose up to defend and embrace me. In addition to historian Walter McDougall, there was the witty political scientist Paul Seabury, whose lectures were sometimes protested because he was a member of Reagan's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. The bald, bespectacled Seabury was a smoker, and after class I would sit with him as he indulged himself and told me of his political journey from left to right, in reaction to the radical anti-Americanism and what he called "the fascistic style" of the 1960s left. I also became a research assistant to Aaron Wildavsky, a renowned neoconservative social theorist, on his book The Beleaguered Presidency, in which he argued that the Democrats were becoming "a party that delegitimized the nation's second-largest constituency—white, working, Christian males." I romanticized these faculty conservatives as stalwart defenders of constitutional protections, civility, and tolerance, never once wondering if they might have jumped into the fray to defend Jeane Kirkpatrick and me for ideological reasons. With McDougall, Seabury, and Wildavsky taking me under their wings, happy to have a bright new recruit with a sharp pen in the cause, I settled comfortably into conservatism.

I fell easily under the spell of my surrogate father figures, as though anyone who gave me attention could dictate my beliefs. From them I found the moral and ideological clarity, the critical affirmation and acceptance, and the firm sense of who I was that my fragile psyche yearned for. I slapped the label of the entire conservative movement on my lapel, gave it authority over my being, without even understanding what it meant. Stumbling into a fight over Grenada at the age of twenty, I came out of it playing the role of right-wing ideologue—right-wing robot, really—to the hilt. I jumped on a conservative trajectory that would cause me to live my life along a certain but wrong course for the next fifteen years.
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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with David Brock

Barnes & Noble.com: Was this a particularly painful book for you to write, in that you're essentially turning your back on the conservative movement that made you famous?

David Brock: This was a painful book to write, but not because I'm turning my back on the conservative movement. I'm happy to have broken with the conservatives, and I have gotten over my hurt feelings long ago. The painful part was coming to terms with the things that I did when I was in the movement. I asked myself why I did them, and then decided to write about it all with candor. One of the hardest things I had to do was reread The Real Anita Hill, the attack book I wrote against Clarence Thomas's accuser, which was published nine years ago. It was a very emotional experience. The book was laced with so much hatred I could hardly recognize it as my work.

B&N.com: Hillary Clinton was laughed at by many for claiming that there was, in her words, a "vast right-wing conspiracy" at work to ruin her and her husband. In hindsight, should we have believed her?

DB: Hillary Clinton was on the money. There was an organized, well-financed right-wing conspiracy, which I discuss at length in the book. I know because I was part of it. Way back in 1993, when I was working on the "Troopergate" story for the American Spectator, Cliff Jackson, the well-known Clinton enemy who was advising the troopers to come forward with their salacious tales of Clinton's alleged womanizing, said that he wanted to see Clinton "impeached." And of course that's exactly what happened. Had the full story of the conspiracy that Mrs. Clinton referred to come out in 1998, I think things may have turned out differently.

B&N.com: Are you still friendly with any of the conservative pack you used to run with?

DB: When my biography of Hillary Clinton was published before the 1996 election, many conservatives were enraged that I wrote a fair and balanced book rather than a hatchet job. They dropped me, literally, overnight. A handful of conservatives remained friends for several more months, but I found with them that excommunication became a two-way street. I ended several of these relationships when I realized they were based not on true friendship but on right-wing politics and Clinton-hating. As I shed those views, I also needed to find new friends.

B&N.com: Arianna Huffington pops up often in the book. Although she started out as a staunch Gingrinchite, she -- like you -- now seems to have "defected" from the right wing. Do you think a trend is forming?

DB: Well, I think there is a trend away from the right and toward the center in the sense that the hard-edged conservatism of the Gingrich era no longer plays well with the public. Conservatives lost the culture wars of the 1990s, and the conservative candidate for president in 2000 lost the popular vote. Senator Jim Jeffords left the GOP. On the other hand, I don't expect to see high-profile conservatives switching sides in midcareer. I know from firsthand experience that conservatism is a great marketing device, a way to sell books, get ratings, and rake in the think-tank dollars. Most people aren't going to walk away from that on principle.

B&N.com: Why do you think the conservatives hated (and still hate) liberals such as Bill and Hillary Clinton?

DB: Clinton-hating is a complex phenomenon, more an emotional aversion than an intellectual one. To the right wing, the Clintons -- the first baby-boomer, two-career first couple -- personified all of the liberal social and cultural changes in the country that they hated since the 1960s. The right also hated Clinton because he was an awesomely talented politician -- bringing the Democrats to power for the first time in a dozen years -- and because he was resilient in the face of their unrelenting attacks. For others, Clinton-hating is a psychological phenomenon: They see in the Clintons the very qualities that they hate in themselves.

B&N.com: Were the conservatives out to get Clinton right from the start?

DB: From day one, the right regarded Clinton as an illegitimate usurper. On Election Night, 1992, Senator Bob Dole questioned Clinton's authority to govern because he had won the presidency with less than 50 percent of the vote. The Republicans were determined to deny Clinton the chance to be president: That's what all the Clinton scandals were really about.

B&N.com: In the book, you admit that you helped to unfairly smear Anita Hill in order to benefit Justice Clarence Thomas. Have you ever had the opportunity to formally apologize to Hill?

DB: I sent Anita Hill a letter in early 1998 attempting to express my deep regret for what I had written in The Real Anita Hill. Then last summer, when Talk magazine ran an excerpt from my book that revealed that Clarence Thomas did have an affinity for pornography, just as Hill had alleged in her testimony against him, I sent her a copy of the article and another note. We've never spoken or met. Perhaps we will someday. I hope she reads this book, which details my wrongdoing and serves in itself as an apology.

B&N.com: Thomas has proved to be one of the most extreme right-wing justices ever, his votes seemingly in perpetual lockstep with conservative Justice Scalia. Seeing Thomas's voting record on the Court, how does that make you feel?

DB: Knowing what I know, it seems clear to me that Thomas has been paying back the right-wing supporters who nominated him to the High Court and got him confirmed in a very ugly battle, ever since. I don't view Thomas as an independent actor in the way other justices -- even other conservatives like Scalia -- are. He's perfectly programmed. Unfortunately, I was used, or allowed myself to be used, by these same ideological forces, who wanted me to mount a public defense of Thomas as a way of legitimizing his position on the Court. When I think now that I may have helped do that -- well, regret isn't a strong enough sentiment.

B&N.com: What do you think of the job George W. Bush has done thus far?

DB: As I write in the epilogue, I voted for Al Gore. I don't regret that vote. Prior to September 11th, Bush was following a right-wing Republican agenda that made him the most popular figure among conservatives since Ronald Reagan. While Bush has led the country ably in the war in Afghanistan, the right-wing agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy and huge increases in defense spending continues to define his administration. What I'm most concerned about are the issues that are lurking in the background -- from the environment to AIDS to judicial nominees. On these, Bush has been exactly what I thought he would be -- disappointing, if not dangerous. It's natural for the public to rally around a president in wartime; but I don't think the rest of his agenda is what the country wants.

B&N.com: Many of the "conspiracy" members are now firmly ensconced in the Bush administration. How do you think that will affect the future policy initiatives of the government?

DB: Many of the people I write about in the book, leaders of the anti-Clinton crusade, have ended up in the Bush administration. After all, that's what it was about, getting power, and after eight years of partisan warfare, they did it. Their influence seems most pronounced in legal policy -- most of the administration's top lawyers, like Solicitor General Ted Olson, are drawn from the ranks of the Federalist Society, a secretive lawyers' network that pushes an antiregulatory, antiabortion, anti–civil rights agenda. They are in the White House counsel's office, in key jobs in the Justice Department, and serve as the general counsels to many of the agencies. They are making decisions every day that are below the public's radar screen but matter enormously. I don't trust these people with my civil liberties.

B&N.com: With a potential "Enrongate" scandal brewing, and Vice President Cheney invoking "executive privilege" to keep facts relating to his secret energy council from public view, do you think the left will have the moxie to pursue the scandal in the same relentless way as the right did?

DB: During the Clinton years, the right was able to manufacture and promote a number of scandals because a well-funded, highly disciplined propaganda machine was in place -- subsidized magazines, think tanks, talk radio, columnists and talking heads who toe the party line, and Rupert Murdoch's media properties. The left doesn't have this kind of firepower. Now, I'm not suggesting that the left imitate the right by trotting out a bunch of lies against their opponents. But when a serious scandal like Enron comes along, the left must become a match for the right in the battle to shape the public debate. There ought to be a liberal Rush Limbaugh pounding on Cheney every day. There ought to be a liberal Heritage Foundation, aggressively marketing liberal ideas to policymakers and the press. There are a gazillion right-wing talking heads all over cable TV. I can hardly think of one on the left. But the issue is deeper than simply who makes the most noise; it has to do with the differing natures of the left and right. The left looks at the Enron scandal and tries to draw constructive policy lessons, i.e., campaign finance reform, more regulation of accounting firms, and the like. The right uses scandal as a weapon to savage its opponents.

B&N.com: Now that you've "recovered" from your dalliance with the right wing, and have entered the world of true (nonbiased) journalism, what are you planning for your next book project?

DB: I haven't made any decisions about future projects. As I was writing this book, I found that concerns about my journalistic career were holding me back from telling the unvarnished truth about my past. So I decided to concentrate on writing an honest book without making any plans for what I might do next.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2003

    the birth of a nation ( griffiths)

    excellent expose of the extreme right's hijacking of the republican party. brock, as an insider ( the spectator's former poster boy of sludge ) documents the birth of the current media bias and it sure 'aint liberal. the cast of characters and their behavior in the bigoted service of what they illegitimately presume to be the public good makes me long for the days of a scare as clean and honest as creature features.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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