:First, David Brock wrote a devastating profile of Anita Hill, the law professor who testified against Clarence Thomas. Then he took on Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Calling a hatchet man like Brock a legitimate journalist is like reading Crime and Punishment and deciding that Raskolnikov really carried that ax around with him under his coat because he was an undercover policeman.

Brock's now-famous article, titled "The Real Anita Hill," appeared in the far-right American Spectator magazine in March 1992. Conservatives reacted to it with such great glee that Brock followed it up with a best-selling book of the same title.

Brock is hardly a reincarnation of Woodward and Bernstein. His technique consisted of journeying into Hill's past and coming up with all the far-out anecdotes of a sexual nature he could collect. Brock admits there are some elements of satire in his work. Satire? It is a technique widely used in the supermarket-tabloid field, but it has never been used as a tool in the journalism of the far right.

This month, Brock added a new notch to his belt by adopting his technique to Arkansas for four months, he says, to discover the backgrounds of President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Until now, Brock had been pretty much ignored by the mainstream press. His sleazy attack on Hill was so astonishing and titillating that would-be critics backed off rather than engage Brock in a frontal debate. They wrote him off as a salacious weirdo and let it go at that.

Here is a sample of the prose Brock served up against Hill, the woman who came close to preventing Justice Thomas from being confirmed to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Hill's behavior struck more than one of her colleagues not as feminism, but as plain sexism in reverse," Brock wrote.

"Her flirtatiousness, her provocative manner of dress, was not sweet or sexy, it was sort of angry, almost a weapon."
Having thus set up Hill as an angry, black woman, Brock then proceeded to relate this account of an incident that supposedly occurred while she was teaching law at Oral Roberts University. He wrote:

"The most bizarre incident is alleged to have happened in the school year of 1983-84 at Oral Roberts, according to an affidavit dated October 13, 1991, and filed with the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which Lawrence Shiles, a lawyer in Tulsa, recounted the following:

"Shortly after class had begun, Professor Hill gave us a written assignment which I completed and duly turned in. When this assignment was passed out to the class after having been marked by the professor, sitting next to me were fellow students Jeffrey Londoff and Mark Stewart. Upon opening the assignments and reviewing our grades and comments made by Anita Hill, I found ten to 12 short, black pubic hairs in the pages of my assignment. I glanced over at Jeff Londoff's assignment and saw similar pubic hairs in his assignment, also.

"At that time, I made the statement to Londoff that either she had a low opinion of our works or she had graded our assignment in the bathroom. Mark Stewart overheard the conversation and said that he had similar pubic hairs in his assignment, also.'"
Brock concludes this astonishing passage this way:
"So Hill may be a bit nutty and a bit slutty. . . ."

This month, writing again in the American Spectator, Brock devoted his attention not only to President Clinton's sex life but also to what he perceived as an ongoing sexual dalliance between first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and the late Vincent Foster.

Foster was a partner of Mrs. Clinton's in a Little Rock law firm. This is the same Foster whose suicide after becoming a presidential aide has never stopped haunting the White House. Foster, the Clintons' personal lawyer, handled the papers for Whitewater Development, which is now the focal point of a special prosecutor's attention.

Brock quotes state troopers assigned to protect Clinton as seeing Mrs. Clinton being embraced numerous times by Foster and also of seeing her engage in "open-mouthed kissing" with him. The troopers also cite instances in which the two would go off and spend long hours together, either at the governor's mansion or at a cabin owned by the law firm in which both were partners.

The attacks on Clinton were met head-on. Those on Mrs. Clinton were, I think, considered so distasteful that it was better not to even confront them.

All of these charges, however, were lent some credibility because the Los Angeles Times and CNN reacted to the tales of the unhappy Arkansas troopers at the same time.

One of the first reactions I saw to Brock's attack came from columnist Anthony Lewis on the op-ed page of the New York Times.

He referred to Brock as "chief manure spreader for the extreme right. . . . There is much to criticize in this administration . . . but only someone driven by hate would make the president's most intimate life the test. As the record of great figures in history shows, the correlation between a politician's sexual fidelity and his or her contribution to mankind is zero."

Robert Scheer, a highly respected former investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, wrote on that newspaper's op-ed page:

"There is no legitimate journalistic excuse for this preoccupation with the previous peccadilloes, real or imagined, of the president. The issue keeps coming up because it titillates the audience. . . ."
It was not until New York Times columnist Frank Rich attacked Brock that things turned white-hot.

I had seen the smarmy Brock fending off critics during television appearances on C-SPAN and on CrossFire, during which he referred to President Clinton, cavalierly, as "a bizarre guy."

On television, the impression Brock gives us is that of a sanctimonious, self-satisfied young man on a dubious holy mission.

The irony is that Brock seems hell-bent on ferreting out not so much evildoing as low-down common sleaze.

To see the prissy Brock interviewed is to want to reach into the television screen, grab him around the neck with two hands and strangle him before Rush Limbaugh or Robert Novak can come to his aid.

Brock, now 31, is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. He moved to Washington, D.C., and found jobs, successively, at the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times and at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank.

This is, coincidentally, the career path followed by one of Brock's great admirers on the local scene, William P. Cheshire, the Arizona Republic's editorial columnist.

Rich, formerly the New York Times' drama critic, has only recently shifted his attention to politics, and now appears twice a week on the Times' op-ed page.

I was interested in the Rich approach, because he had taken the trouble to go back and read Brock's previous article on Anita Hill to see what that might reveal.

Rich wrote:
"His motives are at least as twisted as his facts. It's women, not liberals, who really get him going. The slightest sighting of female sexuality whips him into a frenzy of misogynist zeal."
Rich further pointed to Brock's quoting the Little Rock state troopers as saying that Mrs. Clinton spoke of her "desire to have more frequent sex with her husband."

Speaking of Brock's "rage at women," Rich pointed out the author's admiration for the state troopers, who he described as "tall and trim, with an upright demeanor and closely cropped hair of a military officer."

Rich cited this one passage from Brock's 11,000-word attack on the Clintons in the American Spectator:

"She would phone the mansion from her law office and order troopers to fetch feminine napkins from her bedroom and deliver them to her at her firm."
Rich asked: "Why does Mr. Brock care? Would he have told this story if Mrs. Clinton were fetching aspirin?"

He concluded by saying of Brock, "His animus is so transparent that there will be no need for anyone to write a book in search of the real David Brock."

Nothing in Washington, D.C., journalism ever ends.
The Rich column caught the eye of Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post's media critic. Kurtz contacted Brock for his reaction to the attack by Rich in the Times.

Wrote Kurtz: "Brock, who is gay, strongly objected to the focus on his sexual views."

This brought me up short. I had never known that Brock was gay or that it mattered. And I certainly didn't learn he was gay from reading the Rich column.

"It's ironic," Brock said, "that those who say Clinton's sex life is irrelevant seem to find mine relevant. My sexual orientation has never been a factor in my journalism, and it never will.

"Any sophisticated reader would interpret the Rich column as a thinly veiled 'outing.' I think one has to look at the journalistic ethics of playing to antigay stereotypes.

"It's particularly dismaying that the New York Times decided to publish a vulgar attack, and it will be interesting to see if the mainstream media regard it as acceptable because it is aimed at a conservative."
I admit that much of this Rich-Brock imbroglio is over my head. In reading Brock's articles on both Anita Hill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, I failed to detect that the thrust of his reporting was prompted by Brock's sexual orientation.

Further, in reading Rich's dissection of Brock, I was not sophisticated enough to spot this as a public revelation that Brock was a homosexual.

But I have never been particularly alert to these things. I still remember being in Philadelphia one time with Christina the Lawyer and walking into a bar with her for a drink. There were no seats available either at the bar or on the cushions placed along the floor, so I suggested we go to some other place.

When we were out on the street, she pointed out to me that I was the only one she knew who wouldn't have spotted the place we had just departed as a gay bar.

Once you start talking about gays and straights, you lose me. When I watched the film Philadelphia the other day, it struck me that the two male lovers seemed to have nothing in common and no reason to even hang around together.

But I think Brock protests too much. No one is attacking him because he is gay. Brock makes the mistake of overestimating his own importance.

"Why is the New York Times so threatened by me?" he demanded. "They consider me more dangerous than Rush Limbaugh."
It is an added mistake for Brock to elevate himself in this manner, because it will not only bring him more attention, but turn the egoistic Limbaugh against him, too. There is, of course, Brock's curious way of getting to what he believes to be the heart of his investigative searches.

With Anita Hill, it was her pubic hairs. With Hillary Rodham Clinton, it was her feminine napkins. And he defends himself by saying, "Did anyone make an issue of what Woodward thought of Nixon? If that anecdote was about Nancy Reagan, the cultural elite would have taken it as a significant detail."

Michael Kinsley of the New Republic refers to Brock's work as "comically sleazy journalism." For some reason, that conjures up memories for me of Evelyn Waugh and Scoop, his hilarious and marvelous novel about journalism.

But this, of course, gives Brock too much credit.
Brock doesn't specialize in the theatre of the absurd. He never makes you laugh, he only makes you cringe. He specializes in the kind of bizarre detail that common decency would prevent anyone else from committing to paper. It is a kind of fine madness.

Brock is one of those obsessed, totally self-satisfied investigators who finds shame under every rock but can't stop himself from continuing to turn them over. Some people with this affliction end up wearing restraining garments and residing in locked hospital wards.

Others go on to work as radio talk-show hosts and become quite famous.



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