Right-Wing Journalism

Dear David:

       You begin your recent Esquire piece, “Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man,” by describing the high price you’ve paid for being an honest journalist. Shortly before your book on Hillary Clinton came out last fall, word spread that your characterization of the first lady was not entirely hostile. Most of your conservative friends had expected an unmitigated hit job, and many of them were surprised. Some were angry. One of them, a woman named Barbara Olson, left a message on your answering machine disinviting you to a dinner she and her husband were hosting to celebrate the closing of the 104th Congress. “Given what’s happened,” you quote Olson as saying, “I don’t think you’d be comfortable at the party.”
       People get bumped off invite lists every day, but you invest the incident with deeper significance. For the crime of not being mean enough to Hillary, you write, “I was suddenly no longer welcome in my old circle.” Barbara Olson’s message was “especially jarring,” you point out, because her husband, a lawyer, “had a thriving First Amendment practice.” The Olsons, in other words, were not only being rude by disinviting you, they were excommunicating you from the entire community of conservatives, maybe even violating your free-speech rights. You were, needless to say, stunned: “As only someone who has fallen from grace in Washington can know, it was a classic moment.”
       According to you, it got more surprising from there. You recount how Grover Norquist, the feverish unsavory head of Americans for Tax Reform, waged a whispering campaign against you for “helping the other team.” You complain that Oliver North and G. Gordon Liddy wouldn’t have you on their radio shows. You reveal that Gary Aldrich, whose book Unlimited Access whines about excessive swearing in the Clinton White House, doesn’t like you because you’re gay. You grumble about not being taken seriously as an objective journalist, while at the same time crying foul because you were not invited to address a convention of conservative political activists. You even appear hurt that liberals, still sore about your Anita Hill book, refused to come to your defense. The whole experience, you explain in wounded tones, was shocking. When did professional political partisans become so … partisan?
       The outrage you express at discovering something so obvious strikes me as disingenuous. So does your claim that you’ve suffered greatly for being truthful about Hillary Clinton. Let’s weigh the results of the controversy surrounding your latest book: You couldn’t go to a dinner party. You were attacked by a few marginal characters on the right, people most intelligent conservatives regard as ridiculous and embarrassing. And you got slammed by Garry Wills and Molly Ivins–hardly a career-killer.
       On the up side, you’ve been able to keep your high-paying, low-obligation job at the American Spectator. You became rich from a book that didn’t sell. Your pieces are now running in Esquire. Last week you did the Today show. I admire and applaud all of these things. But do they amount to a “fall from grace”? Clearly the idiom must have a new meaning.
       But then so must a lot of the words you’ve used recently. On a television show the other day, you claimed–even as your words were being broadcast to thousands of people across the country–to be the victim of “censorship.” Similarly overheated, and baseless, claims pervade your Esquire piece. In Washington, you write at one point, “your friends are never your friends.” In another section, you declare that “the age of reporting is dead.” By the end of the piece, you come off as utterly disillusioned, not only with the hopelessly dishonest right wingers who didn’t like your book, but with journalism itself. In today’s politically homogenized media culture, you write, “there is no place for someone who steps out of bounds.”
       Maybe. On the other hand, you seem more marketable than ever.