“[N]o one has conclusively refuted the assertions in Blinded by the Right,” asserts Will Harper in an article, titled “The Unreal David Brock,” posted May 16 on the Web site for the East Bay Express, an alternative newspaper serving Northern California’s Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Actually, Chatterbox thinks he refuted pretty conclusively Brock’s claim (on Page 235) not to have learned about Laura Ingraham’s “antigay past at Dartmouth” until he read about it in Vanity Fair. (The article was written by Mrs. Chatterbox, whose notes show that she had discussed with Brock Ingraham’s undergraduate gay-bashing in the course of researching her piece.) But, no matter. Harper’s piece is a valuable addition to the Brock literature because it demonstrates that one significant part of Brock’s narrative—about how he initially became a conservative—doesn’t quite add up.
Harper doesn’t dispute Brock’s basic claim to have moved right partly out of disgust at the rudeness with which campus leftists shouted down Jeane Kirkpatrick when she spoke at Berkeley in February 1983. But he does dispute some key particulars in Brock’s story. Here is how Brock tells it:
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. … 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 …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.
Harper’s main objection to this tale is that Brock (who had joined the paper the previous year, hence was not really a “cub reporter”) did not write the Daily Cal’s next-day news story about the Kirkpatrick incident. Chris Norton did. Norton, subsequently a Central America-based reporter for various newspapers, told Harper, “Someone told me to go cover this and I said okay. … He didn’t write the story; I wrote the story.” Norton also wrote a follow-up story that appeared two days after Kirkpatrick’s foiled lecture. It wasn’t until three days after the lecture that the Daily Cal ran a Brock-bylined story related to the event, a short piece reporting that Berkeley’s student-body president had proposed taking back campus funds supporting the protesters. Brock subsequently wrote a longer piece about the Kirkpatrick incident and its implications for free speech in the Berkeley Journal, a paper Brock helped found. This is probably the article—written more than a year and a half after Kirkpatrick’s appearance—that Brock had in mind when he wrote Blinded by the Right.
The mistake is characteristic of Brock’s tendency to overdramatize his role in the various events he describes (in the May 27 Nation, Christopher Hitchens aptly describes Brock’s book as “an exercise in self-love, disguised as an exercise in self-abnegation”). Once you know that Brock did not cover Kirkpatrick’s speech for the Daily Cal, you begin to wonder whether he even attended it. Evidence that he did not is inconclusive, but Harper dutifully notes that Brock misidentifies the site of Kirkpatrick’s speech (Wheeler Auditorium, not Dwinelle Hall) and that neither Norton nor two others in attendance that day remember anything about fake blood being hurled at the podium. Harper further points out that if fake blood was hurled, it went unmentioned for the next two days in print coverage he examined from the Daily Cal, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner, the Berkeley Gazette, the Oakland Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times.
Incidentally, Harper also contests Brock’s description of the Berkeley Journal (Brock was its publisher) as a “neoconservative” publication. Steve Kettmann, who edited it, told Harper that everyone on the paper except Brock was a Democrat, though they were admittedly “put off by the mannerisms of the student left at the time.” Kettmann, now a Berlin correspondent for Wired News, wrote in an April 7 op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle that “intellectual dishonesty” is Brock’s “defining characteristic.” Kettmann noted that in 1984 he sent copies of the Berkeley Journal to Hendrik Hertzberg, then editor of the NewRepublic. Hertzberg, who has never been a neocon, “stunned us by responding with a letter lavishly praising our weekly for being ‘intelligently written,’ concluding: ‘Somehow you’ve stumbled on some very high standards.’ ” This deepens the mystery of how Hertzberg, who ordinarily displays impeccable common sense, could have given Blinded by the Right a favorable review in The New Yorker.