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NEW BROCK STORIES BEGIN TO UNRAVEL
Wed May 15 2002 15:34:07 ET
Key portions of David Brock's college remembrances from his best-selling confessional memoir BLINDED BY THE RIGHT are refuted by a story set to be published in the EAST BAY EXPRESS, a weekly newspaper.
Staff writer Will Harper interviewed nineteen of Brock's former University of California at Berkeley colleagues and reviewed news stories from the early 1980s to rebut several of Brock's published claims -- including his role in the very event that he says launched his conservatism, and his account of the creation of an alternative campus newspaper.
Questions of accuracy are central to the credibility of Brock's bestseller, an inside account of the so-called "vast right-wing conspiracy" that crippled the Clinton presidency. Brock describes his memoir as an account of "what the conservative movement did, and what I did, as we plotted in the shadows, disregarded the law, and abused power to win even greater power." He depicts the book as an attempt to come clean with his admittedly less-than-honest past.
But many of the people Brock accused in Blinded by the Right have rejected his account of their actions. These allegations are hard to conclusively prove or disprove because they involve conversations that allegedly occurred in private. Asked last year by reporter Nina Totenberg how such claims should be evaluated, Brock challenged the media to probe his reporting's accuracy: "Good credible journalists can look into what I'm saying, examine it, and get to the bottom of this, and they can find the truth."
One of the best places to accept Brock's challenge is at the university where he became a conservative. As Brock tells the story, his life changed profoundly during his sophomore year when he covered a February 15, 1983 campus speech by United Nations ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick for the Daily Californian, a school newspaper.
Protesters repeatedly heckled Kirkpatrick, a supporter of President Reagan's anticommunist foreign policy in Central America, and she walked off the stage in frustration. The protest spurred a national debate over campus free speech.
"The scene shook me deeply," Brock recalled in Blinded by the Right. "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."
In fact, Brock did not have any story in the next day's Daily Cal. The byline atop the Kirkpatrick story belonged to Chris Norton, a freelancer who expressed disbelief when told that Brock claims to have written that day's main story. "He didn't write the story," Norton said. "I wrote the story."
Nor was Brock's error limited to his published recollections. Brock elaborated upon his printed account in his first Express interview. When confronted later with proof to the contrary, Brock backed away from his claims but insisted he attended the event. "It was a pivotal moment for me in terms of my political thinking ... quite aside from whether I wrote the story the next day," he said.
Brock's book also described a moment when "a protester leaped from his seat just offstage and splashed simulated blood on the podium." But three people who attended the speech -- Norton, Bob Bryzman of Students Against Intervention in El Salvador, and former UC Berkeley law school dean Jesse Choper -- don't remember anyone throwing fake blood. Additionally, no stories in the next two days from the Daily Cal, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Berkeley Gazette, Oakland Tribune, or Los Angeles Times mentioned anything about fake blood being hurled near Kirkpatrick.
Blinded by the Right also wrongly identified Dwinelle Hall as the venue for Kirkpatrick's speech; in fact, the ambassador spoke at Wheeler Auditorium.
Brock's other errors concern his account of the campus newspaper he and a few colleagues went on to start in August 1984. "Feeling responsible for some Daily Cal colleagues who were blackballed at the paper because of their affiliation with me, I helped found another outlet, a dignified, neoconservative weekly magazine we called the Berkeley Journal," Brock wrote. "We raised money from conservative alumni by convincing them that the campus needed a voice more in tune with the mainstream politics of '80s students."
But here again, Brock's account is disputed by other participants. About the only thing his fellow exiles agree about is that the weekly they started was called the Berkeley Journal and that he was its publisher.
Steve Kettmann, the Journal's only editor-in-chief, said about ninety percent of the money used to finance the newspaper -- not magazine -- came out of the staff's pockets, not from conservative alumni. "I can believe he raised some small amount of money from alumni, though I do not recall any talk of that at the time." Former managing editor Lisa Leff says that as a progressive she would have raised a stink if anyone had raised money from conservative alumni. "I think I would have wrestled with that if it were true," Leff says.
Kettmann's bigger beef is with Brock's description of the Journal as "neoconservative." Kettmann says that except for Brock, everyone at the paper was a Democrat. He says the staff was "on the left without a doubt." A review of the Berkeley Journal's thirteen issues shows that the paper's ideology was indeed more politically correct than neoconservative.
In the final of three interviews with the Express, Brock conceded that Kettmann "was certainly right that they were not self-identified conservatives in the way that I was." But Brock stuck by his description. "There were definitely editorials run that were to the right of the position that the Daily Cal was taking on various issues. To me, you know, that's neoconservative. ... There was criticism of affirmative action, I remember that."
In fact, the Journal never editorialized against affirmative action in any of its thirteen issues, which were inspected by the Express.
Drew Digby, who butted heads with Brock when the two worked at the Daily Cal together, recalled his old rival as prone to error and embellishment even back then. Digby, now a history instructor at the University of Minnesota in Duluth, faxed a copy of an ancient release from the university press office correcting four errors in a 1983 Brock story about Berkeley physics professor Charles Townes. Digby said it should have been a straightforward, if dull, story about Townes accepting the National Medal of Science from President Reagan at a White House ceremony. Instead, he said, Brock tried to jazz up the story by saying Townes designed nuclear weapons, which university officials disputed.
"At some level, Brock was a brilliant reporter ... and a beautiful writer. But he could never leave it at that. He always had to make a story more, and he did it a lot."
A copy of the paper's complete story, "The Unreal David Brock," will be published ay www.EastBayExpress.com on Thursday.
The East Bay Express serves readers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a member of the New Times chain
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