David Brock Interview Transcript
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July 2, 2001 -- Journalist David Brock spoke with NPR's Nina Totenberg. Here is the transcript of their conversation:
Totenberg: Mr. Brock, you've written this book called Blinded by the Right and it was excerpted in Talk magazine. In this excerpt you're talking about your role in the Clarence Thomas / Anita Hill affair. You write that you consciously told a lie in your reporting....and you wrote, I quote, "To protect myself and my tribe from the truth and the consequences from our own smears, cover-ups and falsehoods, I consciously and actively chose an un-ethical path. I continued to malign Anita Hill and her liberal supporters. I trashed two reporters for reporting something I knew was correct. I coerced an unsteady source." That's a pretty brutal admission, but your detractors will say if you lied then why should we believe you now?
Brock: Yes, and I think that's a valid point. Let me just discuss the lying issue for a moment. As you said there I consciously lied once. When I wrote the Anita Hill book I believed everything I wrote was accurate. I know now that that book was filled with falsehoods and smears. Those were fed to me by the Thomas camp. They lied to me. I accept responsibility for that because I put them in my book. The issue there was I didn't know what a journalist does. There was no fact checking, it was basically propaganda which is why I'm disavowing it now. There were wrong things in there about you, Anita Hill and others.
I was told those things by Thomas supporters. I'm sorry I put those in my book. The issue of my training as a journalist is key. When I got out of college I went to the Washington Times and American Spectator and those are propaganda organs of the right, so the issue raised about my credibility in the past few days is legitimate. The Talk piece is an excerpt from a book, not an investigative piece. The book is a memoir, not an investigative piece. Now the second question is about the lying, forget the journalism... I'm coming forward to tell the truth now and that truth is I lied, and it was a terrible lie. So it's perfectly understandable that many people may not know whether to believe me now. But there are ways of finding out whether I'm telling the truth or not. 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. It's very important to understand that the Talk piece was not an excerpt, it was an adaptation, which means I compressed different parts of the book and made a new piece. There is more in the book not yet publicly disclosed on the issues we're discussing here today.
Totenberg: I have checked as much as I can some of the things you say in the Talk piece. Mark Paoletta, who you say passed on info about a witness named, Kaye Savage who substantiated the allegation that Clarence Thomas was very interested in pornography. She had told Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer that she had seen lots of pornography around his apartment. You describe in this article what happened when you discovered this information in the book Strange Justice and what you and other supporters did. What did you do? You tried to intimidate Kaye Savage?
Brock: I was doing a review for the American Spectator in which I trying to destroy the book Strange Justice because it was seen as extremely damaging. Kaye Savage, to my knowledge, was a new witness. So I called Mark Paoletta and I brought up Kaye Savage.
Totenberg: Now Mark Paoletta worked at the White House.
Totenberg: And you knew him.
Brock: Sure. Mark Paoletta is a Washington lawyer who worked on the Thomas nomination in the Bush White House. He's got close connections to the Federal Society, which is a powerful society of right wing lawyers, he was one of Justice Thomas' trusted friends, and a close associate of mine. So I called Mark on this day and brought up Kaye Savage. How can I discredit Kaye Savage? I got a call back from Mark who told me that Justice Thomas told him a smear story about Kaye Savage. Shortly after that I located and I called Kaye. It was an intimidating call on my part and I pressed her to meet me, which she did at a Washington hotel. We met, midday, and my goal there was to get her to retract everything she said. I made clear that I had this damaging information about her. And we talked about what she could say to partly retract her story. We worked that out and she gave me what I needed. I reported back to Mark Paoletta about what happened.
Totenberg: Now, Mr. Paoletta has told a number of reporters, not me because he hasn't returned my calls, but he's quoted in the NY Times and in the Post as saying that Justice Thomas never told him to pass on any information. You've never talked to Justice Thomas have you?
Totenberg: So, even if he had said that to you, you have no way of knowing if that's true.
Totenberg: Paoletta also says that he had no information that Justice Thomas was a frequenter of pornographic videos.
Brock: Instead of debating Mark Paoletta's quotations with you here, let me just say this. I'm willing to be put under oath or have a discussion in some forum with you and Mark Paoletta about this.
Totenberg: He's not the only person you mention in your article who disputes what you say. You say for example that you helped a woman by the name of Barbara Ledeen draft a script for the Rush Limbaugh show to discredit Strange Justice...she denies it. You paint a picture of getting a phone call from one of Justice Thomas' most staunch supporters Ricki Silberman after the book came out and she said what?
Brock: The excerpts appeared from Strange Justice appeared one morning in the Wall Street Journal. I had read the paper early that day and I wanted to see what the authors had. Fairly early in the morning I got a call from Ricki Silberman -- I got a call from Ricki and she says emphatically to me over the phone he did it, didn't he!
Totenberg: She says that's a bold face lie, Mark Paoletta's denials may be incomplete, but they are denials. Barbara Ledeen says she never wrote a script for the Rush Limbaugh show with you. Everyone I contact that you mention by name, either I have or other reporters have gotten denials, so we're back to the question of how can we believe you?
Did you keep any notes, credit card slips? We're back to a he said, he said situation.
Brock: That is in the nature of what we're going to see, because everyone who is denying these things is part of an orchestrated smear campaign to get Clarence Thomas confirmed. That smear campaign conducted by well connected conservatives in Washington around the first Bush campaign continued throughout the Clinton administration. In other words the same campaign of falsehoods and lies were spread by the right wing against the Clintons and essentially they essentially functioned as a government in exile during those 8 years and many of those people are in this current administration.
Totenberg: Well, some of them can't have been lies, the president was forced to admit a relationship with Monica Lewinsky, he was forced to appear before a grand jury, you wrote the first Troopergate story, so we're not talking about a government in exile as you say, basing what it has to say on nothing.
Brock: Sure, let me answer that this way...My book is proof, proof of the existence of a right wing conspiracy. And I can't do the question about the Clinton's that you just asked any justice today in this short forum.
Totenberg: Let me go back and get something personal about you straight. You say you started at the Spectator as an investigative reporter or, as you say, a cog in the right wing conspiracy, but either way you started there and you had a falling out with them. You started in what year with the Spectator?
Brock: I was freelancing with them in the late 80s, I was freelancing when I wrote the Anita Hill article in the spring of 1992, I then published The Real Anita Hill and went on their staff in 1993.
Totenberg: And you were fired from the Spectator when?
Brock: In November 1997.
Totenberg: And what was the reason you were fired?
Brock: I was told that Richard Mellon Scaife, who is the right wing billionaire in Pittsburgh who funded the American Spectator, I was told that after my Hillary Clinton book came out, which was seen as a sympathetic portrayal, that I didn't do to Hillary Clinton what I did to Anita Hill -- that he wanted me fired.
Totenberg: I confess that I haven't read the Hillary Clinton book, do you think it was sympathetic?
Brock: You know, again, Nina, there's an entire chapter in the book where I describe in detail the Hillary Clinton book, I can't do that justice either.
Totenberg: At some point you came out of the closet as being gay. Now when did that happen?
Brock: That happened in early 1994. I had published the Troopergate article in December 1993. And shortly thereafter, because I had, as a closeted gay man, exposed the personal life of Bill Clinton, there was an issue raised about my sexuality. I was aware of calls coming in from the gay press, so as a way to disclose that on my own I gave an interview to Howard Kurtz around that time and said I was gay. The point I make about that now is that it upset me at the time, but I now think it was a valid point to raise by the gay press.
Totenberg: So, do you think your politics have changed?
Brock: Again Nina, I can't discuss that today at all. There is a strong theme in the book about that.
Totenberg: Let me return to the lying question. You have boxes of material and reporters notebooks and things. Do you have contemporaneous notes at all of any conversations with Mr. Paoletta, Ms. Ledeen, with Ricki Silberman, with Boyden Gray, who's White House counsel, which might substantiate your account?
Brock: I can't comment on that today Nina, I've retained legal counsel.
Totenberg: That's an odd answer even if you've retained counsel, I mean, either you've got them or not.
Brock: I can't comment on that.
Totenberg: Let me ask you another question in that case. It has been suggested by Anita Hill's lawyer, Charles Ogletree, that you waited a conveniently long time to make this revelation, that you've waited long enough that the statute of limitations has run out for any slander or libel action Ms. Hill might take. What's you're response to those? Why so long?
Brock: Let me give you two answers to that. The question of black mail, conspiracy, slander, I think you can understand now my previous answer and that's all I can say about that. But let me address the broader issue that Professor Ogletree raises, and it's very legitimate. Why wait seven years, and why put it in a book I'm selling. The answer is long, but let me try to summarize it. I was a bad journalist. But I'm a writer and the only way I know to redeem myself and to others that I hurt is to write it down. And that process has taken a long time.
Totenberg: You know, even as you talk with me here today, this is obviously a little emotional for you. This is not an easy thing you've done, and to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are telling the truth for a moment, why not just go on with your life? You wrote to Anita Hill and apologized, you've gotten a decent advance for this book. You've had to anticipated this feeling of why should we believe you now?
Brock: Let me just answer the question about the advance and the mercenary aspect of this for a second. What you just said is correct and it's been my intention for the last two years to give the money made on this book away...
Why not just move on with my life? The alternative to writing this and moving on, was to write it down or have it eat away at me for the rest of my life.
Totenberg: I have to tell you, how did you live like that for this long?
Brock: The book starts with my childhood and provides insight.
Totenberg: I want to return to the question of contemporaneous notes for a minute. Whether you have a lawyer or not, the question I'm asking is is there something in those boxes that will help you substantiate that you had these conversations?
Brock: I just can't answer that. I can tell you that there was a libel review and back up for the book.
Totenberg: Who is the publisher?
Brock: An imprint of Random House called Crown.
Totenberg: And did they go over this with you?
Totenberg: Did Anita Hill ever respond?
Brock: That's an interesting question. Yes, she did. I wrote to her sometime in early 1998 and my intention was to reach a private reconciliation. And that was a first step towards easing my conscience. Shortly thereafter, I wrote a letter to President Clinton apologizing for Troopergate. And that was published as a letter to the President in Esquire in the spring. I had no idea that would receive the kind of attention it did. It got major coverage and as the coverage was hitting, Anita Hill called me at home. She got my voicemail. And to tell you the truth, I didn't have the guts to call her back at that time, because I felt I couldn't handle telling the truth totally because I would be admitting that the two things I was most known for were wrong, and I just couldn't handle that.
Totenberg: Was there a moment where you came face to face with something you thought you'd done terribly wrong?
Brock: I'm not sure I understand.
Totenberg: As you describe your voyage in the Talk piece you are quite successful at conning yourself for a long time, so I'm asking was there a moment when you couldn't con yourself any longer?
Brock: Yes, that happened during the Hillary Clinton book. In the process there was quite a struggle, I knew it was expected that I would do to Hillary Clinton what I did to Anita Hill. I ended up doing what I believe what is the right thing which is writing the book I wrote. I'm still proud of that today.