David Brock, Liar
A lifelong habit proves hard to break.
Dubious Assertion No. 3: "I hadn't known of Laura [Ingraham]'s antigay past at Dartmouth, where, along with her then-boyfriend Dinesh D'Souza, she had participated in the infamous outing of gay students, who were branded "sodomites," until I cringed as I read about her Dartmouth Review exploits in a 1995 profile in Vanity Fair." (Page 235.)
Wrong. The Vanity Fair profile (which appeared in the January 1997 issue) was written by Mrs. Chatterbox, who informs this column that she quizzed Brock (who was then openly gay) about his friend Ingraham's anti-gay Dartmouth activities in an on-the-record interview for the piece. (Incidentally, what Ingraham did was less a matter of "outing" than of secretly taping and then publishing the transcript of a meeting of the Gay Students Association.) According to Mrs. Chatterbox's notes, Brock said: "I think there's a sense that some of what they did was exaggerated or over the top—it was in your face, and it was consciously that way, the excesses of youth or whatever. I think that's partly what it was. I have gotten the sense that—it was a little irresponsible, and that was because they were young and conservative and bomb-throwing." Elsewhere in Brock's book, Brock says that throughout his time in the conservative movement he had a tendency to rationalize behavior by conservatives that was blatantly homophobic. That would seem to apply here. Presumably, Brock has simply forgotten about his conversation with Mrs. Chatterbox, and any other conversations he may have had about Ingraham's Dartmouth Review high jinks, which were widely written about before Vanity Fair reported them.
In scanning the letters column of the Washington Post's March 24 "Book World" section, Chatterbox encountered an unambiguously deliberate Brock lie, this one having to do with an unfavorable review of Brock's book that "Book World" published the week before. Here is Brock's letter of complaint:
Bruce Bawer, The Post's reviewer of my book Blinded by the Right, a memoir of my years at the American Spectator (Book World, March 17), a magazine I criticize as an example of conservative excess, is himself a former Spectator writer. My book also contains a passage that puts the credibility of Bawer's published account of his controversial departure from the magazine in question. Neither of these facts are disclosed in Bawer's review.
Brock makes it sound as though Bawer were some sort of Spectator partisan who took offense at Brock's criticisms of the magazine. But as Brock's book makes clear, Bawer (whose time at the Spectator did not overlap with Brock's) left the magazine to protest an editor's deletion of a passing reference to homosexuality in his review of the play Prelude to a Kiss. (Bawer is gay, Prelude's author, Craig Lucas, is gay, and the play has a much-discussed gay subtext.) Contrary to Brock's claim, Brock's book does not question the credibility of Bawer's published account of that departure. Rather, Brock writes that when he read Bawer's account (in Bawer's 1993 memoir, A Place at the Table), he asked the editor in question whether it was true, and the editor "awkwardly denied" it. Brock elaborates: "I shrugged it off and probed no further, since I didn't really want to know the truth. … I wasn't going to let possible prejudice against another writer, whom I did not know, upset my world. Some gays can be awfully hypersensitive, I told myself." The clear thrust of this passage is that Bawer's published version was right, and that Brock, in refusing to believe Bawer's version at the time, had been wrong. As this online chat shows, Brock managed to con Post Editor Leonard Downie and former Post Managing Editor Robert Kaiser, neither of whom must have actually read Brock's book, into thinking he'd somehow been wronged by "Book World." As a result, "Book World" editor Marie Arana ended up publishing a completely unnecessary apology.
How can we trust a writer who won't even summarize his own book truthfully?
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.