- Left-wing activist who was formerly a conservative journalist
- President and CEO of Media Matters For America
- Complains about the “undue influence” of the “right-wing media”
- Founder of American Bridge 21st Century
See also: Media Matters For America
American Bridge 21st Century
Progressive States Network
Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington
Born in 1962, David Brock is an openly gay author, a former conservative turned leftist, and the founder of Media Matters For America, which monitors the media for evidence of “conservative misinformation.”
In the early 1980s Brock was a student at UC Berkeley, where he was active in conservative campus journalism. After graduating, he worked for a number of years at the Heritage Foundation, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Times.
Through the first half of the 1990s, Brock was a muckraking investigative reporter for the conservative magazine The American Spectator. All told, on a contract that paid him $350,000, Brock produced just six articles for the Spectator; these focused on President Bill Clinton’s sexual farragoes and brought Brock much fame.
Brock achieved further public prominence with his 1993 book The Real Anita Hill, a follow-up to his identically titled March 1992 article in the Spectator. In that piece, Brock had described the accuser of Clarence Thomas as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty”; discredited her claims against Thomas; and exposed the left-wing smear campaign against the future Supreme Court Justice.
Soon after the publication of The Real Anita Hill, Brock accepted a $550,000 advance from a conservative publisher (Free Press) to write an investigative biography of Hillary Clinton that was expected to expose the First Lady in the same sensational and salacious way his first book had discredited Anita Hill. An initial press run of 200,000 copies was announced for this projected bestseller.
But Brock failed to produce the book he had promised. When The Seduction of Hillary Rodham was released in October 1996, it was a pedestrian account of a well-intentioned liberal, misunderstood by the “mainstream media” and “seduced by the talented boy from the Arkansas backwoods.” Brock portrayed Mrs. Clinton in surprisingly sympathetic light: “Hillary had the ill-fortune to take power at a moment in history when much of the public had turned against the panacea of big government,” he explained. The author also took extraordinary pains to defend Mrs. Clinton against a host of charges. Of her suspicious success in commodities trading and her subsequent evasiveness on that subject, for instance, Brock contended that the criticisms were merely “lawyerly nit-picking.” Besides, he reasoned, “it might simply be said that politicians shade the truth all the time.”
Yet Brock’s effusive apologetics convinced virtually no one. Even The New York Times, hardly a citadel of anti-Clinton sentiment, scolded Brock for straining to absolve Mrs. Clinton from her involvement in the Whitewater scandal. As word of the book’s tepid contents spread, its sales plummeted.
In the June 1997 issue of Esquire magazine, Brock wrote “Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man,” in which he claimed that conservatives were now punishing him for his independence of thought in refusing to vilify Hillary Clinton.
Also in the mid- to late '90s, Brock developed a close relationship with Neel Lattimore, Mrs. Clinton’s openly gay press secretary and close confidante. Brock’s affinity for Mrs. Clinton as well grew over time, and vice versa.
Brock followed up his Esquire article with a March 1998 public letter of apology to Bill Clinton, in which he repudiated his (Brock's) own past reporting on the former president’s private life. Brock also condemned the Arkansas state troopers who had been the sources for his 1994 “Troopergate” story on Clinton’s extra-marital affairs, now claiming that they had acted out of “greedy” and “slimy” motives—though he stopped short of calling their allegations untrue. He similarly denounced Clinton’s Arkansas critics as “segregationists” who “hated Clinton for his progressive record on race.”
Notwithstanding Brock’s apology to the former president, the relevant facts of his reporting on “Troopergate” were corroborated by subsequent reports in the Los Angeles Times, But in no way did this faze Brock, who said: “Most journalists never admit they were wrong. The Los Angeles Times made many of the mistakes that I did.”
In March 2002, Brock publicly embraced Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that her husband had been the target of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” alleging, without basis in fact, that her husband had carried on an adulterous affair with Monica Lewinsky. Asked by television host Matt Lauer whether he himself (Brock) had been part of the conspiracy alleged by Clinton, Brock replied, “I was, and I was stunned when she said it because I said, finally somebody gets it...”
In 2002 Brock published Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative. Billed as a confessional account of Brock’s disaffection with conservative politics, the book was in reality a series of malicious attacks on his former colleagues. Even as he cast himself as the reformed pawn of an all-powerful conservative movement (“a witting cog in the Republican sleaze machine” as he put it), Brock brazenly interrogated the ethics of his onetime friends and co-workers, heaping contempt on everything from their views to their wardrobe. For instance, Brock was not above mocking Wlady Pleszczynski—the longtime editorial director of The American Spectator who, at considerable peril to his own reputation, had been one of Brock’s staunchest defenders in the late Nineties—for his “heavy brown corduroy jackets and clodhoppers.” Conservative author David Horowitz, meanwhile, stood accused by the openly gay Brock of uttering a “hateful anti-gay slur to an editor friend of mine whom Horowitz didn’t know was gay.” According to Brock, such slurs were characteristic of the “real attitude of the conservative movement towards homosexuality” and were a major cause of his defection to the left.
But neither claim had any basis in truth. In fact, Brock was “outed” not by conservatives but by left-wing journalist and New York Times columnist Frank Rich. When Rich’s malicious column appeared, Brock was defended by conservatives who rallied to his side. Even as an outed gay conservative, Brock was one of the highest-paid journalists in the country—and by conservative sources. Far from being “anti-gay” as Brock claimed, Horowitz had long been an outspoken conservative defender of gays. Moreover, the source for Brock’s allegation categorically rejected the claim that Horowitz was anti-gay. Nonetheless, in Brock’s book the purported anti-gay attitudes of conservative intellectuals, along with the sleazy ad hominem attacks on liberals, were responsible for his political turnabout.
Having ceremoniously severed ranks with the conservative movement, Brock set about concocting a fictional persona as an objective journalist who was no longer driven by myopic political interests. “It’s only since coming out of the right wing that I’ve been able to see beyond partisan politics and careerism to what’s really important in life,” he said in a 2002 interview with the Washington Post. “[T]he blinders off and the anger gone,” was how Brock described his newfound sensibility.
Brock also began working as a research assistant for Democratic political operative Sidney Blumenthal, a former top advisor and confidante to President Bill Clinton. In his sympathetic 2004 book about the scandals that had embroiled the Clinton administration, The Clinton Wars, Blumenthal revealed that Brock had helped him construct a partisan narrative that painted Clinton’s critics as agents of a well-organized ideological onslaught laying siege to the office of the presidency.
By the fall of 2003, Brock had his sights set on creating a new Internet-based initiative—Media Matters For America—a political rapid-response website that would monitor and criticize conservative media. Around that same time, at a Washington DC meeting of friends and supporters of Hillary Clinton, Brock met Susie Tompkins Buell, co-founder of the fashion company Esprit and a major donor to Democratic causes. When Brock told Buell about his Media Matters idea, she was highly receptive. “It just made so much sense to me,” Buell later recalled. “All this garbage that’s coming out of the Right is like the worst contamination of this country.... He [Brock] brought so much understanding of what goes on over there. He’s very articulate, and very, very bright.” So impressed was Buell, that she eventually held a fundraiser for Brock and his new project at her San Francisco home.
According to Glenn Thrush of Newsday, Hillary Clinton personally “encourag[ed]” and “advised Brock on creating” Media Matters as “a liberal equivalent of the Media Research Center, a conservative group that has aggravated Democrats for decades.” When Brock formally announced the launch of Media Matters in early May 2004, billionaire George Soros and former Clinton chief-of-staff John Podesta helped him raise $2 million for the venture. Moreover, as Glenn Thrush noted: “[Hillary] Clinton’s extended family of contributors, consultants and friends ... played a pivotal role in helping Media Matters grow,” in terms of both its size and its operating budget. Moreover, Brock hired the aforementioned Neel Lattimore, Mrs. Clinton’s press secretary and confidante, as a director of “special projects” for Media Matters.
“The right wing in this country has dominated the debate over liberal bias, Brock said in a May 2004 interview about his new Internet-based venture. “By dominating that debate, my belief is they’ve moved the media itself to the right and therefore they’ve moved American politics to the right.”
Brock made the point more simply in his 2004 book, The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How it Corrupts Democracy, an invective-fueled broadside against “biased right-wing media,” “biased right-wing commentators,” and a “mainstream media susceptible to right-wing scripting.” “My view,” said Brock, “is that unchecked right-wing media power means that in the United States today, no issue can be honestly debated and no election can be fairly decided.”
In a May 2004 interview with AlterNet, Brock averred that “nobody knows better than I how conservative misinformation spreads through the media.”
In an interview with Mother Jones magazine three months later, Brock, dismissing conservative complaints about liberal bias in the news media, derided “this phony notion of balance—that we need to hear all sides of a story, and that everyone’s entitled to express their opinion.” The conservative side of the story, he explained, was replete with falsehoods. Indeed, Brock has long maintained that conservatives “are simply willing to lie” to gain political advantage.
In a February 2005 talk to interns at the Center for American Progress, Brock stated: “We have seen the mainstream media increasingly accommodating conservatism and this is not an accident. This is the result of a coordinated and financed effort by the right wing to pressure, push and bully the media to do that.”
During that same general time period, Brock was a leading proponent of resurrecting the so-called Fairness Doctrine. Enacted in 1949 by the Federal Communications Commission, the unconstitutional legislation had required radio and television programs to obtain licenses before broadcasting controversial views, and had mandated that those views be presented in a "fair and balanced" manner—thereby setting bounds on free speech and limiting the diversity of viewpoints that could be freely aired. The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine's major provisions in 1987 ushered in a boom of new media formats, including political talk radio. In 2005 Brock joined forces with Thomas Athans, executive director of the radio program Democracy Now, and Andrew Schwartzman of the left-wing Media Access Project, to author a petition calling for the Doctrine's reinstatement. The petition claimed that “news consumers ... are overwhelmingly exposed to a single [conservative] point of view” which is “presented in a manner not conducive to the listeners’ receiving the facts and range of opinions necessary to make informed decisions.”
Between 2007 and 2010, Brock was an identified member of JournoList, an online listserve that functioned essentially as a secret society of liberal and leftist media professionals.
In April 2008, Politico.com reported that Brock was collaborating with George Soros and longtime Democrat operative Paul Begala to launch a four-month, $40 million media campaign designed to publicly discredit Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Brock was slated to lead the effort through an organization called Progressive Media USA, whose chairmanship he had assumed in March 2008. He complained that because “the press is in love with John McCain,” the Republican senator “is allowed to say [things] without being challenged by facts that will show him to have said something different in the past.” “Progressive Media USA will be a permanent part of progressive media infrastructure,” added Brock.
In 2010 Brock founded American Bridge 21st Century, a self-described “progressive research and communications organization” that conducts opposition research designed to help Democratic political candidates.
That same year, Brock served on the board of directors for the Progressive States Network, a New York City-based association of leftist leaders and activists seeking to “pass progressive legislation in all fifty states.”
In 2012, Brock, with the aid of his Media Matters researchers, published The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine. The book begins with a potted and tendentious history of Fox News’s founder and president, Roger Ailes, much of it a rehash of media critic Michael Wolff’s earlier biography of Rupert Murdoch. As Brock and company tell it, Ailes is not only a rabid partisan but also a ruthless overlord, punishing anyone daring to defy his dictates. As evidence, the book cites the online gossip site Gawker, which once ran a story claiming that Ailes was having some of his employees followed. Ailes denied the allegations, but Gawker's word is good enough for Brock, who muses that Ailes has used News Corporation’s “personal security to deal with a personal conflict.”
Brock's book gives much attention to the partisan statements of conservative commentators who appear on Fox News, which the author depicts as the leading “communications” and “mobilizing arm of the Republican Party.” A less excitable reading might be that Fox News is a center-right network whose programs feature conservatives and Republicans who express conservative and Republican views. It should also be noted in this connection that the network regularly features liberal and leftist commentators, including among many others Bob Beckel, Alan Colmes, Kirsten Powers, Geraldo Rivera, and Juan Williams.
Equally unconvincing is the book’s suggestion that during the Bush administration Fox News served as an uncritical public-relations arm for the president, and that its purpose was essentially to “cheerlead for George W. Bush.” To make that case, Brock relies on an unnamed “former Fox employee” who complains that “[w]e were a Stalin-esque mouthpiece” for President Bush. The claim, however, is demonstrably untrue. Throughout Bush’s two terms in office, Fox News programs and personalities criticized the administration’s policies on everything from civil liberties, to immigration, to hurricane disaster relief, to the environment, to its prosecution of the war on terror.
Brock's book also turns its ire on Fox’s audience, asserting that “polls consistently find Fox News viewers to be the most ignorant on a variety of issues.” Contrary to that claim, however, what polls and surveys actually find is that Fox News viewers’ knowledge of current affairs is higher than the national average. Even worse for Brock’s theory, the Fox viewers who demonstrate the highest levels of political and current-affairs knowledge, scoring well above the national average, are the viewers of more polemical Fox News fare like Hannity and The O’Reilly Factor.
In January 2013 the Daily Caller reported that Brock’s one-time aide, Media Matters staffer Haydn Price-Morris, had “committed numerous felonies in the District of Columbia and around the country by [illegally] carrying a firearm to defend” Brock. The report continued:
“[M]ultiple firearms used to protect the Media Matters founder were purchased with Brock’s blessing—and apparently with the group’s money.... Brock, whose struggles with mental health have seen him hospitalized in the past, became increasingly concerned by late 2010 that he was being targeted by right-wing assassins.... [B]y that time, Brock had armed his assistant—who had no permit to carry a concealed firearm—with a Glock handgun. According to an internal email exchange obtained by [The Daily Caller], the gun was purchased with cash in Maryland, likely to diminish the chances such a purchase would appear on the tax-exempt group’s books. Between Price-Morris’ early 2009 arrival and late 2010 departure from Media Matters, he also acquired a shotgun for Brock’s protection. Price-Morris was regularly armed when accompanying Brock on trips around the country, according to a source, and his firearm possession in Washington, DC constituted multiple felonies.”
According to Stephen Halbrook, a DC-area attorney with more than 35 years of experience practicing gun law, Price-Morris, for the offense of carrying a fully-loaded Glock in Washington, DC without a permit, “could be looking at some substantial prison time because if we use the low-end felony sentence of five years, you could get five years for the non-registration, five for the carrying, and then [more for] the second offenses of the magazine being over 10 rounds and then the cartridges.” Halbrook also said that Brock could be charged as “a conspirator, or maybe an aider or abettor of a crime.”
In November 2013, Brock launched Correct the Record (CTR), a rapid-response organization devoted to discrediting criticisms aimed against Hillary Clinton. CTR's staff—consisting of 18 people as of September 2014—works round-the-clock in the offices of American Bridge 21st Century.
In January 2014, Brock was named to the board of Priorities USA Action, as the super PAC announced that it would be supporting a possible Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2016. But in February 2015, Brock abruptly resigned from the organization. In his resignation letter, he accused Priorities officials of conducting “an orchestrated political hit job” against his own pro-Clinton groups, American Bridge 21st Century and Media Matters For America. Specifically, Brock was angry over a recent New York Times report that had called into question the fundraising practices of both those organizations, as well as those of another pro-Clinton group, Ready for Hillary. Brock's letter alleged that “current and former Priorities officials were behind this specious and malicious attack on the integrity of these critical organizations.”
In August 2014, Brock was elected chairman of the watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.