In March of 1992, a sensational investigative report by an unknown journalist was published in a little-read magazine. Though it wasn’t clear at the time, David Brock’s article, “The Real Anita Hill,” which appeared in the American Spectator, marked the beginning of one of the nastiest decades in American political history. In this piece Brock revived the dirty tricks of Watergate days and adapted them to the popular press. Using catchy phrases, like “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty,” and buttressing them with a tone of conviction and seemingly authoritative facts, Brock alleged that Hill had concealed parts of her past and that her testimony about Clarence Thomas was false. Brock used the language of investigative journalism to demolish Hill’s credibility and character. After its charges were broadcast repeatedly on the growing right-wing talk-radio circuit, and then picked up by the mainstream press and television, Brock’s long article convinced many open-minded Americans to reassess their thinking about the vexing Rashomon episode that had transfixed the country the autumn before, when Hill had accused her former boss, the nominee to the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas, of lewd behavior and harassment while she worked for him in the 1980s, and of then lying about it under oath during his confirmation hearings.
Brock’s piece in the American Spectator was followed a year later by a book based on the article, which quickly rose to the top of national best-seller lists. The book treatment was not just longer. Close readers noticed that in the artful hands of his young editor at the Free Press, Adam Bellow, son of the Nobel Prize winner, and the editor in chief, Erwin Glikes, a fellow conservative who at the time ran the Free Press publishing company, Brock’s political invective was softened. His dispassionate tone made the argument seem carefully reasoned. Some crudely reported episodes were cut, as was the “nutty-slutty” line. Now, almost a decade later, Brock writes in his 336-page confessional memoir, Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, that not only was The Real Anita Hill “a witches’ brew” of hokum, its editing and marketing were intentionally deceptive.
According to Brock, Glikes and Bellow realized that to convince the public, Brock would have to not just hide his conservative political bias, but actively deny it. Brock says that in an effort to cover up his point of view, his editors set about “dry-cleaning” his prose. He writes, “The key to success, Adam explained to me, as if he had a secret formula, was to ‘capture’ the center with rhetorical sleight of hand, just as a right-wing pol might lure swing voters.” Glikes hired a media coach to help Brock present himself to the public, who showed him how to convincingly deny he had any political preconceptions at all. “Erwin coached me, the price of media credibility, of being taken seriously as a…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.