Photo by Michael SchmellingYou may know David Brock for his leveling of Anita Hill and his sniper attacks on Bill Clinton. But it's unlikely that you know this: Brock built his reputation for savage right-wing journalism on a 1990 hit piece on Irvine Mayor Larry Agran—an article he now dismisses as "suspect."
In the days leading up to Irvine's June 1990 mayoral election, Brock, then a Washington, D.C.-based reporter, penned a devastating expos that some say knocked Agran out of City Hall for the first time in 12 years.
Brock now claims that article was deceitful and was secretly masterminded by Agran's conservative political enemies in Orange County.
"The origins of the story are suspect because it was essentially commissioned by Agran's political opponents," said Brock, author of the current best-selling Blinded by the Right and, in the early 1990s, The Real Anita Hill.
Brock's "The Evil Emperor of Irvine" story appeared first in American Spectator, a small-circulation, D.C.-based monthly. It portrayed the mayor as an anti-corporate, "radical leftist" willing to use lies and "sheer political brutality" to build a corrupt political empire in Irvine.
"There is the atmosphere of divisiveness and dishonesty that Agran and his cabal have created, leading to the undeniable conclusion that Agran's consuming concern is power, in the service of an agenda he will not even own up to," Brock wrote.
"Evil Emperor" was reprinted in The Orange County Register in April 1990. The 8,600-word expos was reprinted again and distributed—this time by mail throughout Irvine—by the conservative Lincoln Club just weeks before Agran narrowly lost his re-election bid.
But Brock now says his article, which he believes "influenced the election," was a politically motivated hit piece, just like his subsequent attacks on Anita Hill and Bill Clinton. While he can't recall specific details, he recalls generally that the article was commissioned to damage Agran.
Photo by Davis Barber
"I'll say this about the piece: it was a slant, an artful presentation of the facts to make Agran look bad," Brock told the Weekly.
Brock says he "was placed onto the story by Howard Klein and Ken Grubbs. They came to visit me when I was working at the Washington Times, and they asked me if I would be interested in doing a hit story on Agran. They also promised they would help me in any way they could. I didn't even know who Agran was. They were the ones with the agenda."
Klein is an Irvine attorney, Republican activist and member of the Lincoln Club. Grubbs, also a Republican, was then editor of the Register's commentary section; he is now a freelance journalist. The two men shared more than a passionate distaste for Agran's liberal politics: they are also brothers-in-law.
Grubbs says it was his idea to go outside Orange County for a writer. "What we needed was an investigative reporter unencumbered by the biases evident in the [Register] newsroom," said Grubbs, who believed his paper's reporters privately sympathized with Agran and his "socialistic" bent.
"From my days in the mid-1980s working at the Washington Times, I remembered a young reporter named David Brock who showed promise," Grubbs recalled. "David agreed to meet us, and Howard poured out the story as he knew it."
Though the Register never acknowledged its direct role in manufacturing the article, Grubbs dismisses talk of an anti-Agran conspiracy. He says it was merely during "family barbecues" that he and Klein bemoaned the local media's lack of interest in Agran's "underhanded tactics, shaking down developers." He maintains he had nothing to do with the Lincoln Club's reprint of the article, which was distributed throughout Irvine in the days leading up to Agran's June 1990 loss, though he calls it "a great day for democracy."
"[Brock] performed a legitimate journalistic service," said Grubbs. "David may have gotten some details wrong . . . but the larger story was true: Larry was a power freak who thought he could forge American foreign policy from inside his little municipality and even thought he could command the heavens to cleanse themselves of chlorofluorocarbons. And his man-on-a-mission charisma was contradicted by his dealings with developers and his high-handed treatment of opponents. He was a petty tyrant in the making."
Grubbs says "it's a pity" that Brock now discredits his Agran profile. If anything, he says, the Weekly's recent revelations about Agran's acceptance of massive contributions from the Irvine Co. and its real-estate development associates proves that the onetime vocal Irvine Co. critic will do anything to hold on to power.
Photo by Jack Gould
"A decade later, and Larry's back," Grubbs said. "I put it down to a new generation of Irvine voters and the short-term memory of older voters—also to the resignation/realism of the Lincoln Club, which, along with the developers, have taken Larry's measure and found him corruptible."
Conservative commentator Mona Charen once hailed Brock as a reporter whose work "knocks the wind out of cherished liberal myths." George F. Will said Brock was unassailable as a journalist. He was called the "conservative Bob Woodward."
But Brock now cringes at his onetime hero status among Republicans. He was, he says, nothing more than a "right-wing hit man, a hired gun in every sense of the term."
His newest book details his role in an orchestrated, behind-the-scenes effort by political conservatives to manipulate the news with lies, half-truths and smear campaigns against liberals. His Agran piece proved to be the model for Brock's journalism. In two later, more notable cases, Brock says, he dishonestly reported news in order to undermine the credibility of Anita Hill, who testified against the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas, and to cripple Clinton's presidency with juicy, if fabricated, personal tales.
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Brock was rewarded well for his willingness to produce such journalism: he became friends with William Bennett and William F. Buckley, collected generous honoraria for speaking at conservative gatherings, and earned a six-figure salary as an American Spectator staff writer and a seven-figure book deal.
The party ended in 1996 when word leaked out that Brock's forthcoming book on Hillary Clinton, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, lacked the venom his conservative supporters expected. They wanted the First Lady depicted as an anti-American fanatic and lesbian, and viewed his book as "a supreme act of disloyalty."
"I was called a turncoat twinkie," said Brock. "They treated me as a heretic."
Grubbs is among his former fans. "I wonder if you can trust David about anything these days."