Killing the Messenger

The Right-Wing Plot to Derail Hillary and Hijack Your Government


By David Brock

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David Brock is the ultimate happy warrior. Once a leading right-wing hit man, Brock is now the Left’s pre-eminent defender and truth-teller.

In this incisive, personal account, Brock disarms the major tentacles of the Republican Leviathan: the Koch Brothers, the Clinton haters, and the Fox Noise Machine. With the acumen of a seasoned political player, Brock takes readers inside his Democratic war rooms and their 24/7 battles with right-wing forces for control of the story lines and messages that will decide the 2016 election. And he chronicles his own evolution from lead Clinton attack-dog to one of Hillary Clinton’s fiercest defenders as he knocks down the conservative case against her.

Finally, Killing the Messenger provides the no holds barred playbook for what the new right-wing conspirators will do in this election cycle to tear apart the electorate-and what good, engaged, and informed citizens can do to stop them.


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Return to Little Rock

The bar at the Capital Hotel serves Moscow Mules in copper mugs to the power brokers who run Little Rock. Set a block from the banks of the Arkansas River, it's where lobbyists, legislators, and miscellaneous political operatives have gathered for decades to talk shop and hatch plots.

"Rules," the hotel bar's website asserts, "are made at the Statehouse; laws are made at the Capital Bar."

I spent a lot of time at that hotel bar as a young man in the 1990s. But I wasn't there to make laws. I was there to make trouble.

And now, fifteen years after I'd last stepped foot in Arkansas, I was back to make amends.

If you'd told the younger me that, a few blocks east of my old stomping grounds at the Capital Bar, there would someday stand the Clinton School of Public Service… just up the street from the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library… on President Clinton Avenue… I would have had a stroke.

And if you'd told me that I'd someday find myself back in Little Rock to appear on stage at the Clinton School of Public Service as a guest speaker… I would have had another.

When the United States won the Cold War, the right lost its raison d'être—its organizing principle and its most effective argument for why conservative ideas should hold sway and Republican politicians should hold power. Ronald Reagan was exiting the stage, and the young ideologues who had enthusiastically followed him into the conservative movement were left scrambling to define a cohesive vision for the country's future.

I was one of them. During my college years at the University of California, Berkeley, I'd become a right-wing iconoclast, a crusading campus journalist bent on destroying what I saw to be a corrupt, politically correct liberal establishment. After graduation, I moved to Washington, where I joined a generation of young writers who gained prominence as the ideological (and, in many cases, biological) heirs to modern conservatism.

We inherited our predecessors' clubby social connections, and, in many cases, their affectations (at twenty-five, I was known to stroll around the offices of the Washington Times, the crusading right-wing paper owned by cult leader Sun Myung Moon, with a pipe and even a walking stick).

But while we all adored Ronald Reagan, reviled communism, and believed liberal was a dirty word, we never really got around to articulating what, exactly, we were for.

Instead, we found agreement on what we were against. Or, rather, who. Absent a clear ideological end, the demonization of our opponents became an end unto itself. The politics of personal destruction wasn't only something we did to further the conservative movement—it became the conservative movement.

I wasn't just a practitioner of this new kind of politics; I was a pioneer. In 1991, law professor Anita Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, her former boss, of sexual harassment. My fellow conservatives and I couldn't believe her. And, in fact, we made it our mission to discredit her—not just so that Thomas would be protected from what we saw as outrageously unfair and false allegations, but because we saw Hill as an avatar of the liberal effort to attack everything we stood for, whatever that was.

Thomas, of course, was narrowly confirmed. But we still had a job to do: burnishing his legacy. And I was assigned to do it. I wrote a twenty-two-thousand-word article for the March 1992 issue of the American Spectator entitled "The Real Anita Hill," in which I attempted to take apart Hill's story, characterizing her as part of a liberal conspiracy to frame our hero, now Justice Thomas.

It was a hit piece, full of explicit (and, often, unsubstantiated) details of Hill's personal life, innuendo, and pure hearsay—all capped with a flatly racist caricature of Hill on the cover. Smugly labeling her as "a bit nutty and a bit slutty," I used every nugget I could dig up, every allegation I was passed by Republican operatives in the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill, and a healthy dose of imagination to smear Anita Hill.

The Spectator proudly published it as "investigative journalism." I turned the piece into a lucrative best-selling book. Rush Limbaugh read from it on the air for three days straight. My career as a right-wing hitman was born.

But even as I was making a name for myself on the right, the conservative movement found itself facing down a problem it couldn't solve: a problem named Bill and Hillary Clinton.

As Governor Clinton campaigned for the presidency in 1992, it quickly became clear that we couldn't compete with his message of hope and optimism, much less his ambitious, positive agenda for the country.

(Later, I would learn that right-wing animus toward the Clintons began even farther back in Arkansas, based in resentment among the rear guard of Southern racists over then governor Clinton's early embrace of civil rights and stoked by the nerve of his wife to build a career and a public persona of her own.)

All we had were scandals, real and invented, that we hoped would stop the country from taking a chance on a young, dynamic, progressive Baby Boomer—and his ambitious, brilliant, accomplished wife.

It didn't work. The American people sent the Clintons to Washington. In a democracy like ours, that should have been the end of it. He won, we lost; better luck next time. But now that we were out of power in addition to being out of ideas, conservatives worried that it would be the end of us.

The problem with the Clintons wasn't so much who they were as what they represented. They were a threat to the established political and social order, serious agents of change who, if allowed to succeed, could make us look even more ideologically bankrupt, even more hopelessly irrelevant, than we already were.

So conservatives defied two hundred years of American history and set the stage for a coup. The Clintons barely had time to unpack in the White House before the threat of impeachment was being quietly bandied about in my circles. The right was determined to take down the Clintons. All they needed was an excuse. And I was sent to Arkansas to find one.

The Spectator's publisher, billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, believed Robert Penn Warren's famous line, "Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption, and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something." And he knew that if we were going to find that something, or, quite frankly, create that something, it was going to take a lot of money. So, long before the era of SuperPACs, this one lone billionaire was willing to shell out millions to propagandize the nation and wreck the Clintons.

His magazine—my employer—launched what became known as the Arkansas Project, a dirt-digging operation into the Clintons' past that eventually encompassed a kitchen sink full of allegations ranging from financial fraud to drug running and even murder.

That was how, as a young muckraker on the make, I found myself in Little Rock, downing cocktails at the Capital Bar and swapping stories with a cast of eccentrics. On one trip, I was introduced by a Republican operative to a group of Arkansas state troopers who had served on then governor Clinton's security staff and who wanted to go public with stories scandalizing Bill and Hillary Clinton.

They painted a picture of the president as nothing short of a compulsive womanizer: picking up women at hotels, ushering conquests into the governor's residence for "personal tour[s] of the mansion," and even receiving oral sex in the parking lot of his daughter's elementary school.

As for Hillary, the troopers described her as cold, calculating, and cruel, a woman with a "garbage mouth" who "hated Arkansas" and "liked to intimidate men." The Clintons' marriage was, in the troopers' eyes, one of political convenience: "If he was dead politically, I would expect a divorce in 30 days."

If that strikes you as a little too perfect for the caricature of the Clintons the troopers were trying to draw, well, it struck me that way, too. As we talked, I became suspicious of the troopers' motives. I knew they wanted to use my article to cash in and sell a tell-all book. And, of course, I couldn't be sure if what they were saying was true.

But I had a job to do: Get dirt into print. So I did. I took the troopers at their word and published all of the above, plus plenty more, in the pages of the Spectator.

Nothing was too inflammatory to make it past the tissue-paper-thin fact-check at the magazine:

The troopers speculated that Hillary tolerated this behavior much as eighteenth-century aristocrats maintained marriages of convenience to suit the social and material needs of both parties. Hillary herself was intimately involved with the late Vincent Foster, a partner at the Rose Law Firm and later deputy White House counsel. Foster killed himself in July under circumstances that remain murky. "It was common knowledge around the mansion that Hillary and Vince were having an affair," said Larry Patterson, though he conceded that the evidence for this is more circumstantial than his first-hand knowledge of Clinton's behavior.

And nothing was too petty to be judged worthy of ink; even the Clintons' cat didn't escape unscathed (Socks, I revealed, "apparently retches with alarming frequency").

My "reporting" became national news, and the mainstream media soon followed up. This was no accident; turning the more respectable outlets against the Clintons was part of the goal of the Arkansas Project, and it worked. Soon, the troopers' allegations were printed in major newspapers and repeated on national television. The "scandal" even got a name: Troopergate. And the press now had license to chase all sorts of stories, even stories that were thinly veiled attempts to smear the Clintons for partisan purposes.

Troopergate, of course, was just such an attempt. On closer examination, it turned out that the lurid stories the troopers had told me belonged on the fiction shelf.

Other reporters, following up on the story for outlets that, unlike the Spectator, had fact-checking protocols in place, found gaping holes in the troopers' accounts. The troopers claimed that security gate logs had been destroyed as part of a cover-up; it turned out those logs had never been kept in the first place. The troopers described watching via surveillance camera as Governor Clinton and a supposed paramour engaged in sexual activity in a truck; it turned out that this was physically impossible, as the camera was incapable of capturing a clear image from inside a vehicle. The troopers recalled that Vince Foster had fondled Hillary at an event; it turned out that the event had never taken place.

The poisonous fruit from the tree of lies that I had planted by identifying a "woman named Paula" in my Troopergate piece prompted Paula Jones to come forward, she said, to clear her name, subpoenaed as part of Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton the troopers would reverse themselves, denying under oath much of what they had asserted to me in our interviews. Those depositions established that the troopers used their proximity to the governor to procure women for themselves.

It got worse: I later found out that an operative close to would-be House speaker Newt Gingrich had paid the troopers to talk.

This, then, wasn't just a false story. It was a setup, a deliberate and organized fraud perpetrated on the American people by wealthy conservatives and the Republican political establishment. It was, as Hillary Clinton was widely mocked for suggesting, the beginnings of a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

In the immediate aftermath of my Spectator piece, the mainstream media, suddenly transfixed by Arkansas, revived an old "scandal" from the 1992 Clinton campaign, one about quid pro quos and conflicts of interest involving a money-losing land deal called Whitewater that the Clintons had invested in. The feeding frenzy over Whitewater in Washington was such that President Clinton felt compelled to call for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the matter. Eventually, a right-wing judge, Ken Starr, took over the inquiry and proceeded to go very far afield from his original mandate, probing the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, through which he found a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, with whom Clinton had had a consensual sexual dalliance.

After spending several years and $70 million investigating the Clintons, Starr turned up no wrongdoing. But the story of the president and the intern was enough for the GOP to open the impeachment proceedings in Newt Gingrich's House of Representatives that the right had lusted for since the Clintons came to Washington.

It was, in short, everything I went to Arkansas to achieve.

By then, six years into the Clinton presidency, I was disgusted with what I had wrought.

After the trooper story broke, a publisher commissioned me to write a book about Hillary Clinton, expecting a hit job that would be published on the eve of the 1996 elections. And why not? In addition to characterizing the president as a sex-crazed sociopath, conservatives thought they could gain political advantage by portraying his wife as a conniving, shrewish, unstable Lady Macbeth. And they were willing to pay me a million bucks to do it.

So I spent two years researching and writing, retracing every step of Hillary Clinton's life, doing more than a hundred interviews, and going back twenty years collecting virtually every piece of paper that had her name on it.

Contrary to what my patrons expected, I found no silver bullet that would stop the Clintons. What I did find was a woman with a steadfast commitment to public service, a clear political vision, and a deep well of personal integrity. I couldn't write the book conservatives wanted, not without betraying the facts as I saw them—and betraying myself in the process.

You see, in the aftermath of publishing my Anita Hill tract, while writing a review of Strange Justice, a competing book on the Senate hearings by Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer that provided fresh evidence for Hill's charges, I learned from my own trusted sources, the people who knew Clarence Thomas best, that they never believed he was innocent, despite what they had led me to think when I was reporting my book. Now I was part of their club, and these seasoned Washington players could let me in on their secret: Defending Thomas was never about bringing the truth to light; it was all about partisan politics. Thomas, not Anita Hill, had lied, just as Strange Justice suggested—in fact, he had perjured himself to get on the court.

And, for my part, I had been sold a bill of goods, which made me complicit in the monumental lies of Thomas and his supporters, even though I wrote my book in good faith. I made a private vow that as I reported on Hillary, I would not be used by the right again.

So I resisted the conservative spin on Hillary, sticking to the facts and being as fair as I could to my subject. And in struggling to find Hillary's humanity, I gradually found my own. I didn't turn into a progressive or a Democrat overnight, but this period did mark the beginning of a political awakening that would play out in the years to come.

I ended up publishing a nuanced portrait of Hillary that exonerated her on the long list of charges that I concluded had been manufactured by her opponents: Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate—there was nothing to any of it. And I also reached an affirmative judgment, based on my study of her prodigious talents, strong character, and bedrock American values: Hillary, I wrote, had the potential to be "an even more historically significant figure than her husband."

Predictably, the right wasn't interested. Their campaign of character assassination would continue without me. And by the time that campaign culminated in an unconstitutional power grab—the 1998 impeachment of President Clinton—I was ready to do everything in my power to help Clinton stay in office by blowing the whistle on the machinations of my ex-colleagues.

My divorce from the conservative movement came in a long piece I wrote for Esquire magazine, "Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man," and, later, a book called Blinded by the Right, in which I exposed what I had been involved in—a wrongful scheme to thwart a twice-elected president by throwing sand in the gears of progressive governance.

I apologized for smearing people. I confessed my sins to the public. And, in the years that followed, I'd find a way to make a different kind of impact on our political discourse, one that promoted honest debate and served to ferret out the kind of lies I'd once peddled.

But it took fifteen years for me to come back to Arkansas.

It was hard not to feel a bit like a rehabilitated convict returning to the scene of the crime.

I was nervous. And why not? The room felt more like a press conference than a college talk. Many of the reporters who had built careers at major national publications covering the "Clinton beat" flew down from New York and Washington, a mini-reunion of their own. Once again, my take on the Clintons would make headlines (including on the front page of the New York Times). And, of course, this being 2014, the press was also live-tweeting my remarks.

Also in the room were many of the Clinton associates I'd long done battle with, some of whom I'd even attacked personally. Up in the balcony, I could see Bruce Lindsey, a trusted counselor to the former president who had been on the front lines of the White House's legal defense efforts against the parade of phony scandals and Republican witch hunts.

And out in the crowd were countless local Clinton supporters whose names I'd never heard but who had been loyal to the former president dating back to when he was a young governor. Later, many waited in line to tell me they came to see for themselves if I understood the hurt and damage I had caused them.

Kicking off the program was Skip Rutherford, the dean of the school and an old Clinton hand from way back when who had valiantly attempted to defend the president from my attacks.

"In the 1990s," Skip told the room, "he certainly played a major role in this state, to the dismay of some." Standing offstage, I heard several people laugh nervously at the understatement.

Although Skip and I had known each other's names (and probably cursed them, too) for many years, we'd never met until the night before the speech, when we got together at the Capital Bar.

He was friendly and welcoming, but he made it clear to me how hard those days had been on Clinton supporters in Arkansas. Though the investigations my reporting had unleashed turned up nothing, they tormented innocent people, forcing them to ring up huge legal bills. It was important, he told me as we finished our drinks, not just for the sake of history, but for the future, that people hear my story.

And so, before a packed crowd—a mix of reporters, politicos, and young students looking to learn from my own strange journey in American politics and journalism—I told that story. I talked about the reclusive billionaire whose wealth funded a shadow campaign against the American president, about the right-wing publications that ignored any pretense of journalistic standards and chose instead to launder false accusations into print, about the way the mainstream media were unwitting accomplices to the crime of character assassination, and about the role I played in all of it.

It's a story that, as yet, lacks an ending. I didn't come back to Arkansas to settle some karmic debt, to find closure in a difficult, and at times ugly, chapter of my life, or to have one last Moscow Mule at the Capital Bar.

The real reason I came back—and the reason I wrote this book—is that the Clinton wars still aren't over.

Bill and Hillary Clinton remain the most important, perhaps the defining political figures of this generation. Hillary is the most likely candidate—and, in my opinion, the right candidate—to win the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. And the same reactionary forces that tried to drag them down in the 1990s are still at work today.

The Arkansas Project wasn't a relic. It was a rough draft. There remains what Hillary, back in 1998, called a "vast right-wing conspiracy" in this country. It even features many of the same participants. But it's become bigger, more focused, and better-funded than ever before. It's more like a "vast right-wing conglomerate," as the Atlantic magazine observed. And it's about to bring its considerable power to bear against Hillary Clinton.

Today, even more obviously than when I was involved, the conservative movement cannot compete in the marketplace of ideas. And when it comes to the 2016 election, the fact is that no Republican politician enjoys the widespread appeal, deep devotion, or impressive record of public service that Hillary does. The only way they can win is by using fear and sensationalism to undermine honest debate—and that's exactly what they'll do if we let them.

When I finished my speech at the Clinton School, I was relieved by the warm round of applause. And I wasn't surprised that, despite the radical personal transformation I'd detailed, a majority of the questions I got weren't about my story at all.

My questioners were concerned less with what I'd participated in back in the 1990s, and more about the ongoing right-wing campaign to distort the facts and destroy their opponents by any means necessary.

Today, conservative mouthpieces like Rush Limbaugh and his imitators are continuing to spread lies and spew angry rhetoric that deserve no place in our public discourse. One right-wing shock jock has expressed his wish to see Hillary "shot in the vagina."

Today, Fox News reliably recycles these lies onto cable news, creating an alternate universe in which facts are turned upside down and invective stands in for argument. Fox has accused Hillary of murder, compared her to a murderer, and suggested she commit suicide.

Today, Richard Mellon Scaife may be dead and gone, but he's been replaced by a pair of billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, whose motives are no purer but whose treasure chest of funding for right-wing causes is far deeper than Scaife's. They've pledged to spend close to a billion dollars to defeat Hillary.

Today, the American Spectator may no longer be the journal of record for the conservative movement, giving its most extreme elements a platform, but that's only because those extremists now have platforms of their own: a slew of new digital media properties from which conservatives slander their political opponents. They have Hillary squarely in their sights.

Today, the conservative movement has been co-opted by its right-most fringe, blocking progress or even real debate on the issues that affect our country. The United States Senate is bullied and bossed by Tea Party types like Ted Cruz, who led a pointless government shutdown, and Rand Paul, a desperate presidential candidate who, as I pointed out in Little Rock, has already started recycling the same stale attack lines on the Clintons.

And, of course, today, it is still a Clinton who stands in the way of these forces. Well before Hillary declared herself to be a candidate for president, no fewer than eight conservative PACs had set up shop to try to tarnish her record and reputation before she had a chance to make her own case.

The market for such sludge is huge. Unprecedentedly, every major news outlet assigned a reporter to the Hillary beat three years before Election Day, while she was still a private citizen and unsure she'd even make the run.

This, then, is the dynamic in which events are unfolding, a dynamic I warned of in my speech: On the one hand, a voracious news media hungry for any Clinton crumb; and on the other, well-funded anti-Clinton mudslinging operations that feed the beast. This is the new reality of American media and politics, a sick and scary evolution from the world within which I operated back in the 1990s.

Fortunately, things have changed on the other side, as well.

Today, a network of progressive organizations exists to confront the right on the battlefield of public discourse, countering their lies and holding accountable those who spread them.

Today, Democratic politicians and their supporters embrace the idea that these smears cannot be ignored—they must be refuted and their sources exposed.

Today, Hillary knows that dedicated watchdogs have her back in the fight against conservative propaganda.

And, today, I'm one of them.

This book is, in part, the story of how Bill and Hillary Clinton, their enemies, and I have all evolved since the battles of the 1990s—how the Clinton Wars have become ingrained in the fabric of our politics, how the vast right-wing conspiracy has grown and changed, and how I came to take a leadership role in combating it.

Counterarguments and spin have long been a part of the normal give-and-take of politics in our democracy. But concurrent with the rise of the Clintons—and with the trajectory of my own time in politics—there arose a professional political class on the right, bankrupt of ideas and issues, whose sole and relentless preoccupation is slinging mud at the liberal alternative.

In my lifetime, the conservative message machine I was once an integral part of has grown into a formidable and treacherous leviathan. And my career has become a ceaseless (some might say Sisyphean) effort to counter the power of the organized right and restore some sense of truth and balance to the political arena.

That's what this book is all about. I wrote it not just to tell stories about the recent political past. I wrote this book to help shape the future.

I make no secret of the fact that I hope for the sake of the country Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for president in 2016—and wins the presidency. And I know from my long experience on both sides of the Clinton Wars what it will take for that to happen—and what her opponents will do to try to stop her.

This, then, is more than a history of the new, vast right-wing conglomerate and the progressive infrastructure that has grown up to counter its influence. It's a handbook—a practical guide for Hillary supporters who want to help protect her from the dishonest conservative campaign already underway, for Democrats who are sick and tired of being bullied by the radical right and lied to by the press, and for plain old everyday Americans who want to see a real debate about their futures rather than a rerun of the stale scandal politics of the 1990s.

Hillary's candidacy means that 2016 will be the climax of a long struggle to determine America's purpose in the twenty-first century. The right will come at her with everything it has.

The good news is, I have their playbook. And I'm revealing it to you so that, together, we can be ready for what the right has coming and ensure our fellow Americans don't get tricked by it.


On Sale
Sep 15, 2015
Page Count
304 pages

David Brock

About the Author

David Brock is a widely published author and Democratic activist. In 2004, Brock founded Media Matters, the nation’s premier media watchdog. Following the 2010 elections, Brock founded the Democratic SuperPAC American Bridge, which is one of the largest modern campaign war rooms ever assembled using research, tracking, and rapid response to defeat Republicans. He is the author of five books, including his 2002 best-selling memoir, Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative. His writing appears in USA Today,, the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, and Salon.

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