David Brock is a political operative, author, commentator, and founder of Media Matters for America and American Bridge 21st Century. Formerly a conservative journalist, Brock became famous as a critic of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Brock later published several confessional pieces denouncing conservative media before becoming a close ally and consigliere of the Clinton family and Democratic politicians. Brock has been described by Time magazine as “one of the most influential political operatives in the Democratic party.” Brock resides in Washington, D.C.
Brock attended the University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1985. At Berkeley, Brock was a reporter and editor for the Daily Californian, the campus newspaper. When Brock started college, he described himself as a Democrat, but throughout his time at Berkeley he was “repelled by the culture of doctrinaire leftism,” and aligned with the political right. He then founded the Berkeley Journal, a neoconservative weekly publication. Brock published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “Combating those campus Marxists.” Then-editor of Insight on the News John Podhoretz saw the piece and flew Brock to D.C. for an interview. He later hired Brock to work at Insight after Brock graduated from Berkeley.
In 1986, Brock was hired to work for Insight on the News, the weekly conservative news magazine and sister publication of the Washington Times. After Insight, Brock worked as a fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
In 1992, the American Spectator published an article, which Brock later turned into a book, on Anita Hill. In The Real Anita Hill, Brock challenged Hill’s claims that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her, exposing a left-wing smear campaign against the future Supreme Court Justice. After the article was published, the American Spectator hired Brock as a full-time staff member. While at the American Spectator, Brock’s contract paid him $350,000 while he published just six articles.
Clinton Family Scandals
Two years later Brock published an article about President Bill Clinton’s time as governor of Arkansas and the “Troopergate” sex scandal (referencing Paula Jones, who accused Clinton of sexual harassment). State troopers suggested Jones to be Clinton’s partner. Jones claimed Brock’s article was “totally wrong.” Brock’s article won an award from Joseph Farah’s Western Journalism Center, and helped increase the magazine’s circulation. Jones sued Clinton for sexual harassment, which helped to set in motion the investigation of President Clinton’s extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky, leading to his impeachment and subsequent Senate trial.
After seeing the success of his article about Jones, the Free Press, a now-defunct publisher (not to be confused with the left-wing advocacy group Free Press), paid Brock a $550,000 advance to write a book about Hillary Clinton. The Free Press hoped that from this book would follow the investigative approach of his previous pieces and would expose the First Lady in a similar manner. However, the book that resulted was The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, which was mainly sympathetic to Clinton. Brock painted Clinton as a well-intentioned liberal, who was misunderstood by the mainstream media. In the book he described her as having “the ill-fortune to take power at a moment in history when much of the public has turned against the panacea of big government.” Brock defended Clinton on many claims, and said the reason for her evasiveness may simply be because “politicians shade the truth all the time.” Brock’s book was met with harsh criticisms that he had not done enough to attack the Clintons. The New York Times scolded Brock for being easy on Hillary, and for straining to absolve her of her role in the Whitewater scandal. The book sold very poorly, the publisher lost a large sum of money, and Brock’s editor was fired.
In 1997, Brock published a confessional piece in Esquire magazine titled “Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man.” In the article, Brock recanted most of the reporting from his two famous American Spectator articles. He also claimed that many Republicans were punishing him for taking a sympathetic stance in The Seduction of Hillary Rodham. Several months after his article was published, the American Spectator declined to renew Brock’s contract. The following year, Brock published another article where he apologized to Bill Clinton about his accusations from the Troopergate investigation. Brock publicly agreed with Hillary Clinton’s claims that her husband was the victim of a right-wing conspiracy that alleged without fact Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. Television host Matt Lauer asked Brock if he had been involved with the conspiracy, to which Brock replied, “I was, and I was stunned when she said it because I said, finally somebody gets it.”
In 2002, Brock published a book, Blinded by the Right, in which he apologized for the investigative articles he had written in the past, and accepted all the comments and criticisms made about him as true. This book was met with praise from Democrats, especially the Clintons. Many people saw the book as what put Brock in a favorable position among the Democratic Party establishment. Brock began working with former top advisor and confidant to Bill Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal’s 2004 book The Clinton Wars revealed that Brock helped him construct a partisan narrative that painted Bill Clinton’s critics as “agents of a well-organized ideological onslaught laying siege to the office of the presidency.” Newsday’s Glenn Thrush said that Hillary Clinton personally “‘encourage[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.’” George Soros and Clinton administration White House Chief of Staff John Podesta helped Brock raise $2 million for Media Matters. Additionally, Thrush noted that Hillary “Clinton’s extended family of contributors, consultants and friends . . . played a pivotal role in helping Media Matters grow.”
In 2004, Brock wrote The Republican Noise Machine, which focused on conservatives’ efforts to promote their opinions through supposedly false accusations of liberal media bias, as well as dishonest and partisan columnists.
Between 2007 and 2010 Brock was identified as a member of JournoList, an online secret society of left-center media professionals.
With the help of Media Matters researchers, Brock published The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine in 2012.
Brock describes Ailes as a rabid partisan and a ruthless overlord, saying that anyone who defied Ailes was punished. Brock cited the now-defunct online gossip site Gawker as running a story that claimed Ailes had some of his employees followed. The book also suggested that Fox News acted as a public-relations arm for the president during the Bush administration. Brock said the network was essentially “cheerlead[ing] for George W. Bush.” Brock quoted an unnamed “former Fox employee” who complained that “[w]e were a Stalin-esque mouthpiece” for Bush. The claim has been cited as untrue. The book also noted that “polls consistently find Fox News viewers to be the most ignorant on a variety of issues.” However, polls and surveys have found that Fox viewers’ knowledge of news issues is higher than average.
Political Operative Career
In 2008, Brock, George Soros, and Paul Begala worked to launch a $40 million media campaign against Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona). Brock, working with Progressive Media USA, said that because “the press is in love with John McCain,” McCain gets away with saying things “without being challenged by facts that will show him to have said something different in the past.”
American Bridge 21st Century
Also see American Bridge 21st Century (527 Political Action Committee)
In 2011, Brock founded the Super PAC American Bridge 21st Century. The PAC was created in order to help elect Democrats in 2012. According to Brock, the PAC tracks “every utterance of every major GOP candidate.” The PAC has Washington, D.C.-based researchers as well as staffers across the nation. In 2011, Brock vowed to engage in “guerrilla warfare” and “sabotage” of Fox News. Former American Bridge 21st Century president Brad Woodhouse said, “there’s no organization that does the level of tracking and research that we do,” explaining that both parties and campaigns don’t invest in research to the extent that American Bridge does.
American Democracy Legal Fund
Brock also founded and runs the American Democracy Legal Fund, an organization that battles Republicans in court. The nonprofit has come under fire for existing only to sue Republicans for ethical and campaign finance violations. In less than a year of operation, the American Democracy Legal Fund filed fifteen complaints against Republicans and conservative groups. American Democracy Legal Fund operates as a 501(c)(4). It was created as the political arm of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). In 2014, Brock relaunched the American Independent News Network as the American Independent Institute. The group provides grants to fund liberal investigative journalism projects. In 2014 alone the group gave $320,000 in grants to projects seeking to uncover right-wing misdeeds.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
Also see Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (Nonprofit)
Brock has also served as chairman of the board of directors for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, CREW is barred from engaging in partisan political activity. Brock’s appointment was criticized taking an explicitly partisan stance by the organization. Politico described the appointment and Brock’s plan as a move to convert the group into a partisan attack group. Brock disputed that CREW would ignore ethical lapses in Democrats because of his appointment. He said that CREW would pursue wrongdoings of Democrats, but noted that CREW’s history shows that there is simply more corruption to pursue with Republicans than with Democrats.
Media and Investment Companies
Brock formed True Blue Media, an investment group, in 2015. He then purchased an 80 percent stake in Blue Nation Review, now Shareblue Media, an online news outlet.
Hillary Clinton Operative
In 2012, Brock formed Correct the Record, a group whose goal is to track all the negative media surrounding Hillary Clinton. Brock was appointed in 2014 to the board of Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton as a 2016 presidential candidate. One year later, Brock resigned from his board position, claiming that Priorities USA Action was involved in a “hit job” against Brock’s Media Matters for America and American Bridge. Months later, Brock was persuaded to rejoin Priorities USA Action.
Brock was involved with Correct the Record, American Bridge, and Priorities USA Action simultaneously. This raised legal questions since Correct the Record and American Bridge worked closely with the Clinton campaign, and Priorities USA Action was legally prohibited from doing so.
After participating in Hillary Clinton’s 2008 primary run for president, Brock was heavily involved in Clinton’s 2016 campaign. In 2015, Brock spoke on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, defending Clinton’s use of a private email server and insisting that she violated no rules by doing so. In September 2015, a number of Clinton’s emails were released, including an email from Brock with the subject line, “Memo on Impeaching Clarence Thomas.” The email listed a number of potential avenues for removing Justice Thomas from the Supreme Court.
In January 2016, rumors surfaced that Brock was planning an advertisement calling on Clinton’s primary opponent, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) to release his medical records prior to the Iowa caucuses. Hours after Politico’s report, John Podesta, Clinton campaign chairman, took to Twitter to scold Brock. Later in the month, Brock told the Associated Press that based on a Sanders campaign advertisement, “it seems black lives don’t matter much to Bernie Sanders.” Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs spoke out about Brock’s comment, accusing him of “mudslinging.”
In February 2016, it was reported that Brock was still earning a salary from American Bridge 21st Century and Correct the Record. American Bridge was legally prohibited from coordinating with the Clinton campaign, and Correct the Record was working directly with the campaign. Experts said the situation was pushing the boundaries of campaign finance law, but Brock was not found to have done anything illegal since he found loopholes to go around the campaign finance restrictions.
In 2015, Brock published his book Killing the Messenger: The Right-Wing Plot to Derail Hillary Clinton and Hijack Your Government. In Killing the Messenger, Brock accused the New York Times of acting as a “megaphone for conservative propaganda.” Politico commented that Brock depicted Bill and Hillary Clinton as “angels,” both politically and personally. Many saw the book as a call to support Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. Author Hanna Rosin said that the book seemed to “bullet-point Hillary’s accomplishments as secretary of state or the achievements of the Clinton Foundation.”
Trump Administration Attacks
In September 2016, Brock posted a plea on Correct the Record’s website offering to pay for new, damaging information on Donald Trump. Brock referred to this project as “TrumpLeaks.” The website states that, “one of the most important things for voters to evaluate in any election is the full measure of a candidate’s views, ideas and temperament over time.” The page goes on to say, “TrumpLeaks is an effort to uncover unreported video or audio of Donald Trump so voters can have access to the Donald Trump who existed before running for president and before his recent affinity for teleprompters. TrumpLeaks can provide some compensation to those who have usable, undoctored video or audio that has been legally obtained or is legally accessible.”
Brock was involved in a high-profile legal dispute with his former boyfriend William Grey in 2007. In the civil lawsuit, Grey accused Brock of having taken $170,000 in possessions from their once-shared Washington townhouse. Grey threatened to go to the IRS with damaging information about Brock, Media Matters, and the organization’s donors. Brock paid Grey $850,000 to keep quiet. Brock subsequently described the payment as blackmail. Brock had to sell a home in Delaware in order to make the payment to Grey. In 2011, Brock sued Grey for more than $4 million. He demanded Grey return the $850,000 and pay over $3 million in punitive damages. The dispute was settled later that year under private terms.