America’s history has been shaped by storytellers. Mark Twain formed ideas of American boyhood; Walt Disney’s princesses still inspire little girls’ dreams.
Less famous than Twain or Disney, for the past 30 years, Media Matters kingpin David Brock has spun and sold bestselling tales that are to U.S. democracy as Donald Duck would be to little kids if Disney cartoons portrayed Uncle Scrooge McDuck as kindly and generous.
Brock is a survivor who knows how to reinvent himself along with public opinion. Before he became Goebbels to Hillary Clinton’s Hitler, he masterminded the smear campaign against law professor Anita Hill’s sexual harassment testimony during Clarence Thomas’ 1991 Senate hearings. Famously calling Hill “a little bit nutty, and a little bit slutty” in his 1993 bestseller, The Real Anita Hill, by 2001, Brock had recanted his work trashing Hill on behalf of conservatives.
Brock’s 1996 book, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, with title (if not content) worthy of one of Clarence Thomas’ pornos, was his first move to switch teams from “conservative” to “liberal.” The book may have helped Brock to be better friends with the Clintons, but its sales were literary kryptonite, leading to the termination of Brock’s editor at Simon & Schuster and a broken reprint deal with Newsweek.
The Seduction of Hillary Rodham does offer some gems, however, such as independent confirmation of Hillary’s use of free prison labor while her husband served as Arkansas governor. In the same paragraph, Brock provides a succinct description of the real breadwinner in the Clinton household (“except by virtue of his public office, Clinton never provided for his family”). Just as Hillary Clinton’s Senate career and work as Secretary of State facilitated at least $2 billion in donations to the Clinton Foundation 2001–2013, her jobs as college professor and lawyer financed Bill Clinton’s Arkansas political career.
Few people other than Brock would have tried to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons after he tried and failed to destroy them as the writer who broke the “Troopergate” story in The American Spectator. Troopergate revealed the Paula Jones sexual harassment case which in turn, exposed Clinton’s sexual exploitation of White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Brock, no fool, calculated that Hillary Clinton could potentially become a nationally-sympathetic figure even if he, Brock, would become one of the most-hated men in America.
Following Clinton’s stunning defeat in November, 2016, Brock wasted little time launching the next phase of his career. Concurrent with Donald Trump’s inauguration last January, Brock gathered DNC leaders and 120 to 140 high- value donors at the Turnberry Isle resort in Miami to seize attention and funds from Democracy Alliance and talk about how best to recapture everyone’s lost assets by destroying Trump. To Brock, the session’s most critical goal must certainly have been acquiring $40 million for his 2017 storytelling warchest.
The private conference was preceded by a public forum with DNC chair candidates who had flown to Florida in preference to participating in the 2017 #WomensMarch. There were two notable exceptions: South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, who skipped the event to attend the #WomensMarch in his city, and progressive candidate Samuel Ronan, who was not invited. USAF veteran Ronan is currently running for office in Ohio’s first congressional district.
The two female candidates for DNC chair, Jehmu Green and Sally Boynton Brown, both chose the Florida forum in preference to attending the #WomensMarch because like the rest of the DNC and his enemies at the Center for American Progress such as Neera Tanden (“Hillary truly understands now how how batshit crazy David Brock is”), Brock is such a champion for women and people of color.
Brock’s Democracy Matters’ message, set forth in a private, confidential donor memo leaked to media for the better part of a year, has consisted of pretty much everything you’ve seen and heard on American media, including the front page of Medium, 90% of Facebook political posts, the takeover of nearly all progressive social media groups, and 80% of Twitter posts for much of the 2016 election season and every single minute since.
It’s hard to have missed the public message broadcast continuously since November 8, 2016, that Vladimir Putin and Russian “bots” stole the election from Hillary Clinton. This is quite a different message from the one offered by David Brock to his donors at their private retreat at one of America’s most exclusive, expensive resorts. According to Brock, his organizations, including Media Matters, CREW (a ‘government watchdog’ organized to combat corruption and enforce laws in the wake of the Enron scandal in 2001 — so there has been no major corporate financial malfeasance prosecution since), American Bridge, and ShareBlue, had hundreds of millions of dollars in media views and millions upon millions of successful social media messages dominating the 2016 election season.
After a year of solid effort, Brock’s “war room” uncovered Trump’s paid sexual recreation with some pornstars in 2006.
Back in the 90s, the United States’ Congress (and you, if you were around then) were privileged to hear hours of sleazy testimony smearing Anita Hill and state troopers testifying that Bill Clinton was too cheap to pay prostitutes and instead preferred to Harvey Weinstein young state employees like Paula Jones for free with their help. More recently, in addition to a British agent preparing a report that says prostitutes peed on a Moscow bed at Donald Trump’s orders, you have heard a constant, 24–7 barrage of news reports and even national intelligence reports written by Bill Clinton’s former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, that Russian “bots” and Putin’s social media “fake news” reports on Facebook and Twitter influenced the 2016 election in favor of Donald J. Trump.
Last January, Brock’s top Democratic donors heard different information between tee times at Turnberry Isle.
Brock’s move beyond the Clinton era is also evident in the rapid replacement of the familiar Clinton defense network “Correct the Record” with Shareblue, the “digital attacker.” Correct the Record’s last tweet was November, 2016, and its website now points to a domain purchasing service.
All of our lives, we Americans have told ourselves we were better than the Nazis. In the rise of David Brock and his counterparts on the right (of which he was once one of the most-effective) and the nearly complete destruction of independent journalism: perhaps this is true. Most Americans are as well-informed about our country’s history and reality as the typical German was during Hitler’s rise to power, the entirety of the second World War, his precipitous fall and ugly, sordid suicide in the bunker along with his version of Brock: Goebbels — a man who took his wife and children along with him to the grave. The lies we have been told about Russian election influence are not only reminiscent of Cold War-era McCarthyism, but also of German blaming of Communists and Jews for economic and social woes even as they were being imprisoned, tortured, and murdered.
Brock’s Shareblue empire and other corporatist attack farms associated with the Center for American Progress and minor players like @ Funder Scott Dworkin are inspired by Russian trolls and bots. The minds associated with these efforts (including Brock’s video search program created in cooperation with DARPA) most certainly copied the organization that is currently being blamed in US and UK legacy media for Brexit and Donald Trump’s 2016 victory: Russia’s Internet Research Agency.
Without question, Brock and his counterparts read and fully internalized the message of Alex Chen’s June, 2015 New York Times Magazine article on how Russia controls citizen discourse on the internet in the Russian language. In 2015, the Internet Research Agency located in St. Petersburg employed about 400 people, each earning as much as a Russian university professor. Their jobs were to make daily posts on message boards, via social media, and use hashtags promoting official Kremlin pro-Putin messages.
Putin’s real armies of trolls and bots also had the goal of poisoning online discourse, “to make it so stinky that normal people won’t want to touch it,” an opposition leader told NYT’s Chen. When I interviewed Oxford Internet Institute social media researcher Samantha Bradshaw last year, she explained how some of their most recent reports and studies found social media was controlled in different nations: “The Russian government focuses its social media on the Russian people,” including coverage of the Ukraine and other political opposition. In the United States, Bradshaw said, social media manipulation is conducted by political parties to a far greater extent than the U.S. government.
No rich Democratic donor who attended Brock’s retreat likely ever thought that Vladimir Putin’s Russian trolls “influenced” the 2016 election.
Instead, they were told how influential Brock’s “most ethical (and most lied about) political leaders” post was shared nearly 1 million times with a total viewer count dwarfing the Russian allegations provided to Congress. And you.
Brock’s wealthy donors certainly appreciated his ability in paving the way for the new McCarthyism and enabling easy purges of inconvenient voices from public discourse. Most Twitter users who received the recent “Russian troll” warning letter from the social media giant have understood its meaning quite well. Any nonconforming account can be (and often is) silenced at any time.
Meanwhile at the Brock conference, the donors were told that traditional news outlets were dying, yet at the same time heard of the incredible success of nearly 20,000 articles highlighting or “relying upon” Brock’s Media Matters.
Dozens of Wikileaks DNC and Podesta emails detail how Democratic National Committee staffers and executives at Hillary Clinton’s campaign (and Barack Obama’s campaign in 2007–8) bragged about success in easily placing their “talking points” in every major legacy media outlet, from CNN to MSNBC to the New York Times and Washington Post. As funding competitors, Podesta and Tanden’s Center for American Progress (CAP) had and obviously still have little liking for Brock, but the organization. its staff, and extensive army of online trolls and small group of celebrity adherents (here in the U.S. are doubtlessly paid similarly to Russian celebrities who are compensated by the Kremlin to echo Putin’s views) fully share his capacity for Goebbels-like perversion of reality. “Free college and #Medicare4All are racist” just like “Arbeit Macht Frei” at the gates to Auschwitz. A few progressive celebrities like Susan Sarandon are responsible for Clinton’s loss to Trump. Also Putin.
Which brings me to my final point.
Brock’s style of ‘reporting’ has dominated US journalism and publishing attitudes for the past 30 years, substituting Goebbels-like propaganda for facts just as the so-called political ‘triangulation’ of the Clintons laid waste to any progress made in fighting poverty, providing health care, improving education, strengthening families, and racial equality and justice.
Legacy media is dying precisely because of what Brock brags about. When reporters started typing stories up to fit what Democratic National Committee staffers, Tom Steyer, or now-deposed Alphabet/Google CEO Eric Schmidt wanted to say, readers stopped reading, bit by bit, one by one. This type of corruption has reached its apogee not just with the endless Fox News propaganda shows, but also with shows like Joy Reid’s “AM Joy” on MSNBC, which features “@ Funder” Scott Dworkin, a less-sophisticated and intellectual version of David Brock with his own mini “stop Trump” grifting empire.
Social media too is dying as it has been used in recent years. The toxic 2016 election season cut my use of social media down by hundreds of hours to a few minutes a day or less. I unfollowed or blocked many former acquaintances on both “sides” of the political spectrum. Now, I don’t see the endless ads, and the constant Facebook “pushes” of so-called “friend” feeds are starting to become irritating enough that I may just delete the app. A friend who owns a small local business confided his positive, interesting Facebook ads for his business were getting fewer and fewer views and engagements — and his contacts with the company had produced no response: just higher ad rates and a lower return.
Paying customers don’t have access to raw data from U.S. social media sites. But as David Brock’s wealthy 1% Democratic donors heard last January: Media Matters does.
Twitter further poisoned its value to users, in addition to promoting primarily corporatist Democrat sponsored troll and bot networks who follow Putin’s poisoning the well playbook to the letter by sending out its “Russian troll content” letter. The service has been suspending the accounts of large numbers of genuine progressives for months, particularly those of people of color and outspoken millennial women.
Just as the tiny, ever-shrinking number of the world’s billionaires believe they will continue to reap the benefits of the labor of the majority of the world’s 7.6 billion people, it’s fairly certain that Twitter, Facebook, and even Medium Staff and all of their equivalents believe that the decisions they have made to pursue the political dictates of a man like Brock are the right ones, even in the face of ample — even extreme evidence to the contrary.
No one had to believe David Brock. No one had to ever publish his fake books, no one had to buy them, and none of those rich people last January had to give him a nickel, much less millions. Inspired by Brock and friends, the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wrote a 25-page report guaranteeing Vladimir Putin “hacked the 2016 election,” presented it to Congress, and it was broadcast for hours on every imaginable news channel. This “report” not only contained no verifiable information — it contained the absurd lie that somehow Russians got Donald Trump elected President.
The truth is, Americans did.
Just like Scrooge McDuck is a miser who loves gold more than Huey, Dewey, and Louie.