LITTLE ROCK — The last time David Brock was here, he was traversing every corner of Arkansas digging up dirt about Hillary Rodham Clinton, paying little attention to its veracity, in what he called a “campaign of dirty tricks” to upend her husband’s presidency.
That was 19 years ago. On Tuesday, Brock returned to Little Rock as a converted man. No longer part of the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” as the first lady once dubbed it, Brock has transformed into a member in good standing of Clinton World.
Brock founded a super PAC committed to defending the former secretary of state’s record and propelling her potential 2016 presidential campaign. And on Tuesday, he was the featured speaker at the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas, where he delivered a speech about his political conversion and his efforts to “blow the whistle” on what he sees as the right-wing’s “obsession” with the Clintons.
“At its root, I realized, Clinton-hating had nothing to do with what the Clintons did and did not do,” Brock said. “It had everything to do with fear of the kind of change they represented on one hand — and on the other, a newly brutal form of partisan politics.”
Brock runs Media Matters, a liberal-leaning media watchdog group, and last year founded Correct the Record, which has become a rapid-response war room operating on Clinton’s behalf before she decides whether to launch a presidential campaign.
The night before his speech, Brock and his colleagues met for drinks at the Capital Hotel, the same downtown haunt where he hung out in the 1990s.
On this night at the bar, however, Brock met for this first time Skip Rutherford, a close friend and adviser to Bill Clinton who is now dean of the Clinton School, and Bruce Lindsey, a Clinton confidant and former White House lawyer who helped the president navigate the investigations spawned by Brock’s reporting.
“This is the guy that wrote for the American Spectator, the guy who brought ‘Troopergate’ to the forefront, the guy who introduced the world to Paula Jones,” Rutherford said. “He was well-known in the Clinton World in the ’90s and was a source of great dismay and uncertainty because you never knew what was coming next, but one thing you did know was it would not be good.”
During Brock’s speech, Lindsey sat alone on a second-floor balcony and discreetly watched his former adversary. In an interview afterward, Lindsey said that he “completely agreed” with Brock’s analysis. But he acknowledged that it was difficult to relive the scandals and pseudo-scandals of the 1990s.
“I don’t need David Brock to remind me of those things,” Lindsey said. “They’re very much seared onto my brain.”
He added, “People need to hear that the allegations that were made against both Clintons were false, that he took things at face value that he now says he shouldn’t have taken at face value. It’s good that he came here to say that.”
Other Clintonites were on hand for Brock’s speech, including Marsha Scott, a former Clinton White House aide; Don Ernst, a former Clinton aide in the governor’s office; and former Arkansas governor and senator David Pryor.
“Half the people in this room — this guy tried to send to jail,” Pryor quipped.
In his remarks, Brock singled out Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — who has made headlines recently by accusing Bill Clinton of “predatory behavior” for his 1998 extramarital affair with intern Monica Lewinsky — as a “poster boy” for Clinton-bashing. In turn, he said, Paul should answer for “sensationalist rantings” of one of his top aides and for the “anti-Semitic and racist” material in newsletters published by his father, former congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex.).
Brock also condemned “sordid checkbook journalism” that he says pervades today’s political news media.
“The slander sites are key players in a broader right-wing strategy to create a negative environment that encourages Hillary Clinton not to run or to soften up her image in the same way a meat tenderizer softens up a steak,” Brock said.