Old Smoke: DUMBO’s Track Marks

Written by William Bryk on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.

Like most gossip columnists, the Washington Post’s Lloyd Grove is as political
as any D.C. operative. He certainly knows whom he can get away with smearing
and whom he cannot. It’s a fine line: You’ve got to show you have
some balls–but go too far and you’ll have those balls cut off.
In this context, someone like David Brock is an easy, virtually cost-free target,
an individual few among the current regime in Washington would shed a tear over.

Surely there’s
no love lost between Brock and Grove’s editors at the Post, either.
The author of the bestselling Blinded by the Right, after all, did make
fools of so many journalists in that town, revealing that his supposed exposes
about Anita Hill and Bill Clinton–stories with which the journalism pack
dutifully and sensationally ran–were mostly based on fabrications, distortions
and half-truths.

It was no
great surprise, then, when Grove smeared Brock last year after the publication
of Blinded by the Right, floating a piece of Matt Drudge-inspired dirt
about Brock in his column, attempting to discredit him. Nor was it a shocker
when Grove went for a second helping two weeks ago, slamming Brock in an item
about the star-studded D.C. party celebrating the publication of the paperback
edition of the book. Grove once again offered up the Drudge sludge on Brock.
He also quoted a negative review of the book from last year (out of scores of
positive reviews), and ridiculed Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and Nevada
Democratic Senator Harry Reid for hosting the release party.

Gossip columnists
have a reputation for stretching facts, and in this instance Grove lived up
to it even better than Page Six on its sleaziest day. He claimed that "many
of Brock’s former allies disputed his stories," as recounted in the
book. But in fact, no major players on the right have spoken up about Blinded
by the Right
, let alone refuted it in any detail. They seem afraid of it
entirely. (There was David Horowitz’s distortion-filled slam of the book,
but that hardly constitutes "many of Brock’s former allies."
Nor did the nutty Horowitz dispute Blinded by the Right in a logical,
coherent or honest manner.)

So is Grove
an agenda-driven gossipist, a latter-day Walter Winchell on his own McCarthy-esque
crusade? Or is he simply operating the way gossip columnists everywhere operate–paying
off sources who give him valuable information by taking easy shots now and then
at common adversaries? It’s true that Grove has been romantically involved
with Amy Holmes, a right-wing Stepford-gal pundit (big on teeth, small on brains)
who has worked for at least one individual whom Brock skewers in his book. But
that doesn’t necessarily mean Grove shares her conservative sentiments.
It could also be that Grove has cultivated sources through her and through others
on the right, individuals who give him juicy Beltway gossip, and whom he repays

In other
words, for Grove, whose column is now syndicated across the country–gossip
product he’s got to pump out and sell nationwide–it might not be about
ideology as much as business. I know all about that business, as Grove and I
fed at the very same gossip trough in New York in times past.

But before
I get to that, let’s look at just what kind of crap Grove keeps pushing
about Brock–as well as what he conveniently keeps leaving out of the story.
The openly gay Brock recounted in his book how he and the sexually circumspect
Drudge–darling of many an antigay moralist–went on what Drudge thought
was a date back when Brock was a right-wing hit man in the 90s. Brock wrote
that the lovesick Drudge sent Brock roses days later and expressed that he wanted
the two to be "fuck buddies." Drudge, like the rest of the right,
at first stayed quiet when Brock’s book was published. But after the book
began racing up the New York Times bestseller list, Drudge finally erupted,
running an item on his website stating that Brock had experienced a nervous
breakdown while writing the book and had checked into a hospital (yawn).

Grove ate
it up at the time, quoting Drudge in his column but not reporting the pertinent
fact that Drudge had a motive in delving into Brock’s private medical information.
Grove made no reference to the "fuck buddies" stuff, even in a G-rated
way, and didn’t mention any relationship between Brock and Drudge.

Grove is
a 20-year veteran of the Post. But he previously worked at a very specialized
W. 57th St. p.r. outfit called Mike Hall Associates (I worked there as well,
after Grove had left). That was where Grove learned all about buying and selling
gossip. Mike Hall Associates, which has been around since the 1940s, is a "column
planter." Clients used us in addition to their full-service publicists;
we guaranteed them mentions in gossip columns like Liz Smith, Page Six, Cindy
Adams, People’s "Chatter" Page, and Parade magazine’s
q&a column called "Walter Scott’s Personality Parade," back
when it was written by the late Lloyd Shearer (there was never any Walter Scott).

Our clients
at the time included most of the major film companies, famous hotspots like
the Russian Tea Room, Broadway theaters and producers. Here’s how it worked:
We gave the gossip columnists a bunch of items on a page, each one usually no
longer than a paragraph. Every other item was a "free" item–delicious,
sometimes even scandalous gossip about a celebrity or a politician. The others
were "client" items (which were always underlined, so as to distinguish
them). We got our gossip from a variety of sources around town, as well as in
Hollywood, Washington, Europe and elsewhere, and we’d often pay them off
with screening passes to films or house seats for Broadway shows. If the columnists
used a "free" item, it was understood that they had to use a "client"
item. Sometimes they’d run it in the same column; other times the items
would run days apart. Often we wrote much of Liz Smith’s column, and many
of the columnists used our stuff word for word. We also penned both the questions
and the answers for Personality Parade. From what publicist friends tell me,
the gossip business doesn’t operate much differently today (though the
noted journalist Ed Klein, who pens Personality Parade, said he writes his own
answers to real questions, defending himself in an interview in the Boston
Globe Magazine
in 2001, in which it was claimed that some of the published
letters seemed "questionable").

In Washington,
it’s not necessarily "client" mentions that people want in return
for a hot "free" item. They also want little political smears of their
adversaries–including, perhaps, people like David Brock, Tom Daschle and
others. So, from now on, when you read Grove’s column, look for what might
be the "free" items and what might be the "client" items.
You’ll be amazed at what you can figure out.


Michelangelo Signorile can
be reached at www.signorile.com.