The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Saturday, April 27, 2002  

Andrew Sullivan and the Combustible Pants

Andrew Sullivan, writing at, this week couldn't resist slamming David Brock for an alleged lie Brock uttered on CNN's "Crossfire."

On the program, which aired April 25, Brock, agreeing with an assessment made by the writers at Media Whores Online, asserted that conservative pundits were ignoring his book and that conservative news outlets, of which Fox News is certainly one, were not putting him on the air.

The initial transcript reads, in relevant part: "CARVILLE: How many talk shows have you been on let's just say the Fox network? BROCK: I have not been on Fox at all. CARVILLE: But no one invited you on? BROCK: No." [Ed.: Emphasis added.]

Gleefully, Sullivan directed his readers to a page on the web site of the ultra-conservative Media Research Center showing Brock on the Fox network -- discussing Blinded by the Right no less.

Sullivan hit the web with a piece entitled, "David Brock's Pants Experience Spontaneous Combustion." Liar, liar, pants on fire!

Now, we have spent some time in CNN's offices and can attest that the normal state is one of intense bedlam. We also have had reason to read CNN transcripts. At the top of these transcripts is printed, in all-caps, always: "THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED." And in case the reader missed it, printed once again, always, in all-caps, is: "THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED."

No matter. Take it on face value. The judge, jury, and executioner had all he needed: David Brock is a liar.

Now we come to find out what Brock actually said was, "I have not been on Fox prime time at all," the words "prime time" having been missed by the transcriptionist.

Time for some damage control at

In a rare Saturday post on his site, Sullivan today concedes, "If you listen very closely to the tape rather than [read] the transcript, across chatter and under cross-talk, you can just about hear Brock say in a near-whisper 'on prime-time.' No-one on the show seemed to notice. Tucker Carlson said he couldn't hear it. The transcriber didn't hear it. But it's there." [Ed.: Emphasis added.]

Writes Sullivan, "Two things are worth saying: firstly, relying on several people who had heard the show and then double-checking the official [sic] CNN transcript is good faith journalism, not sloppiness," Sullivan argues.

But the transcript in question, is DEFINITELY NOT an "official" transcript. It is what CNN refers to as a "rush transcript" and as such it alerts the reader in block letters that it "may not be its final form." Would it not have been wise for Sullivan to make this point to his readers? Before calling Brock a liar, a serious charge indeed, might Sullivan not have been more judicious to wait until he could get a copy of the tape himself? (A request that would have been granted quite readily given his standing in the Punditboro.) Were the viewers consulted by Sullivan an unbiased group or do they share his vicious disdain for, and contemptuous attitude toward, David Brock?

"Secondly, Brock is still spinning. As Tim Noah has pointed out, Brock chose to make this distinction in an aside, fomenting the impression that indeed he had been blacklisted by Fox," Sullivan argues. "Sotto voce asides are not the mark of candor but of a continuing attempt to spin and duck," he adds.

Talking about spinning. An "aside," as readers know, is theater-speak for a comment a character makes out loud, but only to the audience. The audience must assume that none of the other characters on stage can hear the remark.

Now, Sullivan is quite caught up in a foray into acting these days, a project that entails, among other things, "grueling rehearsals" and his wearing leather pants (presumably of the non-combustible type), a fact to which he has drawn his readers' attention at least twice. Thus we're not surprised that he didn't have time to watch the program (nor have we). Yet the image he conjures up with absolute conviction is akin to Brock whispering into his sleeve or throwing his head to one side and mumbling into thin air.

Could it be that Brock's words were drowned out by the show's hosts? Sullivan concedes that to hear Brock's complete sentence one must "listen very closely...across chatter and under cross-talk," chatter and cross-talk being terms that do not even come close to describing the true nature of the "discussions" that occur on "Crossfire." The show is a juvenile, frat-boy, political food-fight: he who is loudest is heard first, giving up the floor is a sign of weakness, name-calling is common, yelling the norm. It is not without good reason that viewers tune in to "Crossfire" for entertainment, not edification.

Many other explanations may be offered: Is it possible that Brock turned, tilted, or lifted his head slightly and the microphone didn't pick up his words at normal volume? Perhaps the transcriptionist was tired or falling behind? Maybe the words couldn't be heard because Brock doesn't normally speak as if he's using a megaphone?

With unintentional (we think) hilarity, Sullivan also writes, "The distinction between 'Fox' and 'Fox Prime Time' [made by Brock] also strikes me as somewhat strained." So, Sullivan would have us believe he would be just as happy to appear on Fox at 2:30 p.m. as he would to appear at 7:30 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. Yeah, right. Who's spinning who?

The humor continues. "What worries me is Brock's long record of deception and personal abuse in matters large and small. In this particular game of 'gotcha,' Brock played the game like a pro," Sullivan whines as he approaches his apology, "even gulling CNN's transcriber."

That David Brock is one amazing man: he's so clever he can dupe even an unbiased transcriptionist into signing up to participate in "the liberal agenda."

For the record, here's Sullivan's heart-felt apology: "He's getting as good as Clinton. But my apologies for an innocent [sic] error nonetheless."

It takes a big man to be that contrite.

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