David Brooks reveals what he is

For years I’ve called David Brooks a whore, by which I meant that he’s a whore in the intellectual/political/careerist sense. Now it turns out that he’s an actual whore.

Mickey Kaus writes:

David Brooks may spend until the end of his days being asked which Republican senator he’s referring to in his recent MSNBC confession:

I sat next to a Republican senator once at dinner and he had his hand on my inner thigh the whole time. I was like, ehh, get me out of here….

He’ll be asked at every dinner party he attends for the forseeable future. He’ll be asked by his dentist, when he’s in the chair. He’ll be asked by his editors. I urge Brooks to seek the counsel of Bob Woodward, who managed to keep an even more sought-after name secret for decades. But there is a smaller universe of suspects with this one. It might be hopeless.

P.S.: I know I have my favorite. … As a TPM reader notes, it would have to be someone Brooks really didn’t want to p__s off. … 1:49 A.M.

Kaus seems to have missed the point. The person whose character and behavior are most brought into question by Brooks’s anecdote is not the unnamed senator, but Brooks himself. What kind of man sits through an entire dinner allowing another man to keep his hand on his thigh? A “man” who will never do anything to threaten his lines to the powerful. A “man” so lacking in self-respect—so lacking even the idea of self-respect—that he doesn’t realize or care what his decision to tell that anecdote reveals about himself.

- end of initial entry -

James P. writes:

A NYT columnist, of all people, should not have to put up with such harassment. All he had to say was, “Get that hand off or you’re going to read about it in the paper tomorrow and your political career is over.” I would have no respect even for a powerless man who permitted this, but someone who allows himself to be abused when he has the power to prevent it is a despicable worm indeed.

LA replies:

If Kaus is any sign, it will not occur to any of the media types who read about the incident that Brooks could have done anything to stop it. Their focus will be on the mystery GOP senator.

A. Zarkov writes:

Most men I know would have put up with that for about 10 milliseconds. The senator would have been extremely lucky not to have gotten punched out on the spot. However I’m afraid that all too many of our feminized, neutered men in the US would have behaved no differently than Brooks. What I find especially troubling is Brooks is all too typical of the kind of men who occupy positions of leadership and influence in the US. I suspect Brooks and others are terribly afraid of being labeled a “homophobe” (I hate that term). For Brooks that could be a career killer as I think the Times would have fired him had he reacted too strongly to this homosexual advance. That’s the other part of the equation: our feminized men love their cushy jobs, and will make any compromise to keep them.

LA replies:

Maybe Brooks is exaggerating or making up the story, which is surreal. Could it really have happened that he sat there, not just for 11 milliseconds, not just for one second, not just for two seconds, but for the length of an entire dinner, all the while eating and carrying on conversation, with a senator’s hand on his thigh?

A. Zarkov writes:

I agree, Brook’s story is bizarre, but why would he make it up? What could he possibly gain from such a tall tale? It seems to me that he just generates unfavorable gossip about himself. My guess is that he simply didn’t know how to react, so he endured it, and his lack of an immediate response was taken as encouragement. What would most women do if a man groped her like that? She would scream or slap him. I remember reading about an interview with a New York City street mugger back in the 1970s. He said he was not afraid of the police and preferred to rob men over women because women would scream and make a big fuss while the men would passively hand over their wallets. The one and only thing that really scared him was an armed victim. He didn’t want to get shot.

LA replies:

Assuming it’s true, Brooks behaved like the classic victim of sexual harassment. To have done anything would have created a scene, would have been embarrassing to everyone, and might have damaged him professionally and socially. So he passively endured it.

So the question is, what should one do, if one were suddenly caught in a situation like that, and did not want to create a huge scene or make a spectacle of oneself or ruin one’s standing in Washington society?

Here are different possibilities:

1. Tell the host/hostess that one is suddenly feeling unwell and must leave. That way the offensive situation is quickly ended, without any public confrontation or serious embarrassment or bad blood created. People may think it’s odd that one suddenly left, but that would be the worst of it, and the incident would be over. The hostess would be displeased, but one could call her later and tell her what happened, and she would understand. This seems the most economical and least damaging of all scenarios.

2. Stand up and leave the room for a few minutes, then return to one’s seat, hoping the behavior doesn’t resume. If it does, then say that one is not feeling well and must leave.

3. Accidentally on purpose spill one’s wine/food on the lap of the senator, making many protestations of how sorry one is. By the time the old boy has cleaned himself up, his “amorous” mood will have vanished. If he resumes the behavior again, spill yet another glass of wine on him, making even more hyperbolic protestations of one’s embarrassment, but with an ironic edge that will communicate to people that the senator is up to no good. It seems to me that I’ve seen things like this in Hollywood movies.

4. An even more direct route is to haul off and hit the senator in the face. But if we’re talking about Washington society, it would be catastrophic in all kinds of ways. Also, how do you hit someone who is sitting? Very messy, very embarrassing.

5. Here’s another idea. It’s very risky, and also would require that the person being harassed is like David Brooks and has his own column with complete freedom to publish what he wants.

Say, in a completely cool and urbane manner, to the assembled company:

“I have something unusual to say to you all. Senator X has had had his hand on the inside of my thigh for the last 30 seconds. He has a choice. If he stops this behavior instantly and never resumes it again, no one outside this room will hear about it, at least as far as I’m concerned. But if he continues or resumes the behavior at any time, I will write about it in my column and expose him to the world as the pervert he is.”

This is risky in all kinds of ways. It could only be carried off by a person who was completely confident of himself and his place in society. And, again, it would only be available to someone who was in a position to get the truth out—in other words, a person whose power was roughly equal to the senator’s.

6. The more I think about it, the best way, the way involving the least bad karma, is simply to leave, and avoid that senator in the future.

All of these scenarios show how evil it is for person in a socially or professionally powerful position to use that position to coerce others’ acquiescence in one’s sexual misbehavior. The moment the harassment begins, the harassee is instantly thrown into a very tough, agonizing spot, because anything he or she does to defend him or herself and to avoid humiliation can harm his or her career, place in society, or more.

A. Zarkov writes:

Here is what I have done in his place. I would get up and tell the Senator that I have to talk to him in private. In private I would tell him that he has to stop or I will create an embarrassing scene and write about what he did in my column. I would assure him that this whole matter would never be discussed, and I wouldn’t. Now the Senator has an easy way out and no one is harmed. What kind of scene would I create? I would tell the host of the party that I must be seated somewhere else or I will leave and explain exactly what is happening. Then I would write about it. If this Senator won’t control himself then he has to be exposed.

LA replies:

This is what you would have done or what you have done?

Actually, this was the first approach I thought of, but the more I thought of it, it seemed to have too many messy possibilities and I put it aside. However, as you describe it, it makes more sense.

Gintas writes:

This reminds me of the old days when I drove a beat-up old car (come to think of it, I do today, too). It was a tank, and I’d laugh at the Mercedes and BMWs, saying out loud, “just try it, just try it!” whenever they got pushy. I had nothing to lose, and I could be pushy with them with impunity. Now, the Senator really has something to lose, and you have to put the fear of it into him. But Brooks also has something to lose, so he has no leverage. This is why climbers are so easy to manipulate, and why everyone at the top is a climber—manipulating and being manipulated. There are no Mr. Smiths in Washington.

LA writes:

The Brooks story is discussed at Ann Althouse’s blog. Most of the conversation is unserious—just thoughtless, tossed-off comments.

And here is the transcript of Brooks’s comments, which he made on MSNBC, with a video link. The comments section is a lot of low-level comments. Nothing thoughtful at all. The discussion at Huffington Post has a little more wattage, with many people asking the obvious question I asked, why Brooks did nothing to stop this. Several commenters write that Brooks should simply have said to the senator, “Senator, get your hand off me.” But how could he do that without creating an unpleasant scene for everyone? Many point out that Brooks’s doing nothing about it indicates something really strange about him.

A. Zarkov replies:

I have never had anything like that happen to me. It seems to me that we are assuming that Brooks must have tried removing the Senator’s hand, but the Senator kept putting it back. Who knows. I also wonder if the Senator gropes men every chance he gets, or something attracted him to Brooks.

Yes, Brooks has set himself up for speculation and gossip. Gossip is a terrible thing and that’s why Lashon Ha-Ra (the evil tongue) is one of gravest sins in Judaism. See here. Even saying true complimentary things about someone is forbidden lest it invite his enemies to chime in with negative. Jews generally find that obeying the commandment against Lashon Ha-Ra the most difficult of all to observe because humans are so prone to gossip. I have thought about this a lot, and conclude there is much wisdom here. Of course there are situations where one is obligated to speak up, where silence would be a sin.

LA replies:

In the transcript, Brooks gives no indication that he tried to remove the hand. Also, Nora O’Donnell, his MSNBC hostess, doesn’t ask him any useful questions to bring out what happened. She does ask him, “Did you have a couple of drinks at lunch?” The media personnel have zero intellectual curiosity. All they’re about is chat.

LA writes:

Here’s another thing I just realized. Brooks’s TV interview where he told this story concerned his recent column about the loss of “dignity” in our culture. (Uh, isn’t he about two or three or four decades late to be noticing this?) Anyway, he’s speaking regretfully about the loss of dignity, and what does he do? He gratuitously tells a weird, off-putting story that destroys his own dignity for all time.

How to explain this bizarre behavior? I think Brooks’s long career as an intellectual whore has left him incapable of knowing what is true, and so depleted of dignity that he can’t tell when he’s destroying whatever dignity he has left.

Rocco DiPippo writes:

Checked out your posts on Brooks. He says, “I sat next to a Republican senator once at dinner and he had his hand on my inner thigh the whole time. I was like, ehh, get me out of here.” I have a simple question: How does one eat dinner with just one hand without arousing the curiosity of others at the table? How do you cut up a steak, or peel a lobster with one hand? I think Brooks made the whole thing up. Someone should have asked him how long “the whole time” actually was. On another note, I still can’t imagine a heterosexual man allowing anyone, including a powerful senator, to do such a thing to him without reacting—violently. If such a thing had happened to me, the good senator would be sipping his dinners through a straw for a long, long time.

LA replies:

To begin with, his hostess Nora O’Donnell, a TV pretty face with no brain, didn’t act like a reporter and try to pry further info out of him to make sense of his bizarre story, e.g., “How long was this going on? Where was his hand? Was his hand on you the whole time or intermittently? Did you say anything to him? Why didn’t you do anything?” It didn’t remotely occur to her to ask such questions. The only kinds of questions today’s “reporters” are capable of asking is “gotcha” questions aimed at Republican presidents. They have no intellectual curiosity and no notion of trying to get at the truth of things. They’re just there for chat and spinning the liberal script of the day. .

Second, it’s possible to eat a meal using just one hand. Not all meals require the use of knives. And during an active, talkative dinner, people don’t necessarily notice what other guests are doing or not doing with their hands.

Third, some commenters around the blogosphere (I’ve looked at three or four blogs on this) have said they think Brooks made it up, but they seem to be in a small minority. Also, why would he make up a story that makes himself look so bad? But I’ve already answered that question, haven’t I? I’ve said he’s so without dignity that he doesn’t realize when he’s destroying whatever dignity he has left.

Whether the story is true or not, I think that Brooks’s telling this story in public, much like Gov. Sanford’s talking in detail about his love affair in public, is a symptom of some inner disintegration.

July 17

Laura W. (Laura Wood) writes:

When I read the Brooks story, my initial reaction was that it was an exaggeration and sprang from Brooks’ unquenchable desire to distinguish himself from un-cool conservatives who are filled with sexual hang-ups and perversions. He was speaking to liberals in telling this story. See, you’re right. They are all hypocrites. But, I am one of you. It may even be a total fabrication, the product of a fevered mind bordering on intellectual schizophrenia.

LA replies:

Ok, then, if Laura is right, then Brooks’s whoredom does not consist in his letting the senator keep his hand on his thigh, so as to win (or not to lose) the favor of the senator; his whoredom consists in his making up the whole story about the senator, so as to win the favor of liberals.

Paul K. writes:

As a teenager, I was once sitting in a movie theater when a man sat beside me and put his hand on my leg. I got up and moved a few rows back, where I could keep my eye on him.

In the Brooks case, the most obvious reaction does not seem to have been mentioned. I would reach down, take the senator’s hand, and move it off my leg. If he returned it, I would repeat the action, this time inflicting some pain, using my thumb to press sharply between the tendons on the back of his hand. If that didn’t work, I would turn to him and ask if we might speak privately. These seem like the least disruptive measures.

What really astonishes me is that any man would tell such a story. A woman, no matter how promiscuous, does not like to acknowledge herself a whore, for the same reason that a man, however timid, does not like to proclaim himself a coward—it makes them contemptible. And yet in this story Brooks seems to confess himself both a whore and a coward.

I read an account of a noble who told his king of a small indignity he had suffered at the hands of another man. The king considered the story for a moment and then asked, “This man—does he still live?” The noble was filled with shame at the question and left the court to arrange a duel. There was something to be said for that custom—it kept the cowards out of positions of prominence.

Stephen T. writes:

Back in the era of short dresses when I was 15, a 16 year old blond named Carol employed your suggested response #5 on me at a crowded table in my school cafeteria. The relative juxtaposition of hand to leg was the same, though her loudly-voiced warning/announcement, heard by all—unlike David Brooks, she spent zero time silently mulling “ehh get me outta here”—was considerably less polite than your suggested script. In addition to extreme embarrassment, I recall #5 as being an amazingly effective anti-aphrodisiac. (Not to mention illuminating, at that age, for future reference.)

LA replies:

Sure. But this was a school cafeteria, not a high level Washington dinner, and the groper was a 15 year old boy, not a U.S. senator. In other words, the situation posed no dilemma for Carol; she simply had to say aloud, “Get your hand off me, you little twerp,” and no bad consequences for her would ensue.

Carol Iannone writes:

Why not move away a little, turn away a little in your chair, maybe kind of push the hand away, and just say, please Senator, don’t do that. You don’t have to make a scene.

LA replies:

“Please”? “Please don’t do that”? That sounds so pathetic, so wimpy, so begging.

Maybe that would be ok for a woman in that situation, but not for a man.

Terry Morris writes:

“Also, how do you hit someone who is sitting? Very messy, very embarrassing.”

Umm, “accidentally on purpose?”

I can see a quick elbow to the face, even with a little blood-letting ensuing, looking like an unfortunate accident. Particularly if you were quick to pick him up off the floor, dust him off, hand him your hankerchief and tell him how sorry you were for the untimely (you know, while he’s taking a drink) muscle spasm, or seizure. Besides, what’s the good Senator going to do in reply, protest that striking him was intentional? On what possible basis could he found such a claim? What idiot in his right mind would do such a thing … to someone as powerful as a Senator, for no good reason? Certainly not the kind that attend such dinners, right?


I have a younger brother who told me a story similar to this one involving himself at a party he was attending. It seems that a friend of my brother’s friend (the host of the party) had a particular liking for my brother (who is married and whose wife was at the party too), and the two were seated next to one another. My brother said that he removed the other’s hand from his thigh on several occasions before he politely told the host that he needed to talk to him privately in the other room. After he explained the situation to the host, saying to him that “there’s not enough room at this party for the both of us” (LOL!), the host agreed to ask the other fellow to leave. As I recall, though, when he went back to the other room the other fellow had already made his exit.

My brother is one of those natural comedians, so when he told the story I was cracking up the whole time. But I’ve always been amazed by the indulgence he showed this individual. No doubt, I would not have been so nice to him nor so calm about it had I been in my brother’s place, and I have to wonder whether any such thing would ever happen to me vs. my brother given our different natures and the “vibes” we tend to transmit in public respectively? I don’t think I would have hit the guy initially, but I most definitely would have given him a very disapproving, threatening look for his trouble. If that didn’t work, then all bets would be off as far as I was concerned. “Hurry up and take a drink, you perverted b*stard!”

Paul K. writes:

There is an element of the Brooks story which doesn’t make sense to me. I understand that this whole matter is sordid, but evidently Brooks considered it worthy of public discussion.

This is my question: when a homosexual puts his hand on another man’s thigh, I would assume he is doing so to see what kind of reaction he gets. If the other man does nothing, he would take it as acquiescence to whatever comes next, presumably more intimate groping. Why would he just put his hand on Brooks’ leg and leave there for the entire dinner? It doesn’t make sense. When Senator Craig was caught playing footsie in the men’s room, we assume that his object was not merely to play footsie.

LA replies:

Ok, so now we have not only the multiple mysteries of Brooks’s behavior, but the mystery of the senator’s behavior.

Gintas writes:

“Also, how do you hit someone who is sitting? Very messy, very embarrassing.”

In high school in German class a guy sitting to my right was messing with me, he was hitting me on the upper arm, not really hard, more annoying than anything else. I told him to knock it off. He kept going, I told him to knock it off. He kept hitting. I swung my right arm as hard as I could into his face, breaking his nose, and he ran out of the room gushing blood. The teacher, who was sitting at her desk while we were working on the assignment, looked up, puzzled, and asked, “what happened?”

Yes, it can be done, to great effect. I would give him two calm warnings, then absolutely pummel him into a bloody heap.

LA replies:

You broke his nose in class, and there were no consequcnes from this?

Gintas replies:

Not yet, and I don’t want to invite any divine retribution by gloating. But nothing happened. The teacher didn’t see it, and no one said anything, and the guy I hit just took it like a man, to his credit.

Stephen T. replies to LA:
Yes. She said loudly, “WHY is your HAND on MY LEG?” That pretty much brought all other conversation at the table to a stop and all eyes to me. “I don’t know,” I replied (all I could think of at 15). She said, “Well you’d better get it away from me or you’re going to be in big trouble.”

But the point is: Her reaction was instinctive and instantaneous. I should think that an adult male’s reaction to another man’s hand on his thigh would be even MORE so—right up there on the level of an autonomic reflex inspired by a Dr. tapping your knee with the rubber hammer. It seems odd to me that Brooks would instead sit quietly while mulling over the relative pros and cons of how he should respond, and analyzing the possible effects on his career, access to an important Senator, etc … versus reflexively recoiling in instinctive disgust and verbally, if not physically, rejecting the unwanted advance before he even had an instant to think about it.

For that reason, like other posters have suggested, I strongly suspect this is a falsified story by Brooks. And if it is, isn’t it interesting that he chose as the fake perpetrator an unnamed Republican instead of a Democrat?

LA replies:

But the comparison is off. There were zero factors preventing the girl from saying what she said to you. The appropriate response by a 16 year old girl to an annoying 15 year old boy in a school cafeteria bears no relationship to the appropriate response by a Washington journalist to an annoying U.S. senator at an exclusive Washington dinner party.

Second, Brooks’s own account gives no indication that he was mulling over ANY pros and cons. He just sat there and accepted it, though uncomfortably.

Now here’s another possibility that just occurred to me. Maybe the grab was not sexual at all. Maybe the senator just grabbed onto Brooks’s thigh and held it. Maybe he was just an idiosyncratic old coot, like the senile southern senator played by Melvyn Douglas in “The Seduction of Joe Tynan.” (Note: the “seduction” in the title has no relationship to a Brooks type seduction.)

Finally, whether the story is true or false, Brooks, one of the most atrocious individuals in the journalistic universe, has thoroughly discredited himself. This is good.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 16, 2009 01:58 AM | Send

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