With varying degrees of ad hominem ferocity, personal venom and party line discipline, all three of America’s conservative magazines — the National Review, the Weekly Standard and the American Spectator — have found something they can agree on. No, it’s not the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Far from it. Instead, it’s the professional disembowelment of investigative reporter Christopher Ruddy, author of the new book, “The Strange Death of Vincent Foster.”

First to bat was Byron York, a staff writer for the American Spectator, who, interestingly, launched his attack from the competing Weekly Standard. Ruddy is a “conspiracy theorist,” alleges York, a popular spin first applied by the White House in its 331-page dossier, “The Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce” and later adopted by Mike Wallace of “60 Minutes.” Among the insidious and scurrilous charges York makes is that Ruddy’s work cannot be trusted because he works for a paper owned by Richard M. Scaife, a well-known Foster skeptic. Huh? Is investigative reporter York so clueless as to not realize Scaife is also one of the biggest financial contributor to his own American Spectator? Or is that why he wrote the piece for the Weekly Standard, rather than the American Spectator?

The National Review assigned its sharp knife to Jacob Cohen, a professor of American studies at Brandeis University. What special insight and expertise Cohen might bring to the review is never hinted at. But I can just picture academician Cohen, sitting back in his comfortable armchair in his study, eviscerating the work of one of the most courageous, hard-working journalists I have ever known. Shame on Cohen. Shame on Bill Buckley, too.

Last on the scene of this trio of johnny-come-latelys to Foster sleuthing was John Corry of the American Spectator. His column is by far the most personal and the least coherent. Twice he refers to Ruddy as a “heavy breather.” It wasn’t funny the first time. He suggests Ruddy has never spent time around cops, apparently not knowing Ruddy is the son of a police officer who knows his way around a precinct better than any reporter I’ve seen in 20 years in the business. It’s gratuitous, know-nothing sniping at a man with whom he would dare not publicly debate this subject.

It’s funny, reviews in the New York Times, Washington Post and other mainstream journals were far kinder and more respectful to Ruddy’s book than those by the conservatives. Is there a reason for this right-wing gang-rape of the only American journalist who has seriously examined the Foster cover-up?

I think there is. And, at the risk of being accused of weaving another conspiracy theory, here it is. I think all three of these writers and, for that matter, all three publications, too, are suffering a form of neurosis I will refer to as “David Brock Syndrome.” DBS is a malady affecting right-wingers. The most serious symptom is the longing to be accepted by the mainstream popular culture and the willingness to step on a colleague in hopes it will position you for greater approval and respect in certain established circles.

The most serious cases of DBS plague the American Spectator, where reporters and editors go out of their way, it seems, to offend the very people — like Mr. Scaife — who subsidize the grossly inefficient feather-bedders running the place at a perennial seven-figure loss.

How else can one explain the directionless, spineless American Spectator, these days? Have the editors forgotten how the magazine made a splash years ago with hard-hitting investigative cover stories exposing Anita Hill and Troopergate? The publication provided fodder for Rush Limbaugh who gave the stories and the magazine hype no amount of money could buy.

But the recipe that led to big surges in circulation were quickly forgotten, if they were ever learned. It’s unusual to find any real, substantive, meaningful investigative reporting in the magazine anymore. However, there’s plenty of mental masturbation by the likes of Corry, York and others, and David Brock himself, the first known victim of DBS, uses his platform to write occasional book proposals disguised as magazine articles.

I sense the once-vital American Spectator is gravely ill, if not on life support. It is as useless to me — a hungry media consumer — as the other conservative magazines. They provide no serious alternative for the American public starved for original reporting without the statist spin.

It’s not difficult to understand why the three magazines would pounce on Ruddy — a good, old-fashioned muckraker who has singlehandedly outscooped and outshined them all.

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