GLEN COVE, NY—Robert Novak was to journalism
what Ty Cobb was to baseball. Just as Ty Cobb mastered the skills of
hitting and base-running like no one else ever did, Robert Novak mastered
the skills of investigative journalism. Novak correctly saw his job
as finding the story and finding out the true facts of the story. He
was never afraid of the truth. Like Ty Cobb, he kept his many kindnesses
private and had a public reputation for nastiness. He enjoyed his nickname
as the “Prince
He was not simply a superb craftsman. Like Douglas MacArthur, he was
a man destined for one profession. No one can imagine MacArthur as
anything other than a soldier or Novak as anything other than a journalist.
Like MacArthur, Novak believed in Duty, Honor, Country. He never published
a story that had trivial significance but potential harm to the country
— as Drew Pearson had done during World War II.
Novak was criticized unfairly in the Valerie Plame affair, which
was trumped up nonsense. In that case, however, he scrupulously carried
out both his duty to the country and his duty to his sources. That
was Bob Novak. Few journalists have been more trusted by sources.
He almost seemed to have the gift of prophecy. Before the 2006 election,
he provided predictions of the outcomes of the 2008 Congressional elections
that proved to be uncanny in their accuracy.
In 1964, the prestigious Eastern press conducted a shameful campaign
of libel against Barry Goldwater. Not even David Lawrence gave Goldwater
a fair hearing, although he came closer than the rest. Thanks to Novak,
the Evans and Novak column, one of the nation’s most prestigious
political columns, alone gave fair treatment to Goldwater. Unfortunately,
this fairness was a great missed opportunity for Goldwater. Some of
the Arizonans in his campaign simply would not communicate with journalists
working East of the headwaters of the Rio Grande, and Novak was not
able to get the full Goldwater story to get it out to the country.
Novak was immensely loyal. He never missed an opportunity to root
for his alma mater, the University of Illinois. He mastered the transition
from print journalism to cable news journalism, even walking off the
set once to protest one of the more outrageous abuses that television
He was a conservative in politics and character, but nobody, anywhere
in the political spectrum, could ignore him or doubt his accuracy or
work ethic. Nobody could find things out like he could.
At a time when the Catholic Church was plagued by disloyal troublemakers
in its midst giving a false picture to the world, he made the transition
from Jew to Catholic through some intermediate steps. He did not, however,
join the dissident and disloyal Catholics. True to his craft, he found
out what the Church really teaches, just as he would investigate a
story, and joined the Church in full loyalty to its teachings.
Robert Novak fearlessly followed the truth wherever it led him in
religion and politics, and no one worked harder than he did to find
the truth. We will not see the likes of him again soon.
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2009
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.