It contains more useful information
than any journalism textbook we have seen but don’t expect legendary
reporter Robert Novak’s memoirs to become required reading in
communications classes anytime soon. “I was too much of a right winger
for most of
institutions,” Novak wrote in said memoir, The Prince of Darkness.
“Always love your
country—but never trust your government!” Novak used to tell
“That should not be
misunderstood,” he explained. “I am not advocating civil disobedience,
much less insurrection or rebellion.”
“What I am
[italics in original]
advocating is to not expect too much from government and be wary of its power,
even the power of a democratic government in a free country.” Practicing
what he preached, Novak, who passed away this morning, questioned authority no
matter which political party was in power, in columns, books, speeches and
Missouri professor Geneva Overholser blasted
Novak in a New York Times op-ed for his alleged “ethical lapses” in
“revealing” the CIA employment of Valerie Plame
in his story on her career diplomat husband’s ties to the Democratic
Party and dispute of President Bush’s famous State of the Union assertion
that “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently
sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
“I met Overholser
for the first time a year after the op-ed piece,” Novak recalled.
“It was about eleven thirty p. m. on Saturday March 12, 2005, at the
Capitol Hilton, shortly after the annual white-tie dinner of the Gridiron Club
had ended, as after-dinner drinking began.”
“I was having a drink at the
Hearst reception when a woman approached at a rapid pace.”
“I don’t see how you
can stand to see yourself in the mirror in the morning,” she told him.
“You’re a disgrace to journalism.” It could be argued that
Novak has demonstrated more fairness and accuracy in his columns than anything Overholser has read much less written.
For instance, it never seemed to
occur to such as she that Novak had emerged as one of the most visible critics
of the U. S. intervention in Iraq while, at the same time, remaining skeptical
of critics of the war such as Plame and Wilson. Novak
had repeatedly pointed out that:
cover was blown a decade earlier than his revelation of her day job by Aldrich
Ames, a career CIA agent convicted of espionage;
2. Her own husband, famed expert on
Nigeria Joe Wilson, listed her by her covert name in his Who’s Who entry;
was clearly not engaged in covert work at the time Novak first named her in a
column, as confirmed by the House Intelligence Committee in a finding of fact
by the then-Republican majority on the panel that the Democratic minority did
I had the pleasure of watching
Novak in action on many occasions. At a debate over whether to militarily
intervene in Iraq in the Spring of 2002, he brought intervention advocates Richard
Perle and Raul Gerecht
up short by asking, “For my own information, since 1992, has Saddam
Hussein committed one act of aggression against the United States or any of its
Arguably, for half a century, Novak
broke the biggest stories in
the communist takeover of a United Auto Workers local to, yes, exposing
partisan policy analysts working against
while on the government payroll. And he has forecast election results with
When the Republicans took over
Congress in 1994, Novak did not become a pushover for the new GOP majority.
“Bob, your problem is that you’ve been on defense so long that you
don’t know what to do when your team is on offense,” a Republican
congressman told Novak at the time.
Novak smiled and said,
“I’m not on your team.” Such encounters as the aforementioned
are particularly noteworthy given the latter characterization of Novak as a
Republican shill for the Bush Administration’s foreign policy.
Of L’ Affaire Plame, Novak writes, “I have not really suffered
personally from the difficulties of 2003 and 2004 because they are less
important that the love of my wife, my children and my grandchildren.”
Indeed, the longtime syndicated columnist was beloved by a very large circulation.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.