Currently, columnist Robert Novak’s memoir, The Prince of Darkness is prominently displayed together with Harry Potter in just about every American bookstore.
A Washington reporter for 50 years, Novak pens one of the longest-running syndicated columns today. He introduced the story behind the book covering his years in the nation’s capital, and shared some more personal memories and aspirations with his audience at the Heritage Foundation. The Prince of Darkness, he began, was a story of his life, not filled with mundane and excessive details but rather his own aberrations and aspirations illustrating the real man behind the column. Secondly, a running explanation in the book is how reporters get their stories. “Somebody tells you,” Novak stated, contrary to the myth that reporters only phone, e-mail, and google in order to get scraps of information. The book’s inside cover reveals the underground network that journalists of Novak’s day were a part of, human sources one could “cultivate and keep.” The numerous stories recounted in the book uncover many of the hidden sources from whom Novak received his story lines, and whom he trusted.
“Why do leakers leak?” he asked. Though commonly-proposed motives may include revengeful or arrogant purposes, Novak claimed that “leaks” of information may happen simply to help a friend. He alluded to his various hidden sources who he knew throughout his years in Washington
One of his stories of “inside” information that he shared with the audience took place during the Carter era. An aide to then-Senator Jesse Helms, R- N. C., slipped Novak an envelope containing a White House document planning to concede one-third of West Germany if the USSR ever launched a military invasion. If the USSR persisted, U.S. and NATO forces in the region would probably be vanquished. Later, another envelope was given to Novak, the document inside containing the order that Seoul would be conceded on occasion of a North Korean invasion of South Korea. The U.S. 2nd Infantry Division would subsequently be withdrawn from the region. Carter later promised to restore order in the regions as before.
The leak of information and the article written afterward “changed policy in the direction I favored,” said Novak smiling. After all, he continued, it “helped convince Carter the removal… was a bad idea.”
Novak maintained a proud philosophy of his work. In his words, he strove to tell the world what they might not have heard, and simultaneously do the nation a service. In his writing, he wanted to advocate fundamental principles of “limited government, economic freedom, and a strong, prudent America, and have fun doing it.” His proudest moments also came from “making life miserable for hypocritical politicians.”
When the question was raised as to why he converted to Catholicism, he noted that the story was covered in the book. “Touched by the Holy Spirit,” he affirmed as his chief reason for conversion. After he underwent a profound change in mentality from a near-death encounte, a friend who was a Catholic convert mentioned to him the subject of religion. Novak, raised in a Jewish household, had not practiced religion in years. He and his wife later searched for a church which did not support abortion, and encountered a Catholic church in the city with a priest whom used to be a source of Novak’s. They were “finally not uncomfortable” with religion.
Matt Hadro is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.