Robert D. Novak, the conservative columnist and cable news pundit, died Aug. 18 at his home in Washington after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 78.
A nationally syndicated columnist, Novak reported on the back-room machinations in Washington. His column Inside Report, which he wrote with Rowland Evans, was replete with tantalizing insider dish. When Evans retired in 1993, Novak continued the column on his own until his health forced him to retire last summer. Evans died in 2001.
Novak was well known to cable news audiences as an excitable and outspoken conservative on the political roundtable show Crossfire. He joined CNN at its inception in 1980 as a political analyst; he and Evans were quickly given their own political show, Evans and Novak. He also executive-produced Capital Gang, on which he appeared with Pat Buchanan, Al Hunt and Mark Shields. And he was a regular panelist on Inside Politics.
He spent 25 years at CNN. He left the network in December 2005, a few months after walking off the set of Inside Politics during a heated exchange with James Carville about the Senate candidacy of Florida Republican Katherine Harris, a polarizing figure in the 2000 Florida presidential-election recount.
In a statement, CNN Worldwide President Jim Walton, called Novak an "old school" journalist, "hard-working, practical and passionate about our profession. From its earliest days and for some 25 years, Bob shared generously with CNN and with CNN viewers his authority, credibility, humor and towering presence. We’re grateful to have worked alongside him and send our respect and sympathy to his family."
Novak was hired as a political analyst by Fox News in 2006.
A U.S. Army veteran who served in the Korean War, Novak began his reporting career during the Eisenhower administration. He worked for The Associated Press in the Midwest until 1957, when he was transferred to the Washington bureau. In 1961, he took a job at The Wall Street Journal; in 1963, he landed at the New York Herald Tribune, where Novak and Evans began their column. It moved to the Chicago Sun-Times in 1966, where it was syndicated to more than 150 newspapers, including The Washington Post.
Newsweek reporter John Lindsay tagged Novak the “prince of darkness” for his talent with a poison pen. Novak used the moniker in the title of his 2007 memoir, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington.
There are many notable chapters in Novak’s career. He broke news about the 1976 assassination in Washington of political activist and Chilean economist Marcos Orlando Letelier del Solar; a 1978 interview with China’s Deng Xiaoping was significant for possibly helping to spur a détente with China; and a column he wrote based on a blind quote from a senator helped to label 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern the candidate of “amnesty, abortion and acid.” (More than 30 years later, Novak revealed on Meet the Press that the quote came from McGovern’s one-time running-mate, Thomas Eagleton.)
But Novak’s involvement in the Valerie Plame leak scandal provides the final chapter in a storied career as a Washington insider. Novak revealed the identity of Plame, a covert CIA agent and the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, in a 2003 column. Wilson asserted that the leak, which Novak said came from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, was an attempt to discredit him. The federal investigation resulted in a prison term for Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, for his role in leaking Plame’s name to additional reporters including The Times’ Judith Miller and Newsweek’s Matthew Cooper.
Novak remained unapologetic to the end about his role in the Plame affair. In a 2008 interview, he told a National Ledger reporter: “I’d go full speed ahead because of the hateful and beastly way in which my left-wing critics in the press and Congress tried to make a political affair out of it and tried to ruin me. My response now is this: The hell with you. They didn’t ruin me. I have my faith, my family and a good life. A lot of people love me—or like me. So they failed. I would do the same thing over again because I don’t think I hurt Valerie Plame whatsoever.”
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