Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Robert Novak


In his youth, he was nicknamed "The Prince of Darkness" for his pessimistic view of life, a moniker he relished and used as the title of his memoir. A political columnist, commentator, and reporter for The Chicago Sun-Times, CNN, and Fox News, he felt no hesitation in revealing his own right-wing view of the world. I disliked Novak's style, and was one of those who applauded Jon Stewart when he labelled him "Douchebag of Liberty," for his hypocrisy regarding news sources (he had steadfastly refused to name his own sources regarding the Valerie Plame affair, but demanded CBS name their's during the Dan Rather debacle).

Novak became nationally infamous for publishing the name of CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame. Her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was openly challenging the George W. Bush administration's evidence for its invasion of Iraq, and Novak's outing of Plame was widely seen as an attempt to discredit opposition to the war by attacking the man's wife, an ethically questionable move at best. The revelation ignited a scandal from which he never really recovered; he complained it would "forever be a part of my public identity." He expressed no regret for the outing, an incident which lead to the Scooter Libby conviction. Novak claimed he "didn't hurt Plame a bit" by naming her in the press, but failed to acknowledge the danger into which he placed everyone who had ever worked with her during her undercover career.

There was some irony to this affair: Novak himself felt the war was unjustified. It was not the first time in his career that he broke ranks with the ultra-conservatives, which leads me to believe some of the kudos he has been receiving since his death. He was apparently a bulldog when he wore his reporter's hat, which is commendable, no matter how I feel about his politics. But he is one of the instigators of the now common practice of placing two loudmouths in a room together and letting them shout at each other. This kind of "commentary" does absolutely nothing to advance actual debate, and drives me right up the wall. When reporters allow their political biases to become their central calling card, which is routine these days, I don't know how they can still call themselves "reporters." I bet the late Walter Cronkite doesn't know, either.

Novak was one of the worst offenders of this practice, freely calling himself a "right-wing ideologue."

He landed on the front page again several years ago, when he ran down a homeless pedestrian in DC and left the scene. Apparently, he did not even know he had plowed into the poor schnook, and had to be flagged down by a guy on a bicycle before he would stop his car. This kind of thing is a symptom of the brain cancer with which he was diagnosed only a week later, and from which he died yesterday at the age of 78.