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Robert Novak, RIP

Robert Novak, one of the most influential political columnists in Washington for more than four decades and Novak one of the original regular faces on CNN, died Tuesday, a victim of the brain cancer he'd been fighting for more than a year. He was 78.

Novak,a young reporter at the Wall Street Journal, quit his job in 1963 to team with the New York Herald Tribune's Rowland Evans on a syndicated column that exposed political malfeasance and electoral incompetence. Originally it was the scourge of practically everybody in the Washington universe -- Time magazine once called Evans and Novak "zealots of the center" but during the tumult of the late 1960s it began marching steadily right. The column ripped 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern so regularly and so devastatingly that Evans was kicked off the campaign's main airplane and forced to travel on a secondary plane with foreign reporters and TV technicians. "Okay," Novak warned McGovern staffers with infamous irony. "No more Mr. Nice Guy."

Though their column was carried in more than 300 papers, Evans and Novak gained their real fame on television. They were both regulars on NBC's Meet The Press and CBS' Face The Nation, and Evans in particular took delight in playing the sneering, scowling bad guy. When he sank his fangs into a politician, he wouldn't let go. One of his most notable exchanges took place with Jimmy Carter, who during the 1976 presidential campaign frequently denounced the U.S. diplomatic corps as full of "fat, bloated, ignorant" men who got their jobs by bankrolling Richard Nixon's political career. On Face The Nation, Novak asked for specific names; Carter ducked. "Can you name one?" demanded  Novak. "There are only four ambassadors, governor, who have contributions to Mr. Nixon. Are any of them that fit that category?"

Evans and Novak joined CNN soon after it went on the air, and Novak -- as a frequent co-host of Crossfire with liberal journalist Michael Kinsley -- pioneered the evolution of TV talking heads into screaming heads. Soon the scorched-earth pageantry of Crossfire metasticized onto Capital Gang and other CNN shows, where Novak became known as The Prince of Darkness -- a title he lifted for his 2007 autobiography.

He was philosophical about it. "Not all people may like it, but it is discussing public issues," he told American Journalism Review of his TV shows. "Sometimes intelligently, often not intelligently. But at least we are talking about taxes, Bosnia and affirmative action and not 'I used to be a teenage vampire' or something." Some Washington reporters who knew Novak thought his hellfire TV persona was just an act. If so, it was consistent with Novak's estimation of the city in which he worked for half a century, the one he offered in  his autobiography: "Little in Washington is on the level."

Comments

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Paul Cutler

This is the bum who outed a CIA agent in time of war. Payback's a biotch.

Finwiz

Novack didn't out Plane. It is public knowledge that she was outed by Richard Armitrage of the State Department.

Thurston H.

Finwiz:

It's not Novack. It's Novak.
It's not Plane. It's Plame.
It's not Armitrage. It's Armitage.

As for Novak, I never speak ill of the dead- even when they are vile hypocrites who suckle at the teats of the undead.


EdGator

He was a jerk. I'm glad I do not have to listen to the idiot any longer.

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