Bob Novak Dead at 78

Conservative columnist and former CNN “Crossfire” host Robert Novak has died at age 78 of cancer, his family says. – CNN Breaking News

Chicago Sun Times (“Robert Novak: Innovator’s life marked by passion“)

Most people know the late Sun-Times columnist Robert D. Novak, who died this morning [Tuesday] from complications of a brain tumor, as a journalist. And indeed he was among the best this country has produced. Simply stated, Bob was a relentless reporter. His political columns were marked by his determination to dig out new information, behind-the-scenes anecdotes and Washington secrets to tell us something we didn’t know. He combined that with sharp analysis, insightful commentary and passion about the issues facing the nation to emerge as a brawling contestant in the great national debates of his era.

Firmly planted in the print world with his widely read syndicated thrice-a-week column, Bob also was an innovator in the electronic media. With the CNN programs “Capital Gang” and “Crossfire,” Bob pioneered the brash, no-holds-barred public affairs programming so familiar to viewers of cable news television today.

But more than that, his contributions to the great debates of the day demonstrated that Bob was someone who thought deeply about his country, its system of government and the challenges both faced. For example, in his 2000 book Completing the Revolution: A Vision for Victory in 2000, Bob offered his views on how America should build on the freedom legacy of President Reagan.

Lynn Sweet, CST (“Robert Novak, Chicago Sun-Times Columnist, “Prince of Darkness” died Tuesday”)

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak, one of the nation’s most influential journalists, who relished his “Prince of Darkness” public persona, died at home here early Tuesday morning after a battle with brain cancer.

“He was someone who loved being a journalist, love journalism and loved his country and loved his family, Novak’s wife, Geraldine, told the Sun-Times on Tuesday.

“Bob was always the pro, no matter what he had going on he was always at the ready to help out on stories, and he broke more than his share. Even as he became a national figure he was always proud to be part of the Sun-Times and we were proud of him,” said Don Hayner, Editor in Chief of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Novak’s remarkable and long-running career made him a powerful presence in newspaper columns, newsletters, books and on television.

On May 15, 1963, Novak teamed up with the late Rowland Evans Jr. to create the “Inside Report” political column, which became the must-read syndicated column. Evans tapped Novak, then a 31-year old correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, to help with the workload of a six-day-a-week column.

Evans and Novak were the odd couple: Evans a Philadelphia blue blood and Yale graduate; Novak from Joliet, Ill. who attended the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana campus.

Novak handled the column solo after Evans retired in 1993. The Chicago Sun-Times has been Novak’s home paper since 1966.

Tim Carney, Human Events (“Remembering Bob Novak“)

Bob Novak hired me away from HUMAN EVENTS in late 2001. “Poaching,” HE Editor-in-Chief Tom Winter called it. I was not the first early-20s reporter Novak would pluck from HE’s newsroom. Nor would I be the last.

Work for us Novak reporters, in addition to writing the Evans-Novak Political Report, consisted of doing “the opposite of research,” as I put it. Rather than trying to find an answer to a question Novak had — he had another staffer for that — we would try to dig up scoops, leads, and unreported nuggets to feed him.

That Novak would hire a leg-man to go around Washington sniffing out news reflected the virtue at the heart of his work: His columns, while they resided on the op-ed pages, were built upon previously unreported facts that revealed and explained the machinations of government, the men and women in power, and the politics behind it all. His job demanded he get a constant flow of new information, but curiosity and a thirst for knowledge were natural traits for him.

Ken Tomlinson, Human Events (Robert Novak,1931-2009

The Evans-Novak column ran under the title “the Sonnenfeldt Doctrine.” When I finished reading that early spring day in 1976, I remember thinking, this is quintessential Bob Novak.

State Department Counselor Helmut Sonnenfeldt had told a London gathering of American ambassadors that Soviet domination of Eastern Europe was actually necessary for world peace. In fact, Poland was a good example of the benefits of Soviet control because that had enabled the Poles to overcome their “romantic” political instincts which had led to so many “disasters in their past.”

This column had almost everything. Those words were contained in an official State Department cable slipped to Novak by a highly placed source. Henry Kissinger’s right-hand man was confirming that détente was code for Communist victory over freedom. Within days, candidate Ronald Reagan who was challenging President Ford in Republican primaries, declared the Sonnenfeldt Doctrine meant “slaves should accept their fate.”

[…]

Ford survived the conservative eruption over Sonnenfeldt’s words only to have the column indirectly revived in his presidential debate with Jimmy Carter. A New York Times reporter asked the President about Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and, still defensive over the Sonnenfeldt Doctrine, the hapless Ford stubbornly insisted that the Polish people were free.

The election was over.

I’m sure plenty of other remembrances will be fortchoming; Novak had a long and distinguished career.

Somewhere in the early paragraphs of most, I suspect, will be the name Valerie Plame.  His offhand mention of the CIA operative whose role in sending her husband, Joe Wilson, to investigate the “yellowcake” matter sparked the biggest domestic scandal of the Bush Administration and ultimately landed Scooter Libby in jail.

While I would later discover his columns, I got to know Novak over the years as a viewer of the various CNN talking heads shows on which he appeared, most notably “Crossfire.”  He played a caracature of himself, “The Prince of Darkness,” and was frankly not a very good commentator.   He was, however, a superb columnist and reporter.

The Plame matter will likely overshadow most of that, though, especially for those under 35 or so who never knew Novak for anything else.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    At least Washington pedestrians will be a little more safe on the streets.

  2. sam says:

    He was, however, a superb columnist and reporter.

    That he was. He was first and foremost a journalist. I don’t think he ever uttered an opinion on TV that I agreed with, but his reportage was first rate, and he was widely admired for it by colleagues of all political hues. I hope Mark Shields writes something about him.