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Robert Novak and the death of insider Washington journalism

C-SPANCNNRobert NovakWashington journalism

Novak I never met Robert "Prince of Darkness" Novak but my association with the columnist who died today goes back to my earliest days in journalism. As a twentysomething copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I was responsible for proofreading (and condensing) various syndicated columns, from James Reston to William F. Buckley Jr. to Rowland Evans and Novak.

A lot of obituaries highlighted Novak's scoop about the undercover status of CIA operative Valerie Plame. But in his later career Novak was known less as a reporter and more as an opiner and television talking head. His metamorphosis says a lot about the evolution (or devolution) of Washington journalism.

The title of the Evans-Novak column, "Inside Report," said it all. Like the more decorous Reston column, it was a form of foreign correspondence, initiating Mr. and Mrs. Heartland into the exotic culture of the capital. I remember amusing myself with a parody of "Inside Report" that went something like this: "A whispered conversation at the yellowed urinals of a hotel men's room explains why President Ford's defense budget is in grave trouble." Then came open primaries, C-SPAN and the celebrification of what used to be backroom advisers.

Insider journalism wasn't the only casualty of this transformation. So was the political novel. Potboilers like "Advise and Consent" and "Seven Days in May" depended for their popularity on their familiarity with the hidden Washington of political strategists, lobbyists and reporters for whom everything was off the record. Today those once-shadowy figures blab and blog their way to fame.  Why rely on a novelist's depiction of a fictional James Carville when the real one is all over CNN?

If you want the thrill of a behind-the-scenes potboiler, look for a book like "The Da Vinci Code" or its imitators. As I've written before, the sacred precincts of the Vatican are an even better setting for skullduggery than the Oval Office or the Senate majority leader's hideaway. Conspiracies are still being hatched in smoke-filled rooms, but these rooms smell of incense, not tobacco. (Is that part of the reason Novak converted to Catholicism?)

Photo credit: AP Photo / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

-- Michael McGough


Comments () | Archives (9)

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charles odell

I will miss Robert Novak about as much as I miss the last case of poison oak I had.


He should had past away in prison, where he should had been.


This is the guy who put partisan politics before the good of the nation. It is sad sometime justic enever gets carried out.


washington is incredibly incestuous; the washington post writers all appear to talk to the same people, or each other. you hear slightly tweaked versions of an opinion one talking head picked up from another one who got it from...you get the idea. there is a real and scary disconnect with what is real for the rest of america. they've been drinking the kool-aid around here for so long, their brains are gelatinous and their pens flabby. and god! the dated hair 'dos'!


To the end, he continued to diminish the importance of outing of a CIA agent and to deny how his inflamed ego and the rampant corruption of the Bush administration formed a perfect storm of deceit. He died a very silly man.


"Prince of Darkenss" - what a load of nonsense. Novak was a schmuck and a hatchet man for the Neocons, and nothing more. And now we'll have to endure another extended orgy of necrophilia and the rewriting of history that seems to inevitably coincide with the death of one of these right wing buzzards, all courtesy of the corporate media. Good riddance to the him.

A. Klain

""Prince of Darkenss" - what a load of nonsense. Novak was a schmuck and a hatchet man for the Neocons, and nothing more."

You know he was a strong critic of the invasion of Iraq, which is ostensibly the "neocons" main policy implantation, don't you? Whatever your view of his politics, Novak was a man of principle and hard work he was hardly a "hatchet man" for anybody. Try using your brains and thinking for once in your life rather than regurgitating what you read on the Daily Kos or see on Olbermann.

William Hill

Another sad case of the "Lee Atwater Big Head Disease". Mr. Novak was the perfect example of the old adage, " The good die young." And representative of mankind's most redeeming characteristic: biodegradability .

Wade Collins

The coward leftists can't leave it alone. Robert Novak was a great American and a patriot. As this country tumbles from greatness into a Balkan state, you will some day weep for your actions. Doom on the left wing.



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