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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

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Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Robert D. Novak, 1931-2009

by Rupert Cornwell | The Independent | September 2, 2009

Today's top-tier Washington political reporter tends to be smooth and Ivy League, as much a member of the city's establishment as the politicians he writes about. Well before the end of a career that spanned half a century, Bob Novak, too, was a pillar of that establishment. He was one of the most influential journalists in town, whose columns at one point were syndicated in more than 300 newspapers, and whose pugnacious conservatism made him a natural for the shout shows of cable television.

At bottom though, he was an old-fashioned shoe-leather reporter: a small-town boy from the Midwest who had cut his teeth with the Associated Press in Nebraska and Indiana, and who in his own words always was "looking for trouble". And of trouble, Novak found and made plenty - not least with the later column for which he is best remembered, in which he revealed, in July 2003, the name of the CIA operative Valerie Plame.

The CIA-leak imbroglio is too complicated to explain here. But it became one of the most venomous domestic sideshows of the Iraq war, leading ultimately to the conviction of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the chief of staff of then vice-President Dick Cheney, for lying to a grand jury. The affair dragged on for four years, but Novak, the man who had started it, somehow floated above the fray, even as Judith Miller, a New York Times reporter who had also learnt of Ms Plame's identity, spent three months in jail for refusing to reveal her source.

Only when the dust settled did it emerge that Novak had originally been tipped off not by Libby, but by the former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. At Libby's trial, several leading Washington journalists were hauled into the witness box to testify, but to the astonishment and chagrin of many liberals, Novak was not among them.

In reality, the Plame affair was hardly one of Novak's biggest scoops, most of which came in the column he wrote for more than four decades, first in partnership with Rowland Evans, and then solo after Evans's retirement in 1993. In its Seventies and Eighties heyday, the "Evans and Novak Report" was a virtual bulletin board for the inner councils and rivalries of the Republican party. But its reach stretched much further. One consequential column was a 1978 interview with Den Xiaoping that helped pave the way for closer US/Chinese relations.

But even that paled beside the 1972 column in which Novak... Read more>>>>

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