Ed Driscoll

RIP, Bob Novak

In the Washington Examiner, Timothy P. Carney writes that the Prince of Darkness has faded away:

Robert D. Novak, who began covering Washington during the Eisenhower administration and later achieved fame as a columnist and television commentator, died in his home Tuesday morning after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 78.

A nationally syndicated columnist for 45 years, Novak wrote “Inside Report”—a reported column on the inner workings of Washington policy and politics—with Rowland Evans six days a week from 1963 until Evans’ retirement in 1993. For 15 years, Novak continued the column—thrice weekly—until a brain tumor forced his retirement in July 2008.

Cable television made Novak’s a familiar face nationwide. An early star at the nascent CNN in 1980, Novak was a fixture on the right at CNN’s Crossfire, and he relished his work as the executive producer of the Capital Gang.

An outspoken conservative in later decades, Novak came to Washington as a moderate—he and Evans originally planned to take no sides in their column, except for support of civil rights. Novak progressively moved rightward, becoming a flag-bearer for the supply-side economics that drove Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts.

Still, Novak often sparred with the power centers on the Right. President Richard Nixon ordered his staff to “cut off” Novak and Evans from the White House and solicit “tough letters” to the journalists from subscribers of the Evans-Novak Political Report, after a critical paragraph in the newsletter.

Thirty-five years later Novak’s criticism of the Iraq War—and skeptical reporting on the intelligence justifying the invasion—made him persona non grata in the Bush White House and earned him slurs from the most hawkish conservatives.

In 2003, on a tip from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Novak reported that Ambassador Joe Wilson—an outspoken critic of Bush claims about Iraqi weapons program—was sent on an intelligence mission to Niger because his wife was a CIA employee. The report sparked a federal leak investigation that became an issue in the 2004 election.

Over at Human Events, Carney adds:

Bob Novak was, above all, a reporter.

Watching him work was a delightful education in reporting.

In 2004, I was chatting with Novak at a conservative dinner at the Willard Intercontinental in downtown D.C. when Ralph Reed approached. Novak greeted Reed, introduced me, and began trading pleasantries, but within one minute the conversation had somehow become an on-background interview — I noticed this, but I’m not sure Reed did, because of the subtlety with which Novak deflected any questions back at Reed and steered the conversation away from himself.

It was a remarkable trait to find in a professional pundit so successful and so opinionated: Novak might have been the best listener I’ve ever known.

Much more on Novak and his career, from Stacy McCain.

Update: Bob Novak: “Unpatriotic Conservative?” More from Stacy; this time at the American Spectator.