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Robert Novak

Robert Novak

SOURCE: August Pollak

Robert Novak is truly a multimedia star, with his special brand of hypocrisy and fabrication translating equally well across print, television, and radio. Interestingly, he claims that he is underused as a campus speaker, as he did on Crossfire in April 2005, saying, “The real problem with the universities, Paul [Begala], is that they don’t invite conservatives. They have only left-wing speakers on campuses like Berkeley and Harvard. They don’t let people like me tell them what the truth is about America.” Like most of Novak’s statements, the records say otherwise, particularly given that he spoke at Harvard exactly a year before he made that criticism, and he is listed as a campus speaker on the bustling website of the well-funded right-wing speakers bureau at Young America’s Foundation. So expect to see him on a campus near you.

A frequent guest on Capitol Gang and Meet the Press, as well as former co-host of the much-maligned-and-now-departed Crossfire, Novak writes a weekly column, basically consisting of Washington conservative gossip nuggets, for the Chicago Sun Times. His reputation for being ruthless and unscrupulous (he calls it a “tough-guy image”) has earned him the title of “The Prince of Darkness.”

Why such a loathed figure? Novak’s illustrious career of fabrication masked by smug certainty began in 1972, when he printed an anonymous quote, which was later contested as fabricated, calling presidential candidate George McGovern in favor of “acid, amnesty, and abortion.” Critics who apparently lacked some pith and vinegar labeled Novak’s column “Errors and No Facts.” Jon Stewart’s blunter epithet, “Douchebag of Liberty,” emerged as a response to Novak’s insinuation in March of 2004 on Crossfire that Richard Clarke’s criticisms of mistakes in the war on terror actually stemmed from racist resentment of Condoleezza Rice.

Of course, for controversy nothing tops the disclosure of the identity of CIA analyst Valerie Plame in 2003, a scandal that persists to this day, with reporters from Time and The New York Times facing jail time for failing to disclose their sources, while Novak, for reasons still unexplained, gets off scot-free. Whoever leaked Plame’s identity likely came from within the Bush administration and did so after Plame’s husband, retired ambassador Joseph Q. Wilson, reported, after his trip to Niger, that Iraq had in fact not purchased yellowcake uranium, a large component of the Bush administration’s case for Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. Novak was the only journalist willing to fire the retributive missile, while still remaining silent (at least publicly) on who feloniously provided him with the information.

Novak apparently likes to have his yellowcake and eat it too, when it suits his political purposes. In a surprising shift in position, he demanded that CBS reveal its source for the memos on Bush’s negligent National Guard service, and slammed “Deep Throat” Mark W. Felt on CNN for “violating journalistic ethics.” Novak’s greatest moment of hypocritical glory came when he justified revealing Robert Hanssen as his source for columns attacking Janet Reno for allegedly covering up campaign finance scandals, because Hanssen was convicted of treason for revealing the identities of CIA operatives (Joe Conason, New York Observer, August 6, 2001, "Was Hanssen a Spy for the Right Wing, Too?")

On the elections front, Novak has repeatedly insisted that Democrats steal elections, even through the efforts of “Indian ballot stuffing” in the case of South Dakota’s 2002 Senate election. (Yes, the most disenfranchised communities are always the election-riggers.) Even his fellow conservatives were appalled by his comments, including the governor of South Dakota and the chair of South Dakota’s Republican party, who called Novak’s remarks “ignorant” and “insane.”

No scandal-monger is complete without sketchy financial connections and nepotism, which in Novak’s case take the form of investing in and promoting Regnery Books, the company behind Unfit for Command, the Swift Boat Veterans’ screed and, coincidentally, the firm that employs Novak’s son as Director of Marketing. Regnery’s owner also publishes Novak’s annual newsletter (subscription price: $297) and Novak chairs a foundation board that invests heavily in Regnery. With no mention of conflict of interest, Novak has glowingly reviewed at least four Regnery books in conservative magazines.

Most recently, Novak (born Jewish, now Catholic) used a Holocaust analogy to describe the filibuster compromise between Senate Democrats and Republicans, claiming that picking and choosing judges for confirmation would be akin to “going to a concentration camp and picking out which people go to the death chamber.” Such an outrageous and insensitive statement, while the mildest of Novak’s offenses, would be enough to destroy a less powerful journalist’s career, to say nothing of outing a CIA agent, disingenuously plugging a company that sponsors him and his family, or holding himself above the same journalistic ethics he demands that others follow.

Illustration: August J. Pollak

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