Robert Novak: Two Eulogies

I missed it when it came out on Tuesday, but Jack Shafer has published what is probably the best summation of Robert Novak's career. Here's an excerpt:

There was meanness and toughness in Novak's work and in his personal style, and depending on your sensibilities, this cruelty either drew you to the man or repulsed you. Novak didn't have a chip on his shoulder -- he was all chip, as willing to shred his friends as he was his enemies: He's the sort of guy who would have been perfect to teach anger-mismanagement classes....Journalism used to be filled with guys like Robert D. Novak, sociopathic obsessives who would happily break their mother's back to get a story and who would sooner throw themselves off a cliff than retire to the racetrack or work as a lecturer at a journalism school. As Washington Post reporter Marjorie Williams observed in a 1988 piece, Evans and Novak were practitioners of "a form of journalism unlike anyone else's -- fact-based and ax-grinding at once, simultaneously far-ranging and arcane. Deliberately melding their styles and even their ideologies, they have broken news and possibly careers."

What's great about that passage is that it makes the phrase "sociopathic obsessive" sound like a good thing.

Also worth reading: today's tribute to Novak by the radical columnist Alexander Cockburn, who shared Novak's antipathy to the Israeli government but otherwise would seem to stand on the opposite side of the spectrum. But in addition to noting some other areas where he agreed with the departed -- "once the war on Communism was won," Cockburn writes, Novak "became isolationist in instinct, opposing the Iraq war and supporting Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas" -- he praises him for a certain transparency:

Novak's obituarists have almost uniformly dwelled on the "stain" that the Plame affair supposedly left on Novak's reputation. Vice president Dick Cheney used Novak as a conduit to disclose that Valerie Plame was a CIA employee, the inference being that her status was the reason why her husband Joe Wilson had been sent to Niger, whence he sent back a report on uranium smuggling discomfiting to Bush and Cheney's war plans.

But as Robert Lowe, the great nineteenth century editor of the London Times once wrote, "It is the duty of newspapers to obtain the intelligence of the news and instantly communicate this to the readers." What Novak's prissy colleagues and competitors never liked about him and Evans (who died in 2001) was that they made obvious what most journalists preferred to conceal, that their information came from self-interested sources, using the press -- in this case Novak -- to fight their bureaucratic wars. Particularly ludicrous was the spectacle of the liberal-left in periodicals like The Nation solemnly deploring Novak's leaking of Plame's name as somehow "compromising national security", as if The Nation magazine in the 1960s had not been a trailblazer in exposing the activities of the CIA. In short, the Plame disclosure was one of Novak's finest hours.

Cockburn is also the first obituarist, as far as I'm aware, to call Novak "the Hunter Thompson of the right."

Update: Charles Davis informs me that IOZ beat Cockburn to the draw: "Properly considered, he was the conservative answer to Hunter S. Thompson, who was himself a mad sort of conservative, or, at least, gun-happy."

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  • Charles Davis||

    Jesse,

    The blogger Ioz actually beat Cockburn to the Hunter S. Thompson comparison by a few days: "Properly considered, [Novak] was the conservative answer to Hunter S. Thompson . . . ." (see: http://whoisioz.blogspot.com/2009/08/honorable-man.html)

  • Elemenope||

    Novak was a big 'ol Cockburn. But he was consistent, and for that he gets credit.

  • highnumber||

    I think Novak would be thrilled with both those obituaries. And they both strike me as accurate.

  • ed||

    He's the sort of guy who would have been perfect to teach anger-mismanagement classes

    Teach...or attend?

    [T]he Plame disclosure was one of Novak's finest hours.

    I'm unqualified to judge, but if it pissed off the leftosphere (and it did) then it couldn't be all that bad. Could it? Regardless, I haven't seen the "compromising [of] national security" that Novak's detractors predicted. There were some cheesecake photos of Val, then it receded quietly into the white noise, where it has remained.

  • Franklin Harris||

    You mean "sociopathic obsessive" isn't a good thing?

  • ||

    Vice president Dick Cheney used Novak as a conduit to disclose that Valerie Plame was a CIA employee, the inference being that her status was the reason why her husband Joe Wilson had been sent to Niger, whence he sent back a report on uranium smuggling discomfiting to Bush and Cheney's war plans.

    The rest of the quote is fine, but as far as I recall this part is misleading at best. 1) There's no evidence that Cheney used Novak as a "conduit." Her status was just the sort of thing an experience DC hand like Novak would know or find out. 2) Her status *was* the reason Wilson was sent. He had no qualifications for intel work. 3) His ludicrous "report" was based on having tea with some officials. "So, has Iraq tried to buy uranium?" "Why no, Mr. Ambassador!" "Alrighty then!"

    Whatever you think of the Iraq war, the Plame/Wilson thing was b.s.

  • PR||

    What was the final consensus on that whole deal? Are journalists still supposed to protect their sources or can they burn them now? Or does it just depend?

  • ap||

    PR, the answer is, as always, it depends....on whether it helps or hinders one's fellow travelers.

  • ||

    So when can we expect a movie about Novak starring Johnny Depp? Personally, I would love to see the guy who played Thompson, Jack Sparrow, and Willie Wonka nail the Novak personna, too, but maybe there would be too many challenges for Depp to step into the shoes of the future "Prince of Darkness."

  • Jesse Walker||

    So when can we expect a movie about Novak starring Johnny Depp?

    As bad as Where the Buffalo Roam was, I think I'd rather see a biopic starring Bill Murray.

  • ||

    I'm thinking this kind of plum role would go to Tom Hanks.

  • ||

    There's no evidence that Cheney used Novak as a "conduit." Her status was just the sort of thing an experience DC hand like Novak would know or find out.



    Yeah, since Richard Armitage was telling everyone in town. It's the kind of nepotism that makes for amusing DC gossip, until the parochials start taking it seriously.

  • Underzog||

    Good ridance to the self hater. Though Novak no facts was born Jewish and even looked like a Jew, he was so disgusted with his Jewishness that he took it out on the Jewish state of Israel. He supported gruesome thug groups such as Hamas and Hizbollah, just like the Rhoemites here do.

    More good news on the humanity and freedom front, Rifqa Bary, a 17 year old Muslim girl who converted to Christianity, will not be returned to her Muslim family in Ohio (she has sought sanctuary in Florida) where her father and the rest of the family will murder under the aegis of the so-called honor killing principle.

    I know the news of Rifqa Bary not being sent back to her Muslim family in Ohio to be killed must be a great disspointment to the Muslim terrorist appeasers/Ernst Rhoem wannabes who post their revolting views here, but it makes decent people such as myself feel good.

    "There's no need to fear. Underzog is here!"

    The Jewish Defense League Marching Song

  • Elemenope||

    Underzog, you're such an unbelievable asshole, it really boggles the mind.

  • ||

    So, who gets Novak's red Corvette? I'd like to think I have a fighting chance for it. Of course, I think all sorts of things.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Elemenope, you're missing the deeper significance of Underzog's comment, namely:

    Underzog has his own YouTube channel! And he sings!

  • highnumber||

    OMG! Zoggy, baby!

  • Elemenope||

    Underzog has his own YouTube channel! And he sings!

    Incontrovertible proof that God exists, and He hates humans.

  • Elemenope||

    I for one am just sort of shocked he didn't defecate all over the Inglourious Basterds thread.

  • Elemenope||

    Underzog, that is. Not God.

  • Underzog||

    Fuck you, Antelope!

    I have a very good voice.

  • Someone Who Doesn\'t Want to L||

    There were some cheesecake photos of Val

    You need to back up your claims. Link please.

  • B||

    Man, you just gotta love douchebags like Cockburn. How many fucking times and how many fucking panels have to conclusively prove that Joe Wilson was a compulsive fucking liar before they quit clinging to the notion that he was wrongly fired and defamed by the White House? The guy has become the Alger Hiss of modern liberalism.

  • Dante||

    Thanks for explaining who Ron Paul is.

  • MNG||

    Novak converted to Christianity and when he found out, from Christians in the Middle East, that the Israeli government treated those folks like shit he did what Novak did: he reported on it. Of course, since Israel uses and counts on Christian Zionist mythology to keep the welfare and bizarre levels of diplomatic support coming from the US to it's land, they were furious.

    Novak was an admirable figure for the right. He was a pundit who actually had a passion and talent for investigative journalism. He didn't live in a world of his own facts, and while I found a lot of his ideas and rhetoric to be nuts, his journalism was consistently illuminating.

  • MNGEE||

    Novak was an admirable figure for the right

    while I found a lot of his ideas and rhetoric to be nuts

    he hated the Israelis and that a good enough reason to like anyone

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