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Political columnist Robert Novak has died at age 78
Question of the Day
Robert D. “Bob” Novak, for many decades one of conservatives’ most trusted and influential political columnists, died at his Washington home early Tuesday after a long illness.
Mr. Novak, 78, had been sidelined for more than a year while battling a malignant brain tumor first diagnosed July 27 of last year.
Geraldine Novak told her husband’s home newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times, that he died at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Affectionately nicknamed “the Prince of Darkness” — the title of his 2007 memoir — Mr. Novak’s journalistic home was the Sun-Times, but the column, which Mr. Novak wrote alone after the death of his partner, Rowland Evans Jr., was syndicated widely around the country. He gained new fame and notoriety as the co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire” political debate show, a pioneer among new cable shows that offered a more robust and freewheeling style than that offered on the traditional broadcast networks. Mr. Novak worked for a quarter-century at CNN as a reporter, host and commentator on various political affairs programs.
He began his column in 1963, teaming up with Mr. Evans to write the syndicated “Inside Report,” which for many decades people in the political world referred to simply as “Evans and Novak.” The column mixed opinion with old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting, regularly breaking news on the Op-Ed page about the inner workings and misdoings of official Washington.
One of the most controversial episodes of his long career came near its end, when Mr. Novak in a 2003 column identified Valerie Plame as a CIA “operative” in a report about U.S. efforts to track Iraq’s nuclear weapons programs. The information was leaked and confirmed by top officials of the George W. Bush administration, but Mr. Novak came under withering fire from liberal and anti-war critics for “outing” a CIA agent.
While calling the “Plamegate” affair a “long and difficult episode,” Mr. Novak clearly relished the give-and-take of political combat, regularly upsetting the Washington powers-that-be under Republican and Democratic administrations alike with his scoops and embarrassing exclusives. Liberal targets of the Evans and Novak columns took to dubbing the pair “Errors and No Facts,” but “Inside Report” remained a must-read in the capital for decades.
Look, I’m not David Broder, Mr. Novak told the Washington Monthly in a 2004 profile. I’m not one of the real good guys. They try to make things nicer. That’s not my deal.
Mr. Novak contended that he began his career as a moderate, becoming more conservative only because of the impact of his reporting on his political ideas. The son of Jewish parents, he converted to Catholicism in the mid-1990s after attending Catholic services for years before that.
The columnist was born and raised in Joliet, Ill., getting his first newspaper job as sports stringer for the local paper. After attending the University of Illinois, he served in the U.S. Army from 1952 to 1954 before joining the Associated Press and eventually landing a job in the wire service’s Washington office. In 1958, he was hired by the Wall Street Journal and soon became the paper’s lead congressional correspondent.
The combative young reporter then teamed up with the patrician Mr. Evans, with the unlikely pair penning their first joint column in 1963. Mr. Evans died in 2001, and Mr. Novak continued the column on his own until his health problems forced him to retire.
The Novak family announced Tuesday that a visitation will be held Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Washington’s St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 10th and G streets Northwest. A funeral Mass will be held at the church Friday morning, but the burial will be a private ceremony. Donations in Mr. Novak’s memory can be made to the Youth Leadership Foundation or the Children’s Charities Foundation, both of Washington.
Mr. Novak is survived by his wife and their two children, Zelda and Alex.
About the Author
Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.
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