"Come here," Richard Nixon whispered.
I did—as Nixon peeled the curtain back to reveal a
group of reporters gathered for his press briefing.
"There," Nixon nodded. "That is the enemy."
Nixon had directed my attention to a swarthy fellow
seated in the front row, separate from the rest, who
seemed to be scowling, but at no one in particular. It
was Robert Novak.
That was 40 years ago, in Indiana, in the fall of
Republican year of 1966.
Formal introduction came on the first day of the
1968 New Hampshire primary. Nixon had asked me to be
acting press secretary, and columnist
Nick Thimmesch, a friend, suggested I join Novak and
Pat Ferguson of the Baltimore Sun for a beer.
I did, and the pair lit into me, mocking that Nixon
was up to his old tricks, lying to the press, sneaking
tape campaign commercials in Hillsboro. The "new
Nixon" is a bleeping fraud—it`s the same old
Fifteen minutes of this and I got up, departed and
told Nixon and H.R. Haldeman I did not have the
temperament for the job.
Ron Ziegler was brought aboard.
This was my introduction to a man who has been
arguably the best journalist in Washington in the last
I write that not because, for 25 years, Novak has
been a friend. Nor because we worked together for years
on "The McLaughlin Group" and CNN`s "Capital
Gang" and "Crossfire." But because there is
no better reporter-columnist and interviewer-commentator
in this town. Like Billy Goodman of the old Red Sox of
the 1940s, Novak can play any position and deliver a
steady .300 batting average.
For decades, Novak has been known in Washington, to
friend and foe alike—both are legion—as The Prince of Darkness,
title of his 600-page memoir published this month by
Novak recounts his 50 years in journalism, beginning
with his stint as an AP reporter in mid-America that
brought him to Washington and
The Wall Street Journal, whence he departed to
join Rowland Evans of the old Herald-Tribune to form the
Evans-Novak team. For three decades, Evans & Novak`s
Inside Report was among the best known and most widely
syndicated columns in the nation.
On the first page, Novak—the pivotal figure in the
Valerie Plame-CIA leak story—tells where and how he
first met Joe Wilson, and his unprintable assessment of
the ex-ambassador. That chapter explains his side of a
story that made him a figure of national controversy and
led to the naming of special prosecutor Patrick
Karl Rove and the Bush White House, and the
conviction of Scooter Libby.
But the CIA leak story covers only a fraction of
Novak`s career, and a fraction of this frank and candid
memoir in which Novak relates stories and renders
judgment on the presidents he has known from
LBJ to Bush, their adversaries, and the most
controversial and famous statesmen, staffers and
journalists of the last half century.
As no one has had the same experiences as Novak, none
will share all of his judgments on those he regards as
honorable and heroic, and those he has come to believe
were or are poltroons and phonies.
From having read a hundred pages, this is both a
brutally candid and important book, as well as a
riveting read—for those who have lived much of this
history with him, and for those who would understand
this vast slice of American history to which Novak had
as privileged a seat as he is routinely given
near the coach at the basketball games of his
Ronald Reagan famously said of the platform he
intended to run on, it should be all
"bold colors … no pale pastels." Some of
Novak`s opinions are scarlet. While writing, he told one
and all he intended to use his memoir to clear up some
matters and settle some accounts. He does not
Often I have mentioned to friends that were I an
editor of a major paper and had but one column to carry,
it would be Novak`s. His sources are the best. His
opinions are upfront invariably, he is made privy to
conversations and meetings that ring true in his
telling. As few other columnists in his time, Novak
continually breaks stories. That he has survived so
long, after having enraged so many, is testimony that
when Novak is denounced or disputed by some powerful
figure, his editors believe him, not them.
At the party in his Pennsylvania Avenue apartment to
celebrate his baptism as a Catholic,
Pat Moynihan said to
me, among others, "Pat, now that we have made
Novak a Catholic, do you think we can make him a
late senator were still with us, one would have to
inform him that this remains a work in progress.
Justice Holmes once
observed, "It is required of a man that he should
share the passion and action of his time, at the peril
of being judged not to have lived."
Of Robert Novak, it may be said, he has surely done
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