Robert Novak: Prince Of Twilight?
by Kevin Lamb:
The Leftward Course Of
publication of The Bell Curve in
the fall of 1994 created a
major uproar in newsrooms in Washington and New York.
The book was a big problem for many editors and
journalists since they were unsure about—and largely
unfamiliar with—the book`s
empirical claims. At Newsweek, where I worked
as a library assistant, the book generated a buzz that
led to awkward conversations and intense discussions.
Everyone had an opinion about Herrnstein and Murray`s
one afternoon, having just picked up a copy of the book
at Sidney Kramer`s on I Street earlier that day, I
encountered Robert Novak in the elevator. (The Evans and
Novak office was in the same building, one floor above
us.) Trying to strike up a conversation with the
"Prince of Darkness", who is notoriously
conversation-averse, I asked what he thought about The Bell Curve.
race book", Novak replied dismissively, in his
snippy Crossfire mode.
reply made clear that he didn`t have any opinion about
it and would just as soon not have any opinion about it.
This is typical.
"Conservative" journalists inside the Beltway are
rarified specimens. Most are highly detached from the
issues that concern Middle America:
affirmative action, crime, job security, the
"safe" neighborhoods and
"good" schools, and so on. What matters to
this elite cadre aren`t issues or ideas, but access to
information (cultivating reliable sources for
exclusives) and peer acceptability (avoiding
rejection from fellow journalists, fatally often
liberals). With the rise of
politically correctness, this means an
unprecedented level of conformity now holds sway
over Establishment "Conservatives".
"Conservative" who plans on making it in today`s
climate avoids excessive controversy and goes along with
the cultural flow.
For years, Novak has
cultivated an image of himself as an iconoclastic
outsider in a profession dominated by leftists—a bold
reporter combating the twin evils of liberalism and
And to some extent, Novak
is iconoclastic. But his pariah persona is
largely a façade. Even though Novak deviates
ideologically from the average Washington journalist,
his successful career trajectory reveals an ambitious
common among journalists, that makes him much more
cautious than rebellious. Paradoxically, despite his
image, Novak epitomizes the insider.
Tellingly, one of Novak`s
gripes in his recently published autobiography The Prince of Darkness:
Reporting in Washington is not being invited often
enough to official White House functions.
Similarly, I remember one
Thursday afternoon while we were scrambling to finalize
Human Events on deadline, my boss Editor-in-Chief
Thomas Winter just up and left the office to get ready
for that evening`s White House "Holiday
Party". He told us how much his wife enjoyed
greeting the President and First Lady in the receiving
Acceptance is the
life goal of Beltway conservatives—and not just of their
reflections span nearly five decades as a
reporter-columnist turned political commentator for CNN
covering nine presidents, Congress, major national
events, and foreign affairs—from
Watergate to the
Cold War and
But as Novak writes, "I`d
like to think that I emulated
Bertrans de Born in
stirring up strife but not in wreaking havoc…."
In other words, avoid pushing the envelope. The
perception that one harbors "extreme" views will
not open many doors in this "go along, get along"
the book are amusing anecdotes—for example, about his
Pat Buchanan, whom he respects, and
John McLaughlin, whom he disdains as a bullying
cheapskate. Novak affects a self-deprecating demeanor
and forthrightly divulges his own shortcomings and
vices, including a fair number of mistakes and gaffes
(which also occur in this book). He reveals a side
rarely seen in public: his deeply personal
religious conversion as a non-observant Jew to
Roman Catholicism , a spiritual odyssey that
alienated some friends and relatives; his heavy bouts of
drinking; his seemingly-endless health problems,
including cancer and spinal meningitis; his devotion to
his family as an affectionate father and grandfather.
But this reflection in
the rearview mirror offers some peculiar omissions and
evasions. Novak`s conservatism is devoid of any interest
in social or cultural issues. He makes virtually no
mention of immigration policy or the impact of
rapid demographic changes on his country`s future.
(He was an
outspoken supporter of the Kennedy-Bush Amnesty/
Immigration surge bill and predicted it would pass). His
conservative convictions are confined to tax policy,
containing communism and the growth of government.
This is a big difference
between Pat Buchanan and Novak. Buchanan`s last three
addressed some of the
most pressing issues facing America and the West,
the cultural and ethnic replacement of the West with
Third World at home and American imperialism
Novak describes his
Ian Smith, the former prime minister of
Rhodesia. He admired Smith largely because
white-ruled Rhodesia blocked
Soviet-supported Marxists from getting a larger
foothold in Southern Africa. Of course, all of this
came to end after Smith caved in to pressure by the
British and U.S. governments and extended the vote
majority of uneducated blacks. What happened, in
Novak`s view, was a foreign policy failure of the Carter
administration. But what action did the Reagan
administration take to reverse course?
And where in Novak`s
account is the courage to acknowledge what would
inevitably result from the transition of Rhodesia to
Zimbabwe under black majority rule:
racial displacement and
national decay? As if this
wouldn`t have happened had
Mugabe not been a Marxist!
Novak also incorrectly
reports that Smith
continues to live in Zimbabwe. The former prime
minister moved to Cape Town, South Africa two years ago
and took up residence in a community of Rhodesian
Especially when Novak`s syndicated column was in partnership with the late
Rowland Evans, the Middle East was one significant
area of difference from their colleagues. Their
criticism of Israel and
Israeli influence over U.S. Mideast foreign policy
made them walking targets for
neoconservatives and assorted
Evans and Novak were
particularly skeptical of the
official explanation for the attack on the
USS Liberty, a Navy intelligence ship that
was fired upon in international waters by Israeli forces
in 1967. Thirty-four American servicemen died and 173
others were wounded in the attack. In a November 1991
column, Evans and Novak broke the news of an American
eyewitness to the deliberate planning of the Israeli
assault [Remembering the Liberty, Washington
Post, November 6, 1991(Pay
But, oddly, Novak`s only
mention of the Liberty incident in his 670-page
tome is a passing reference to it in reminiscing about
Rowland Evans` death.
"In both the column and the eulogy, I noted Rowly`s
brilliant reporting on
Soviet arms control cheating, the fall of communism
Eastern Europe, and the Israeli attack on the U.S.S.
Liberty and its cover-up by the U.S. government.
These were high points in the history of the Evans and
Novak column in which I played little part."
Novak likewise makes only
a glancing reference to the
Middle East and Israel in general—also crediting
Evans with all but a handful of their columns on the
subject over the years.
Novak was clearly uneasy,
although ultimately firm, when PBS host Charlie Rose
cross-examined him on the subject of Israel in his
recent interview (my emphases):
CHARLIE ROSE: Israel.
Israel. We—the "Evans and
Novak" columns—we ran
hundreds of columns critical of Israel, all of them
written by Rolly Evans. But I agreed with him. I`ve
written a few columns on Israel since Rolly retired and
I was writing the column myself, but not nearly as many.
Rolly became very committed on the issue.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, I want to talk about
Today, I believe that—that—that Israel—it`s in Israel`s
best interest to make an agreement in the Middle East.
I`m very happy that the President is at least giving lip
service to trying again to move toward a Middle East
agreement. I think that`s been one of the great failings
of this Administration. I`ve been to Israel each of the
last two years. I think that the—that the time is ripe.
The conditions are correct for a negotiated settlement.
And—and it is—it will take an enormous amount of
CHARLIE ROSE: There are people in the
Israeli community who believe you`re anti-Israel.
I`m not. I want Israel to survive. And I believe—I
believe Israel is in an enormous amount of difficulty
right now. It has a very weak government. I think they
have—I think the—the war in
Lebanon was a disaster. They thought they were going
to crush Hezbollah, and they didn`t. So I believe it is
time for peace, and I think there`s elements in the
Palestinian community who feel the same way….
CHARLIE ROSE: Is it hard for a
journalist to criticize Israel?
Well, you suffer if you do. I think.
CHARLIE ROSE: Have you suffered?
CHARLIE ROSE: How have you suffered?
I lost papers because of it. Advertisers dropped
their—threatened newspapers. They did drop the Evans and
CHARLIE ROSE: But the Evans and
column is history. I`m talking about today, today.
But that is history. You say, is it hard to criticize
Israel? Yes. And I have suffered because of it.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is that issue out in the
open now more than it was?
No. I think it`s still—
CHARLIE ROSE: The Israeli lobby has too
much influence on American foreign policy?
I think it has a lot of influence.
CHARLIE ROSE: Too much?
Yes, I felt it has too much, and I believe that
the—the—that the—both parties now are so committed to
trying to get the Jewish community in support—it`s a
very small community in numbers, but large in financial
support and influence—that it`s very hard to take these
positions. [Charlie Rose show, August 3, 2007
One mini-saga that Novak
devotes a full chapter to is
David Frum`s notorious April 2003 National Review
cover story Unpatriotic
Conservatives which attacked Novak,
Llewellyn Rockwell, Thomas Fleming,
Joseph Sobran, Charley Reese, Jude Wanniski, Eric
Taki Theodoracopulos for their opposition to the
Iraq war and alleged anti-Americanism. (VDARE.Com had a
cameo role, although it does
not take a position on the war, for the irrelevant
but inadvertently revealing reason it has published
Professor Kevin MacDonald`s
work on Jewish political influences).
Novak really gets his
dander up over Frum`s salvo. He remains bitter that
William F. Buckley`s own magazine would—not so much
publish Frum`s attack—as not remove his name from
the final draft. He writes:
"Frum had put me in strange company.
Wanniski were the only people mentioned who were my
friends though I was an acquaintance of
McConnell, who once had edited my copy at the
New York Post. I had never heard of Raimondo,
Reese, or Margolis. Fleming was a historian whose
brilliant critique of U.S. participation in World War I
(The Illusion of Victory) I had
reviewed favorably, but I had never met him or read his
forty other books. I knew of
Taki but thought of him as a
millionaire jet-setter and clever
essayist. I had met Francis and Sobran once or twice
and had never met Rockwell at all; I considered those
three to be ideological extremists whose
views I did not embrace."
Of course, this is a remarkable
confession of ignorance, indicative of the parochial
nature of Beltway political journalism—especially as
Thomas Fleming the historian with
Thomas Fleming the redoubtable editor of
(Which is embarrassing not only to Novak, but also to
his son-in-law, Weekly Standard editor
Christopher Caldwell, and the half dozen other
individuals who are credited with reading the manuscript
and should have recognized the error.)
Still, Novak confesses that the
episode "was burning a hole in my heart". He felt
dejected for having been so sharply criticized in
Buckley`s magazine, which had published his work for
Why? Because he stood to
lose what he worked so hard to achieve: his reputation
and the recognition he cultivated over the years.
Don Imus incident—on top of the world one day and
unemployed the next.
Novak had suddenly found himself
among undesirables—marginalized figures he considers
(paradoxically taking Frum`s word for it in their cases)
to be “ideological extremists”. Rather than take
principled conservative position, defending his
right to doubt the Iraq invasion and challenge Frum and
the neocons at National Review
once and for all, as
Paul Gottfried and others have, Novak is more
concerned about salvaging his own reputation. (Frum has
replied to Novak`s book here:
autobiography, one is struck by what can best be
described as "Beltwayitis"—the
fixation of "inside-the-beltway" public figures
grassroots conservatives out there in Americaland
would consider at best trivial: notoriety,
personality-engrossed gossip, GOP and Democrat
intra-party intrigue, and the obsession over esoteric
conservatives—even elected public officials such as Rep.
John Ashbrook (R-Ohio)—once took
bold positions on, such as "civil
affirmative action, feminism, and
forced busing , were characterized by an
anti-egalitarianism that is largely absent from leading
conservatives today. Instead of opposing and working to
reverse the cultural and racial balkanization
that multicultural advocates have fostered on American
society, today`s “Conservative” establishment
embraces "diversity" as a worthy national
goal. Richard Weaver`s admonition on conservative trends
some 50 years ago, that conservatives would remain
slightly to the right of an increasingly leftward
cultural drift, has come to pass.
In a recent public forum,
Paul Gottfried commented on how the American
conservative movement has been backsliding for the last
50 years. He slammed conservatives for embracing
Martin Luther King, Jr. as a role model.
Conservatives such as Novak once opposed making King`s
national holiday. Now they have caved—Human
Events has gone from having a
token article plugging King`s alleged
"conservative" credentials to featuring multiple,
largely laudatory postings on its
Novak is no exception. He
writes of an incident when he and
Frank Barber, a political lieutenant of
Sen. James Eastland, Mississippi`s
pro-segregation senator, were in a restaurant.
Barber tried to prove that southern blacks didn`t think
much of King by asking a black waiter of his view. The
waiter responded, "Well, gentlemens… I consider him a
"Well into the 1970s and beyond as I pondered this
incident, I saw it as helping me understand that Martin
Luther King was a
mythic figure for blacks. His professional,
political, and personal shortcomings were subsumed in
his ascension as symbolic leader of African-Americans,
who demanded and deserved a national holiday for him.
The people who opposed it, including me, were wrong."
This, of course, ignores
accumulating evidence that educrats are using Martin
Luther King Day as a vehicle for anti-white
brainwashing. And in fact this about-face on King
by Novak and other conservatives has less to do with
principle than a desire to avoid being
labeled a "racist" for standing firm in
pointing out his
pro-Communist affiliations. Even if King has become
a "mythic figure" for his ethnic constituents,
does this mean conservatives should silence any
One peculiar omission
from Novak`s book is the scant mention of a program in
which he served as an active participant for years: M.
National Journalism Center, an internship program
for aspiring conservative reporters and editors. The
placement rate by Fred Mann, NJC`s job-bank director,
was exceptional, opening doors to many entry-level
positions, not only around Washington but also numerous
newspapers around the country. Although Evans and Novak
utilized and frequently hired NJC interns, the only
individual identified as such is his own daughter, who
was hired after a brief stint at a Northern Virginia
newspaper. He completely skips over his own NJC role.
As a young intern
enrolled in the NJC`s program during the fall of 1988, I
remember distinctly Novak`s Friday afternoon lecture to
our group. He used the recent leaks coming out of the
Bush-Dukakis presidential campaigns to expound upon
different types of leaks and their journalist
significance. He closed his talk by noting that there
different types of conservatives: free-market
social conservatives, religious conservatives, and
even (he said)
On the evidence of The Prince of Darkness,
should have added another category to that list:
The “Prince of
Darkness” is not the worst. But he is, at best, the
Prince of Twilight.
Kevin Lamb (email
him) is a former library assistant for
managing editor of
Human Events. He was also
assistant editor of the Evans-Novak Political
Report, which involved no contact with Novak. He
is now the editor of
The Occidental Quarterly.