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Robert Novak Lived A Reporter’s Life

August 18, 2009

It is sad news to report the death of Robert Novak.  As such, this is a hard post to write.  Below is the picture that I think best sums up the nostaglic charm of the life that Novak led as a reporter.


Some may think it strange for this liberal blogger to be writing fondly of this man who held and espoused very conservative ideas, but I have never felt anything but deep respect for this seasoned reporter.

It was a tremendous pleasure to meet Robert Novak, and walk alongside him down the hall at the UW-Memorial Union in Madison several years ago while talking about how he writes his columns.  He seemed pleased to be asked about his craft, and the topic naturally was the type I find interesting.  He was walking slowly as he was still dealing with the side effects of hip replacement surgery. I found him to be sincere, earnest, and not as some like to define him.  When Novak stated he wrote articles in one take I was smiling.  After all the years of getting his thoughts out in print I would have been surprised had he said anything different.

On March 26, 2008 I wrote the following, and this might be a fitting place to start this final post on the life of Robert Novak.

I think it would be a blast to have a newspaper send me along on the trail of a presidential candidate as the campaign stretches across the nation in search of voters and the party nomination.  The romance that I have long held about the hard drinking reporters who could smell a great story, and then write it out in one take on a typewriter as the bus lumbered down the road has never left my soul.  It is those types of reporters who have forgotten more about the politics of this country than the upstarts with their college diplomas will ever know that impress me.  Robert Novak may be conservative and wrong on many things, but think of the stories he could tell.  He is but one of the many such reporters that I truly find fascinating.

The love of reporting and writing about the wonderful world of politics never left the heart and soul of Robert Novak.  When his much loved and appreciated column turned 45 years old in May of 2008 he wrote a reflective article commenting on his age and continual need to see what was happening around the country.  I just loved that attitude!  It proved the heart of a reporter still was beating strongly.

I continue shoe-leather reporting — but with limitations. At age 60 I stopped entering war zones. I still occasionally go on the campaign trail, but not nearly so much as in past years. (When I have boarded press buses during the 2008 primary season, reporters some 50 years my junior have gazed at me as though Banquo’s ghost had entered their midst.) Nevertheless, at 77, I still make it my principal professional endeavor to find out what is happening behind the scenes in politics and government.

The fact is the type of reporter that Novak embodied are a dwindling breed, and with the demise of newspapers they are not being replaced.  What is happening to reporters and columnists is a sad state of affairs for this democracy that requires inquisitive and intrepid reporters to make sure the government is operating in the light of day, and fulfilling their responsibility to the people they serve.  For many decades Robert Novak did just that.  He will be missed for his style and punch that often was strident, but always in defense of the greater truth.

Not a bad way to live a reporter’s life.

  1. August 18, 2009 11:33 PM

    This is a most valid point, and a fair question.

    All of my ‘obit’ postings are of people, for whatever reason, that have either made a deep impression on me over time, or at least created some fond memories. As such, I do not write an official obituary as one might find in a newspaper. If a news operation neglected to add the matter that you raised then it would be sloppy journalism. My purpose here is less weighty, but I hope more personal. At least that is my goal.

    The point of all my ‘obit’ postings is to make a certain statement about the person that rises above the official story. I have something nice to say about all the people who fall into this category, and I leave out the rancor and harder edges. (As such the passing of Karl Rove may be noted on my blog, but will not get the treatment in ‘obits’ of a Jack Kemp or a Tony Snow, two Republicans that did receive nice words.)

    To sum it up I add this.

    Though I had lots of disagreements with Jean Kirkpatrick, I added this line in my post when she died..

    “One can argue about her policy stands and rhetorical style while Ambassador to the United Nations or while serving on the National Security Council, but that is now history”.

    The thrust of my post about her was her keen mind and “sonorous voice”.

    The lack of mentioning any aspect or event of a person in the ‘obit’ section is not meant to whitewash or deny this or that. The purpose of the post is to highlight a positive, and remember one that is now gone.

  2. Brad permalink
    August 18, 2009 11:29 PM

    In reading your blog about Novak’s passing, I could not help but notice that there was not any mention of his leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA operative. How did he say that this act was justified? Just so he could help Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney (and George Bush) in their effort to discredit Ms. Plame’s husband–who publicly claimed that the Bush White House had knowingly distorted intelligence that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa?

    I’m not sure how he could rationalize this act as upholding his journalistic ethics, as well as his desire to be a law-abiding citizen (I seem to recall that federal law prohibits the disclosure of undercover intelligence officers; see 50 USC 421 at this link:—-000-.html )

    as well as abiding his Cold War, patriotic ideals–which presumably opposed the outing of a civil servant whose job it was to work on behalf of our government’s foreign policy efforts.

    Additionally, despite later pardoning Scooter Libby, President Bush said he’d fire any aide who committee a crime in regards to this incident. See a 2005 NY Times article about this at:

  3. Howard R. Debs permalink
    August 18, 2009 9:40 PM

    I am delighted to find your post which pays the proper deference to a noted communicator, irrespective of political stripe. In “surfing” WordPress for tags related to my own blog post on the man, I came across yours. Bravo for you, in separating personal perspectives from assessment of real world accomplishment. Numerous vehemently negative comments have cropped up all across the blogosphere since the news of Robert Novak’s death appeared. Most of such comments project rancor for the man because the commenter couldn’t stomach and didn’t agree with Novak’s actions, his writings, or his broadcasting work. I begin my own post in this way: “I can’t remember ever agreeing with anything Robert Novak said or wrote about, but I thoroughly enjoyed his style of communicating his ideas.” There is a serious issue globally, and readily apparent in the U.S. during this “summer of discontent” about humanity’s ability and willingness to consider the action as distinct from the actor. The lack of ability or willingness to do so yields ad hominem thinking. Congratulations on avoiding this, and for rendering an interesting and well expressed farewell to this reporter’s reporter.

    Howard R. Debs

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