Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Washington Examiner columnist Robert Novak (1931-2009)

Columnist Robert D. Novak dies after battle with cancer
By: Timothy P. Carney
Washington Examiner Columnist
August 18, 2009

Robert D. Novak, who began covering Washington during the Eisenhower administration and later achieved fame as a columnist and television commentator, died in his home Tuesday morning after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 78.

A nationally syndicated columnist for 45 years, Novak wrote “Inside Report”—a reported column on the inner workings of Washington policy and politics—with Rowland Evans six days a week from 1963 until Evans’ retirement in 1993. For 15 years, Novak continued the column—thrice weekly—until a brain tumor forced his retirement in July 2008.

Cable television made Novak’s a familiar face nationwide. An early star at the nascent CNN in 1980, Novak was a fixture on the right at CNN’s Crossfire, and he relished his work as the executive producer of the Capital Gang.

An outspoken conservative in later decades, Novak came to Washington as a moderate—he and Evans originally planned to take no sides in their column, except for support of civil rights. Novak progressively moved rightward, becoming a flag-bearer for the supply-side economics that drove Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts.

Still, Novak often sparred with the power centers on the Right. President Richard Nixon ordered his staff to “cut off” Novak and Evans from the White House and solicit “tough letters” to the journalists from subscribers of the Evans-Novak Political Report, after a critical paragraph in the newsletter.

Thirty-five years later Novak’s criticism of the Iraq War—and skeptical reporting on the intelligence justifying the invasion—made him persona non grata in the Bush White House and earned him slurs from the most hawkish conservatives.

In 2003, on a tip from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Novak reported that Ambassador Joe Wilson—an outspoken critic of Bush claims about Iraqi weapons program—was sent on an intelligence mission to Niger because his wife was a CIA employee. The report sparked a federal leak investigation that became an issue in the 2004 election.

Novak began his journalism career covering sports for local and school papers in Joliet, Illinois, and after serving in the Army during the Korean War, he worked for the Associated Press in Omaha, Indianapolis, and Lincoln, until 1957, when the AP brought him to Washington for good. Novak moved to the Wall Street Journal in 1961, and the New York Herald-Tribune hired him and Evans as syndicated columnists in 1963. The Chicago Sun-Times became the column’s home paper in 1966. Over 150 papers carried it, most importantly the Washington Post.

Novak authored or co-authored six books on politics, including his 2007 memoirs.

Novak married Geraldine Williams, a secretary for then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson in 1962, and Johnson hosted the wedding reception. The two had two children and eight grand-children.

Novak and his wife converted to Catholicism in 1998.

Mr. Carney, lobbying editor for the Examiner, was a staff writer, senior reporter, and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report from 2001–2004 and 2007–2009.

Charlie Spiering and David Freddoso contributed to this report.

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