Long before he gave us the Valerie Plame Affair, veteran syndicated political columnist and TV pundit Robert Novak was causing trouble for powerful people and covering the biggest stories in Washington, D.C. His new book, “Prince of Darkness,” is a candid memoir of his personal life and his 50-year career as an insider who not only made news with his journalism but had close encounters with presidents Johnson, Kennedy and Reagan. Novak, a conservative whose column regularly appears in the Trib, was in New York City when I talked to him on Monday by telephone:
Q: Who is the book aimed at and what does it say about how politics and journalism work together in Washington?
A: I think I have two audiences. One audience -- a very small audience, which won’t make the book a very big seller -- is the principal audience, and that is people who are in the game: politicians, political consultants, journalists, people involved in the political process. It will show some things that they didn’t realize happened and some things -- after all, I’m pretty old -- that they weren’t around for.
The second audience is people who are interested in public affairs, interested in the great game of politics and don’t know anything about it. I try to reveal some of the mystery about how a journalist works to show them what great fun I had doing it but also the problems -- the mistakes I made, the successes I’ve had and the interaction between the people in government and journalists. I try to peel away some of the mystery and dispense with some of the evasions and untruths that I’m afraid people in my trade have spread about the way they actually function.
Q: Is there anything really juicy in this book that others might not want you to reveal?
A: The reason I think I’m called “The Prince of Darkness” is not that I am evil but that I say uncomfortable things and make people uncomfortable and am highly critical. I think I’m much more critical of public figures than perhaps they are used to. For example, Gerald Ford got tremendous kudos when he died in his eulogies. I’m pretty tough on Gerald Ford as a poor and incompetent president. I’m even tougher on Nixon and Carter. Johnson is starting to come back, too, and I’m pretty tough on him.
There also are some things in the book that people don’t know. For years, people said I made up a quote about a liberal senator saying of George McGovern that he was going to be in big trouble -- as he was -- when middle America, particularly Catholic middle America, discovers that he is for amnesty, abortion and the legalization of marijuana, which people turned into the “Triple-A Candidate: Amnesty, Abortion and Acid.”