The death of columnist and reporter Bob Novak was a sad occasion for conservatives who voraciously read his columns and cheered his verbal punches on cable television for decades. On TV, Novak’s passing was treated with respect, but only briefly: ABC, CBS and NBC all noted it on their evening news on Aug. 18, but by the next morning, NBC offered only a sentence or two. ABC and CBS had nothing at all. (All three squeezed in the mandatory daily update on Michael Jackson.)
Perhaps this wouldn’t be surprising for a newspaper columnist, since it’s unrealistic to expect self-adoring TV people to think a mere national print journalist would be worth much air time. After all, who even knows what these newspaper people look like? But Novak wasn’t just a newspaper man; he was a TV personality as well -- starting with almost 250 appearances on NBC’s "Meet the Press," many of them well before he became known as a cable gladiator for conservative principles. (This makes it stranger for "NBC Nightly News" to offer him a mere 67 words on the night of his death.)
The evening news broadcasts all mentioned Novak’s place in the controversial "outing" of CIA agent Valerie Plame (although none mentioned his source was an aide to media darling Colin Powell, not some villain inside the Bush White House). But there was more. NBC’s Lester Holt effortlessly associated Novak’s ideology with his dark nickname: "His conservative views and aggressive style earned him the nickname ‘The Prince of Darkness.’"
Even as they noted Novak’s influence in politics, it was cast as negative. On ABC, Charlie Gibson said Novak "was conservative ... and pioneered some of the rough-and-tumble debate now so widespread on television." On CBS, Maggie Rodriguez declared: "As the sharp-edged conservative voice on CNN’s ‘Crossfire,’ Robert Novak pioneered the high-volume, high-tension talking-head battles that are now a staple of cable news."
Both newscasts featured a clip of Novak and his journalistic partner, Rowland Evans, telling each other to "shut up" on their CNN show "Evans & Novak." How odd is this? First, it’s simply wrong to say Novak "pioneered" noisy cable-news debate style: Pat Buchanan was the first co-host of "Crossfire." Secondly, how do the networks somehow leave out the "sharp-edged liberal voice" on the other end of the desk when they lament "high-volume" TV talk? They couldn’t find a CNN clip with Tom Braden or Michael Kinsley or James Carville in it? They just had to feature two conservatives yelling?