"Come here," Richard Nixon whispered.
I did -- as Nixon peeled the curtain back to reveal a group of reporters gathered for his press briefing.
"There," Nixon nodded. "That is the enemy."
Nixon had directed my attention to a swarthy fellow seated in the front row, separate from the rest, who seemed to be scowling, but at no one in particular. It was Robert Novak. That was 40 years ago, in Indiana, in the fall of that Republican year of 1966.
Formal introduction came on the first day of the 1968 New Hampshire primary. Nixon had asked me to be acting press secretary, and columnist Nick Thimmesch, a friend, suggested I join Novak and Pat Ferguson of the Baltimore Sun for a beer.
I did, and the pair lit into me, mocking that Nixon was up to his old tricks, lying to the press, sneaking off to tape campaign commercials in Hillsboro. The "new Nixon" is a bleeping fraud -- it's the same old Tricky Dick.
Fifteen minutes of this and I got up, departed and told Nixon and H.R. Haldeman I did not have the temperament for the job. Ron Ziegler was brought aboard.
This was my introduction to a man who has been arguably the best journalist in Washington in the last half century.
I write that not because, for 25 years, Novak has been a friend. Nor because we worked together for years on "The McLaughlin Group" and CNN's "Capital Gang" and "Crossfire." But because there is no better reporter-columnist and interviewer-commentator in this town. Like Billy Goodman of the old Red Sox of the 1940s, Novak can play any position and deliver a steady .300 batting average.
For decades, Novak has been known in Washington, to friend and foe alike -- both are legion -- as The Prince of Darkness, the title of his 600-page memoir published this month by Crown Forum.
Novak recounts his 50 years in journalism, beginning with his stint as an AP reporter in mid-America that brought him to Washington and The Wall Street Journal, whence he departed to join Rowland Evans of the old Herald-Tribune to form the Evans-Novak team. For three decades, Evans & Novak's Inside Report was among the best known and most widely syndicated columns in the nation.
On the first page, Novak -- the pivotal figure in the Valerie Plame-CIA leak story -- tells where and how he first met Joe Wilson, and his unprintable assessment of the ex-ambassador. That chapter explains his side of a story that made him a figure of national controversy and led to the naming of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the investigation of Karl Rove and the Bush White House, and the conviction of Scooter Libby.
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