Editor's Note: This special feature on Robert Novak first appeared in the March 2009 issue of Townhall Magazine.
Robert David Sanders Novak has been called many names. His close friends call him “Bob.” Most people call him “Novak.” His wife calls him “Robert.”
Keith Olbermann has called him “The Worst Person in the World.” His more petulant critics have viler names for him. Many critics and admirers have called him “The Prince of Darkness.”
I have had the honor of calling him “Boss.” Since I went to work for him at the end of 2001, Novak has been a mentor and a friend. I learned a lot at his side, but all journalists—and all Americans, for that matter—could learn important lessons from this man, now retired and ill.
In these days of single-party rule and a media that fawns over the president, we can all stand a dose of his pervasive skepticism, distrust of those in power and doggedness to dig up the hard facts
A REPORTER ON THE OPINION PAGE
Many people know Novak primarily from his long stint on CNN, but I think it bothers Novak—it always bothers me—when people describe him as a television commentator instead of as a columnist.
To some extent it’s understandable: People watch television more than they read newspapers. Even when people read your work in print, they often don’t bother checking the byline. On TV, they can’t help but see your face.
So, while Novak’s fame primarily resulted from his on-screen work, his real vocation was the written word. And although his work was found exclusively on the opinion pages for the last 45 years of his career, he was a political reporter more than anything else. Sure, he has always had his opinions—and over his life, he has become progressively more pro-life, more pro-market and more anti-interventionist— but so do all reporters. Novak was different from the news-page reporters because he didn’t hide his opinions.
But the commentary in his columns was usually secondary. His aim in each column was to include at least one previously unreported fact. Sometimes it was a trivial tidbit. Sometimes it was a major scoop.
What did this mean in practice? It meant burning up the phone lines and wearing out some shoe leather.