William F. Buckley

In days (long) gone by, the tradition was that gentlemen engaged in media work do not disparage other gentlemen engaged in media work. The protocol was blatantly violated from time to time. How, in the age of Drew Pearson, could one have got through a year without squawking, reviling, protesting -- perhaps dwelling on the case for the repeal of the First Amendment?

Still, it came always as something of a surprise when professional antagonism was acted on. Most recently we have had the case of Dan Rather against CBS. But as far as the general public is concerned, this is not a quarrel in which personal feelings are heavily engaged. Rather says that CBS deprived him of the opportunity to back his charge in the 2004 campaign that President Bush had faked his military record. There was nothing personal in that fight (that we know of), and the protagonists no doubt, as they confer with their lawyers, consider themselves observant of the rules for corporate criticisms.

But there isn't any way to remove Robert Novak from the hot seat here. In his widely read book "The Prince of Darkness," he lets out some pretty virulent stuff against, in particular, one man who is as active as an orbiting planet in partisan politics.

In the chapter in which Novak recounts his dissociation from CNN, he lets a great deal hang out. Novak is perhaps the premier journalistic figure in the land, an eminence he earned by years and decades of very hard work digging up stories, analyzing the news and urging perspectives that he found compelling.

He was of course a fixture on several CNN programs, primarily "Crossfire" and "Capital Gang," and then, after their demise, "Strategy Session." These programs were establishmentarian political jousts, Novak among the most prominent right-wingers. On the other side were sundry men and women of the left, but one of them has a way of coating his dissent with a bile that even a hardened antagonist finds difficult to come to terms with.

One day in 2005, Novak was appearing on "Strategy Session" opposite James Carville. On the air, Carville accused Novak of trying to curry favor with The Wall Street Journal editorial page. Novak protested. "Just let me finish what I'm going to say, James," Novak quotes the script. "Please, I know you hate to hear me, but you have --"

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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