William F. Buckley

The book recounts, "Before I could finish that, a shouting Carville overrode what I had to say. 'He's got to show these right-wingers that he's got backbone,' Carville yelled. 'Show them you're tough.' Two and a half years of coping with Carville's ad hominem attacks welled up in me. 'Well, I think that's bullshit,' I said."

Novak rose from the desk. "I removed my microphone and stalked off the set."

The new gang running CNN had been looking for an excuse to dump Novak. Although he apologized immediately, CNN called his conduct "unacceptable" and let it be known that he was off CNN indefinitely. "I did not think I had committed a hanging offense," Novak writes. "Mark Shields in the past had twice used the same obscenity I employed, ... without comment by management. (CNN boss Jon) Klein's favorite TV critic, Jon Stewart, used much worse language in describing me. Indeed, I received a lot of favorable comment from conservatives who commented how pleased they were that I had finally told Carville how obnoxious he was."

Now this last is not properly used as mitigative of the offense. A commentator will almost certainly bring pleasure to a great many people by lambasting his enemy. Granted, Novak was here attempting to draw attention to the special odium Carville lives, eats and sleeps with. I had an encounter a few years ago with him, a debate at the University of Oklahoma. After what he said about me, a tribunal concerned with truth and justice should have ordered a firing squad to empty its guns at me at the end of the evening -- or at Carville, for making allegations so hideous.

What happened here is that CNN eased its most productive journalist off the airwaves, while it keeps Carville, soulmate and business partner of Democratic consultant Bob Shrum, a vigilante against the American right.

What Novak's book does not do is devise an acceptable means by which excesses can be curbed. Probably he has discovered what so many had done over the decades, that when rhetoric is heated, and the audience is permissive, you can't succeed in eliminating foul play. But we all suffer when the exercise of it has such an effect as to eliminate a Novak, while retaining a Carville.


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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