Politics

‘Bob Was the Epitome of a Great American Journalist’

Here are additional tributes to veteran conservative journalist Robert Novak — who died August 19 at age78 — from some of the many people who worked with him.

Tom Phillips, chairman of Eagle Publishing:

I had the privilege of knowing Bob Novak and publishing his Evans-Novak Political Report newsletter for more than 20 years. Bob was the epitome of a great American journalist. He was tough but fair, and relentless in going after a story. Although Bob was a strong conservative, he never let his politics influence his journalism. He earned the respect of politicians on both sides of the aisle for his even-handed reporting and legendary scoops. No secret in official Washington was safe from Bob Novak. He pursued stories the old-fashioned way, through tireless reporting and cultivation of sources. As Bob always said, “You’re either a source or a target.” I also have great appreciation for the many hours that Bob devoted to the Phillips Foundation where he served as a founding trustee and provided the inspiration for our Journalism Fellowship Program. Thanks to Bob’s vision, we have awarded $3 million in fellowships to 85 promising young American journalists since 1994. Bob’s spirit lives on in their work. Bob was not only a great journalist. He was also a true patriot and a wonderful family man. While Bob will be missed as a lion of journalism, his loss is felt most deeply by his family and friends.

John Fund, Wall Street Journal columnist and former Novak reporter:

Robert Novak had planned to continue writing his three-times-a-week newspaper column and appearing on TV as an analyst until, as he told me, “the good Lord decides my time is up.” The discovery of a malignant brain tumor a year ago upset his plans and forced him into early retirement. But he continued writing occasional articles until late last year and was able to lucidly discuss current events after that as he battled the disease that claimed him at age 78.

Bob Novak and his late partner Rowland Evans created a unique column when they teamed up in 1963. Although it clearly had a point of view and drew conclusions about public policy (increasingly conservative as time went on), it relied on shoe-leather reporting.

When I joined Bob and Rowly back in 1982 as the first reporter ever hired to work with the duo, I asked Bob what made him most proud about the column. He told me he was pleased that every column the pair wrote contained at least one nugget of news that hadn’t appeared elsewhere.

Their columns weren’t everyone’s cup of tea when it came to ideology, but they were avidly read by thousands of insiders for their insight into the political game. The influential Washington Post was never under any obligation to run the column, but it stood by Bob and published every single one until his sudden retirement last year — even in 2003 when the Post came under bitter attack after Novak’s revelation that Valerie Plame, wife of a former ambassador who had criticized Bush Administration policy in Iraq, was an employee of the CIA.

That revelation violated no law, but brought Bob enormous grief. However, he stood by his original source — Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage — and refused to give up his name. After Mr. Armitage belatedly acknowledged he was the source, Novak told me how disappointed he was that so many journalists had wanted him to throw 1st Amendment principles over the side and reveal the name. His press colleagues suddenly became less vocal once they learned that Mr. Armitage, a favorite of then-Secretary Colin Powell and an opponent of the Iraq War, had been the original leaker of Ms. Plame’s identity.

Bob Novak taught me the basics of journalism that I try to use to this day. He told me before I left to work for the Wall Street Journal that I was joining one of the finest news organizations ever, one that had given him the break of his life when the Journal hired him as its congressional correspondent in the late 1950s. He said the Journal had solidified in him the basics of good journalism: Get your facts right, don’t take “no” for an answer until you have to, spend the time to read the documents other journalists don’t, and don’t become too enamored of invitations to the White House or embassy parties. He gave me the best possible start in my career. I cherish both the time I spent working for him and the many words of advice he gave me in the years following.

Michelle Oddis, HUMAN EVENTS assistant managing editor and former Novak researcher:

Since Robert Novak’s death we have read about his old-school shoe-leather reporting and his God-given talent for writing. He may have been the last of the greats, those reporters who did so much digging that the concept of “fact-checking” was second-nature.
To say he was well connected is a huge understatement. He was always on the phone hounding movers and shakers to get the real scoop. When I made a call to get a prestigious politician on the phone for him, “Bob Novak would like to speak with the senator,” they always called back, Republican or Democrat. This is something that I have learned as a reporter now outside his office — is an anomaly….

Bob Novak was kind and generous to me and it was the opportunity to work in his office that served as a launching point for my career. When Novak wanted me to stay on in his office past the scheduled end of my internship as a member of his staff to help him finish his memoirs, there wasn’t happier rookie in the entire city of Washington, D.C.

At his funeral service last Friday, Monsignor Vaghi said something that I will always think of when I remember my mentor. “It would not surprise me that Bob, already using his considerable shoe leather, is already at work on the second edition of his memoirs” with the title of this edition, said Vaghi, “Child of Light, a Life of God Forever.”

David Freddoso, former Novak reporter, now writing for the Washington Examiner:

In late 2004, when I started working for him, Novak was writing three news-filled columns every week. By itself, the column was more work than most people could handle, but it was only a small part of what he did in a typical week. At age 74, and still recovering from a broken hip, he was also making two or three appearances on CNN’s “Crossfire” each week. He was producing and appearing on “Capital Gang,” which taped every Friday for Saturday night broadcasting. He made brief Monday afternoon appearances with Judy Woodruff on the CNN segment called “Novak’s Notebook.” He was still doing a show then called “The Novak Zone,” in addition to writing about one-third of the 4,000-word Evans-Novak Political Report every two weeks.

As if that wasn’t enough, he was also writing at that time his memoir, The Prince of Darkness. He would produce a new chapter every two to three weeks for me and his other two staffers to copy-edit. The final, 667-page product is formidable, but consider that Novak’s first draft was twice that length — and just as gripping, in my opinion. (By unfortunate necessity, some great material had to be left on the cutting-room floor.) …

He worked tirelessly, and he spoke with everyone. That’s how he kept his must-read news column running so hot for so long and with such consistency. He could always find something fresh and newsworthy with which to treat his readers in every column. …

When he was forced to retire — and he never would have retired otherwise — I wondered whether perhaps God, whom he found late in life, was giving him a chance to experience rest and peace while he was still alive. God willing, now he rests in peace.

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