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Robert David Sanders "Bob" Novak (February 26, 1931 – August 18, 2009) was a syndicated columnist, journalist, television personality, author, and conservative political commentator. Born to working class Ukrainian/Lithuanian secular Jews in Joliet, Illinoismarker, Novak went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaignmarker (UI) and worked for two newspapers before serving for the U.S. Army in the Korean War. He then became a reporter for the Associated Press and then for The Wall Street Journal. He teamed up with Rowland Evans in 1963 to start Inside Report, which became the longest running syndicated political column in U.S. history and ran in hundreds of papers. They also started the Evans-Novak Political Report, a notable biweekly newsletter, in 1967.

Novak and Evans played a significant role for CNN after the network's founding. He worked as a well-known television personality in programs such as The Capital Gang, Crossfire, and Evans, Novak, Hunt, & Shields. He also wrote for numerous other publications such as Reader's Digest. On August 4, 2008, Novak announced that he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, that his prognosis was "dire", and that he was retiring. He succumbed to the disease on August 18, 2009 after having returned home to spend his last days with his family.

His colleagues nicknamed Novak 'the Prince of Darkness', a description that he embraced and later used as a title for his autobiography. He started out with moderate or liberal views, but these shifted right-ward over time. He later served as a notable voice for American conservatism in his writings and in his television appearances while taking differing views on issues such as U.S.-Israel relations and the invasion of Iraq. He also broke several major stories in his career, and he played a role in media events such as the CIA leak scandal. Novak converted to Roman Catholicism in May 1998 after his wife, Geraldine, did so. He had two children, a daughter and a son.

Early life and early career

Novak was born in Joliet, Illinoismarker, the son of Jane Sanders and Maurice Novak, a chemical engineer. His paternal grandparents immigrated from Ukrainemarker, and his mother's family was from Lithuaniamarker. Novak's parents had a Jewish background, but they avoided interaction with their local Jewish community and rarely attended religious services. Neighbors falsely considered Novak's family to be Polish. Novak suffered from chronic bronchitis through his early childhood, which led his mother to drive him to and from school instead of letting him walk. Because of the constant family attention, his cousins mockingly called him "Baby Jesus". Novak also loved to tease, offend, and shock his family from an early age, and he later compared himself to French rebel Bertrand de Born.

Novak's journalism career began when he was in high school as a student-writer for the Joliet Herald-News, his hometown newspaper, and he received ten cents per inch. After high school, he attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaignmarker (UI) from 1948 to 1952. His father had attended the college, and he later remarked that "I was an Illini from birth". He became a brother of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, which caters to Jewish students, while attending the University of Illinoismarker. Novak would later use the group's 'secret handshake' whenever he met fellow alumnus Wolf Blitzer.

He continued gaining journalism experience as a sports writer for the Daily Illini (DI), the college's student newspaper. Novak's wrote how his disappointment about not being named the paper's main sports editor for the 1951-52 school year (he lost the job to Tony Garcia) led him to skip his senior classes and to work full time for the Champaign-Urbana Courier. After four years at the University, Novak left it to become a full-time journalist without a degree, even though he was only one course short of the requirements. In 1993, a college Dean determined that four mandatory physical education classes that Novak had went through for no credit should constitute enough credit hours, and Novak received his Bachelors Degree. Novak later described his academic achievements as "very uneven." He spoke at the university's May 1998 commencement, and in his speech he credited the college for bringing him up from working class immigrant status into the American middle class.

During the Korean War, Novak served in the U.S. Army, and he reached the rank of lieutenant. He later stated that he had fully expected to die in the service. After serving from 1952 to 1954, he joined the Associated Press (AP) and became a political correspondent in Omaha, Nebraskamarker. He was transferred to Lincoln, Nebraskamarker and then to Indianapolis, Indianamarker, covering the two state legislatures in his reporting. In 1957, Novak was transferred to Washington, D.C.marker where he reported on Congress. He left the AP to join the D.C. bureau of The Wall Street Journal in 1958, covering the Senate. He rose to the rank of chief congressional correspondent in 1961. He generally did his work without using a tape recordings or paper notes, relying just on his detailed memory. Novak's colleagues at The Wall Street Journal later said that he absorbed himself in his work so completely that he often forgot to shave, left his shoes untied, and even started accidentally placing burning cigarettes into his pockets.

Later career and recognition

In 1963, Novak teamed up with Rowland Evans, a former Congressional correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, to create the Inside Report, a newspaper column published four times a week. It was also known as Inside Washington. Evans did not know Novak at all except through his reputation when they started. They each had a contrasting public image, with Novak dressing sloppy and Evans' appearing like a diplomat with a refined manner. Their column mixed standard reporting with their own editorial opinions. It began with muted, mostly centrist views, but their words drifted rightward over time. Novak's experience covering the Six-Day War in the field influenced his beliefs towards Evans' pro-Palestinian sympathies.

The column's factual accuracy has been called into question. Novak stated in his autobiography, “We were so ravenous for exclusive news that we were susceptible to manipulation by leaks, compromising our credibility”. Chicago Sun-Times became the "home" paper for Inside Report from 1966 onward. Novak continued the column after Evans' departure on May 15, 1993. Evans' died in 2001, and Inside Report ran in over 150 papers at that time through Creators Syndicate. Publication ended after Novak's cancer diagnosis in July 2008. Bloomberg L.P. has stated that the column was a must-read among political insiders, as did The Washingtonian. It was the longest running syndicated political column in U.S. history.

In 1967, Evans and Novak set up a bi-weekly political newsletter called the Evans-Novak Political Report (ENPR). They took a more broad approach in this series compared to their column, focusing on forecast elections and predicting socio-political trends rather than on breaking stories. Regnery Publishing eventually bought ENPR from Novak, but it left editorial control and hiring decisions in Novak's hands. In 2006, Timothy P. Carney of Regnery became Novak's partner in the newsletter. On February 4, 2009, Novak announced he was ending ENPR's publication. This last issue described the implications of Barack Obama's election as President, which the authors labeled a political 'paradigm shift'. Conservative writers such as John Fund, who later worked for The Wall Street Journal, and David Freddoso, who later worked for National Review Online, started off as contributors to the ENPR.

Novak appeared on CNN on its opening week in 1980. His status as a well-known print reporter brought a sense of credibility to the fledgling new network, and Novak soon created a weekly interview show that Evans co-hosted. Novak became a regular panel member of The McLaughlin Group in 1982, starring alongside McLaughlin as well as Novak's personal friends Al Hunt and Mark Shields. Novak sparred frequently with McLaughlin despite the fact that they both held similar political views. He established a public image as a combative debater on the program. Novak then became the executive producer of The Capital Gang, which also featured him as a key member of the show. He also took over as host of Crossfire from Pat Buchanan.

On August 4, 2005, Novak walked off the set during a live broadcast of the show Inside Politics, on which he appeared along with Democratic strategist and analyst James Carville. During a heated discussion about Florida Republican Representative Katherine Harris' just-announced 2006 bid for U.S. Senate, Novak uttered an expletive after Carville remarked that Novak had “to show these right-wingers that he’s got a backbone.” As anchor Ed Henry was asking Carville a question, Novak threw off his microphone and stormed off the set. Critics later charged that Novak had done so to avoid discussing recent developments in the Valerie Plame affair on-air. In response to the incident, CNN suspended Novak for one day and apologized to its viewers, calling the outburst "inexcusable and unacceptable."

Novak retired from CNN after 25 years on December 23, 2005, stating that his relationship with the network lasted "longer than most marriages". Novak also said he had "no complaints" about CNN. Fox News had confirmed one week earlier that Novak had signed a contract to do unspecified work for the network. Novak stated that he still would have left CNN even if he had not been kicked off in the August incident and did not go to Fox News because the network was more friendly to his point of view. Novak said:

His memoirs, entitled Prince of Darkness: Fifty Years Reporting in Washington, were published in July 2007 by Crown Forum, a division of Random House. "Prince of Darkness" was a nickname given to Novak by his friend, reporter John Lindsay, because Lindsay "thought for a young man I took a very dim view of the prospects for our civilization," Novak said in an interview. Novak loved the nickname. He once dressed up as Darth Vader to a dinner with the the Gridiron Club, and he then sang a song about Dick Cheney as the character.

At his height, Novak was one of the fifth most read columnists in the U.S. Throughout his career, Novak wrote for numerous other publications, serving notably as a contributing editor for Reader's Digest. He appeared on NBC's program Meet the Press over 200 times. He served as a longtime CNN television personality, and he appeared intermittently on Fox News after his August 2005 departure from CNN. After his death, L. Brent Bozell called him a 'gladiator' of American conservatism. Novak also played a role among many other reporters in Timothy Crouse's seminal non-fiction book The Boys on the Bus that described reporters covering the lead-up to the 1972 Presidential election. In August 2004, The Washington Post stated that Novak might "wince unto this day" at his portrayal in the book.

Novak received an Alumni Achievement Award from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1997. Novak frequently visited his alma mater and interacted with students, establishing a scholarship in his name to support English and Rhetoric majors in 1992.He spoke at the college's May 1998 commencement, urging graduates to use their education as a "bulwark against tyranny". Novak also served as a Radford Visiting Professor of Journalism for Baylor Universitymarker in 1987. He was the 2001 winner of the National Press Club's 'Fourth Estate Award' for lifetime achievement in journalism as well.

Personal life

Novak's first wife was Rosanna Hall. They divorced. In 1962 he married Geraldine Williams. Geraldine was a secretary for President Lyndon Johnson. Their daughter, Zelda, worked for Ronald Reagan's Presidential campaign and for Vice President Dan Quayle. They have a son Alex, who works as an editor at Regnery Publishing. Robert Novak was not related to social commentator Michael Novak.

In his later life, Novak drove a 2002 black Corvette and he had his license lifted several times for speeding. He also participated in a charity car race in Sebring, Florida, which he won. The Washingtonian labeled him a "speed freak". Novak was also a passionate fan of basketball, particularly of the Washington Bullets , and the Maryland Terrapins men's basketball team. He was a member of the Terrapins Club booster organization. Wolf Blitzer remarked in August 2009, "I always used to see him... Redskins games, Wizards games, always there."

Political and religious views

Novak was a registered Democrat despite his conservative political views. He held more centrist views in his early career, and he supported the Democratic presidential candidacies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, of whom he was a friend. In later years, he said that he maintained his registered Democrat status so he could vote in District of Columbia Democratic primaries where victory would be tantamount to election. He was also close friends with Everett Dirksen. Novak later stated that reading Whittaker Chambers’ book Witness changed his views from moderate-to-liberal to a strident anti-communism. Reading Chambers' message as a U.S. Army lieutenant in the Korean war gave him a feeling of moral absolutism in his cause. Novak's views turned further rightward through the 1970s, but Novak remained strongly critical towards Ronald Reagan and his supply side economics in the early 1980s. Novak changed his mind after debating economics with Reagan face to face, and he later wrote that Reagan was one of the very few politicians that he ever respected.

Novak strongly supported the Korean, Vietnamese, and Grenadian wars, but he took an anti-interventionist stance after that. He was a hard-line social conservative as well, holding pro-life and anti-divorce views. He also generally tended toward low-tax, small-government libertarian views, but his disagreements with mainstream Republicans and neoconservatives—specifically his opposition to the Iraq War— earned him the label of being a "paleoconservative". Novak's political column once stated that he considers every single President in his lifetime to be a failure, with the lone exception of Reagan. After Novak's death on August 18, 2009, Chicago Sun Times described him as an independent voice. The Daily Telegraph stated that Novak felt "glee" at starting inter-party fighting.

Novak was raised in secular Jewish culture, and he was non-religious in his early life. He briefly attended Unitarian and then Methodist services at the behest of his first and second wives, but he was not interested in either faith. He particularly disliked the Methodists' anti-Vietnam War position. Novak was introduced to Catholicism in the early 1980s when his friend Jeffrey Bell, a Republican political consultant and former Reagan aide, gave him some books on the Catholic faith. At that time, Novak had nearly died from spinal meningitis.

Novak's wife, Geraldine, began regular churchgoing in the early 1990s, and she eventually settled into a local Catholic parish. Novak converted to Roman Catholicism in May 1998 after meeting Peter Vaghi, whom he had known before Vaghi switched from politics to the priesthood. He had also had what he called a "chilling" conversation with a Syracuse Universitymarker student whom he thought had channeled the Holy Spirit. However, the New York Post's widely-read Page Six gossip column has stated that he was converted to Catholicism by Father C. John McClosky III, a leader of Opus Dei, "the secretive sect which drew so much attention with The Da Vinci Code." Andrew Sullivan also stated that Novak was a member. Al Hunt, Judy Woodruff, Fred Barnes, Margaret Carlson, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Henry Hyde, and Rick Santorum attended Novak's baptism, with some of them openly crying. Novak felt that his new faith did not influence his personal behavior or his political views, saying "I'm a Christian now, but I still have some bad traits."

In July 2007, Novak expressed support for Ron Paul's bid for the presidency. In the same year, and shortly after the summer publication Novak's memoirs, he was interviewed by former columnist Bill Steigerwald. Asked of the future of the country, Novak said:

David Frum, writing for National Review, essentially dismissed Novak as a contributor to the modern conservative movement in March 2003. His statement prompted a rejoinder from Novak and defenses by other commentators. Frum then wrote his book The Right Man motivated by what he called "Novak’s disregard for truth". Novak attacked Frum again in his autobiography, labeling Frum a “liar” and a "cheat". After Novak's death, Frum wrote on his blog criticizing Novak while also reflecting that "Novak and I were fated always to misunderstand one another."

Notable events in Novak's career

Nixon administration

Novak pursued a continuous attack upon Richard Nixon's key aide H.R. Haldeman. He later wrote in his autobiography, "Bob Haldeman was treated more harshly because he refused any connection with me. He made himself more of a target than he had to be by refusing to be a source." Novak's partner Rowland Evans ended up on Richard Nixon's "master list" of enemies, although Novak himself was not mentioned. When they had started the column, Novak paid a 'courtesy call' to Nixon, who took the opportunity to admonish them to give Republicans a break.

Ford administration

Novak, along with collaborator Rowland Evans, learned in 1976 that a high-ranking Ford administration official had privately said that the current Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe was preferable to the radical nationalism that could otherwise have came about. Novak broke the story in his column, which resulted in a government scandal. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has stated that the issue significantly hurt Gerald Ford's prospects in the 1976 Presidential election.

Orlando Letelier assassination

During the FBImarker investigation into Orlando Letelier's assassination, the contents of the briefcase he had with him were copied and leaked to Novak and his partner Rowland Evans as well as Jack Anderson of the New York Times by the FBI before being returned to Letelier's widow. According to Novak and Evans, the documents showed that Letelier was in constant contact with the leadership of the Unidad Popular exiled in East Berlin and supported by the East German Governmentmarker. The FBI suspected that these leaders had been recruited by the Stasi. According to Novak, Evans and Anderson documents in the briefcase showed that Letelier had maintained contact with Salvador Allende's daughter, Beatriz Allende, wife of Cubanmarker DGI station chief Luis Fernandez Ona.

According to the Novak and Evans, Letelier was able to receive funding of $5,000 a month from the Cuban government and under the supervision of Beatriz Allende, he used his contacts within the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and western human rights groups to organize a campaign within the United Nations as well as the US Congress to isolate the new Chilean government. Novak and Evans claimed this was part of an organized campaign to put pressure on Pinochet’s government closely coordinated by the Cuban and Soviet governments, using individuals like Letelier to implement these efforts. Letelier's briefcase also allegedly contained his address book which contained the names of dozens of known and suspected Eastern Bloc intelligence agents. All correspondence between Letelier and individuals in Cuba was supposedly handled via Julian Rizo, who used his diplomatic status to hide his activities.

Fellow IPS member and friend Saul Landau described Evans and Novak as part of an “organized right wing attack”. In 1980, Letelier's widow, Isabel, wrote in the New York Times that the money sent to her late husband from Cuba was from western sources, and that Cuba had simply acted as an intermediary. Reporter John Nichols has wrote in The Nation that observers should "have a hard time forgiving" Novak for his role in the incident.

CIA leak scandal

In 2003, he identified Valerie Plame as a CIA "operative" in his column, as well as the organizational name of the company she used as cover, Brewster Jennings & Associates, the other operatives who worked for Brewster Jennings, and the informants who met with them. Although it is illegal for anyone, government official or otherwise, to knowingly distribute classified information (under US Code, Title 18, Section 793, Paragraph e), Novak was never charged with this crime because there was no evidence that Novak knew that Ms. Plame was a covert agent. Novak reported the information was provided to him by two "senior administration officials." These were eventually revealed to be Richard Armitage, who e-mailed him using the pseudonym "Wildford", with Novak assuming Karl Rove's comments as confirmation. During 2005, there were questions in the press regarding the apparent absence of focus on Novak by the special prosecutor Fitzgerald and the grand jury, specifically questions suggesting he may have already testified about his sources despite insisting publicly that he would not do so.

On July 12, 2006, Novak published a column at Human Events stating:

When Richard Armitage admitted to being a source, Novak wrote an op-ed column describing Armitage's self-disclosure as "deceptive."

In 2008, however, an unrepentant Novak said in an interview with Barbara Matusow from the Nation Ledger:

In the same interview, Novak also stated:

After Novak's death, David Frum commented that the whole episode had been ironic given that Richard Armitage, Joe Wilson, Valerie Plame, and Novak all had exactly the same opinions against a potential war in Iraq.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Novak took on a pro-Palestinian stance in the conflict, often criticizing Israelmarker. In his syndicated column, Novak blamed Israelmarker for the plight and mass exodus of Palestinian Christians. He has also met with several Palestinian Authority officials, including former Education Minister and Hamas leader Nasser al-Shaer. Novak praised former president Jimmy Carter for likening Israeli policy toward the Palestinians to "apartheid" in Israel. Novak once said that his opinions on Israel caused the greatest amount of his hate mail. He viewed this as understandable, saying "Israel is so important to Jewish people and its preservation is so vital".

After the 9/11 attacks, Novak stated that he believed the perpetrators had been largely motivated by revenge for U.S. support for Israel. He also argued that the event brought the nations closer together "in a way that cannot improve long-term U.S. policy objectives". In a November 2001 episode of Capital Gang, Novak said, "I am always amazed how American conservatives can get involved in this absolutely mindless support of the transigent [sic] Israeli policy." He argued that Yasser Arafat would be willing to accept Israel's right to exist but Ariel Sharon would never recognize a Palestinian state. He also referred to Hamas as 'freedom fighters', which prompted Margaret Carlson to remark that he's "the only person who would call Hamas freedom fighters" and Novak to respond that "people all over the world do".

The Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Ira Forman, has called Novak's columns on Israel "awful". David Frum has called his column after the 9/11 attacks an "absurdity". The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has stated that Novak "ran a running battle with pro-Israel groups, claiming they were unduly influential in Washington" and that he "excoriated Jews in public service who were not shy about their faith". Reporter John Nichols, writing for The Nation, has praised Novak's views on Israel specifically and on foreign policy in general. Nichols remarked, "Novak maintained a healthy, and very American, disdain for military adventurism." Activist group Churches for Middle East Peace has also praised Novak's stance.

Amnesty, Abortion and Acid

On April 25, 1972, George McGovern won the Massachusetts primary and Novak phoned Democratic politicians around the country, who agreed with his assessment that blue-collar workers voting for McGovern did not understand what he really stood for. On April 27, 1972 Novak reported in a column that an unnamed Democratic senator had talked to him about McGovern. "The people don’t know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot," the Senator said. "Once middle America Catholic middle America, in particular finds this out, he’s dead." The label stuck and McGovern became known as the candidate of "amnesty, abortion and acid."

Novak was accused of manufacturing the quote. Novak has claimed that, to rebut this criticism, he took the senator to lunch after the campaign and had asked whether he could identify him as the source, but the senator said he would not allow his identity to be revealed. "Oh, he had to run for re-election", said Novak. "The McGovernites would kill him if they knew he had said that," Novak added.

On July 15, 2007, Novak disclosed on Meet the Press that the unnamed senator was Thomas Eagleton. Political analyst Bob Shrum says that Eagleton would never have been selected as McGovern's running mate if it had been known at the time that Eagleton was the source of the quote. Shrum said:

Eagleton died March 4, 2007, "relieving me of the need to conceal his identity," Novak wrote. Some of Eagleton’s former aides were reportedly angry that Eagleton's name was attached to a quote that made him appear duplicitous. Asked about the story, Novak acknowledged that disclosing Eagleton’s identity was "a judgment on my part." If there’s any disagreement, Eagleton could settle it with him in heaven "or wherever we end up," Novak added.

Brain tumor diagnosis and resignation

On July 23, 2008, Novak received a citation from police for "failing to yield a right of way" to an 86-year-old pedestrian, Don Clifford Liljenquist, who was hit by Novak's Corvette in slow-moving traffic. Novak drove approximately one block from the scene before being flagged down by a cyclist who had witnessed the accident and subsequently called the police. Novak said that he was unaware that a collision had occurred until being informed by eyewitnesses. The pedestrian was taken to George Washington University Hospitalmarker and treated for a dislocated shoulder.

On July 27, 2008, just days after the car accident, Novak was admitted to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Bostonmarker, where he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In a written statement given to his publisher, Novak said: “Doctors will soon begin appropriate treatment. I will be suspending my journalistic work for an indefinite but, God willing, not too lengthy period.” Hospital residents check for brain tumors in patients who didn't realize they struck something in a car accident, as this can be a focal neurologic sign. Novak tendered his resignation from his column on August 4, 2008 after revealing that the prognosis on his tumor was considered "dire". Later that month, he began writing new opinion columns for Creators Syndicate.

On February 4, 2009, Novak announced in his newsletter, the Evans-Novak Political Report, that the biweekly newsletter would be coming to an end due to his illness. The newsletter, started four years after the column, had been published continuously since 1967.

Novak died on August 18, 2009 due to complications from brain cancer. He had returned home to spend his last days with his family after being hospitalized from July 10 to July 24.

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