RIP, Robert Novak
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak, one of the nation’s most influential journalists, who relished his “Prince of Darkness” public persona, died at home here early Tuesday morning after a battle with brain cancer.
“He was someone who loved being a journalist, loved journalism and loved his country and loved his family," Novak’s wife, Geraldine, told the Sun-Times on Tuesday.
Novak’s remarkable and long-running career made him a powerful presence in newspaper columns, newsletters, books and on television.
On May 15, 1963, Novak teamed up with the late Rowland Evans Jr. to create the “Inside Report” political column, which became the must-read syndicated column. Evans tapped Novak, then a 31-year old correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, to help with the workload of a six-days-a-week column.
Evans and Novak were the odd couple: Evans a Philadelphia blueblood and Yale graduate; Novak from Joliet, Ill., who attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.
Novak handled the column solo after Evans retired in 1993. The Chicago Sun-Times has been Novak’s home paper since 1966.
Robert David Sanders Novak, 78, was born and raised in Joliet. His first newspaper jobs were with the Joliet Herald-News and, while a student at the University of Illinois, the Champaign-Urbana Courier. Novak maintained a lifelong tie to the University of Illinois, with the school creating the Robert D. Novak chair of Western Civilization and Culture in 2001.
Mrs. Novak said that her husband diedat 4:30 a.m. He'd returned home after being hospitalized between July 10 and July 24. Novak’s malignant brain tumor was discovered on July 27, 2008.
Lynn Sweet pens a nice obituary for Mr. Novak but Ken Tomlinson, a former colleague of his, pens a perfect eulogy in honor of his friend. (HT to Captain Ed for the link.)
The Evans-Novak column ran under the title “the Sonnenfeldt Doctrine.” When I finished reading the column that early spring day in 1976, I remember thinking, this is quintessential Bob Novak.
State Department Counselor Helmut Sonnenfeldt had told a London gathering of American ambassadors that Soviet domination of Eastern Europe was actually necessary for world peace. In fact, Poland was a good example of the benefits of Soviet control because that had enabled the Poles to overcome their “romantic” political instincts which had led to so many “disasters in their past.”
This column had almost everything. Those words were contained in an official State Department cable slipped to Novak by a highly placed source. Henry Kissinger’s right-hand man was confirming that détente was code for Communist victory over freedom. Within days, candidate Ronald Reagan who was challenging President Ford in Republican primaries, declared the Sonnenfeldt Doctrine meant “slaves should accept their fate.”
For Novak, about the only one of his political obsessions that’s missing were Republican green-eyeshades defending 70% tax rates as the only means to get a balanced budget.
Ford survived the conservative eruption over Sonnenfeldt’s words only to have the column indirectly revived in his presidential debate with Jimmy Carter. A New York Times reporter asked the President about Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and, still defensive over the Sonnenfeldt Doctrine, the hapless Ford stubbornly insisted that the Polish people were free. The election was over.
For those who believed the Cold War should be won, Novak’s Sonnenfeldt Doctrine column was a gift that kept on giving. Eight years later I was director of the Reagan Administration’s Voice of America when top State Department official Lawrence Eagleburger summoned me to his office. He was enraged by tough VOA editorials damning Polish strongman Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski as being “Soviet imposed” on the people of Poland.
At one point, an aide interrupted Eagleburger’s harangue. “Tomlinson is a close friend of Bob Novak,” he explained. “Before he leaves we better have an agreement that he will not tell Novak of this meeting.” Suddenly Eagleburger’s demeanor changed. There were no more complaints about our anti-Soviet Polish broadcasts.
Throughout my life, I followed Bob Novak journalism like I followed the careers of my favorite sports figures. Later, as editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest, I would become one of Novak’s nominal bosses, though the fact was that every time I worked with him or was associated with him in any way, it was I who felt privileged. Few journalists have ever affected this country like Bob Novak.
It's a superb eulogy, and well worth the full read. I recall Mr. Novak on CNN's "Crossfire" when it was still a decent show. Mr. Tomlinson goes over this aspect of Mr. Novak's career, and unabashedly admits that Mr. Novak didn't shed a tear when "Capitol Gang" and "Crossfire" ended. As he puts it, Mr. Novak knew that CNN was finished the moment Ted Turner lefty, and Time, Inc. took over. (And those who watch the ratings can gain a sense of glee in knowing that Mr. Novak was quite right in that assessment.)
At the beginning I compared him to William F. Buckley. The reason for this is that both men were the punditry giants in my life. No one else I know of could compare to those men. In my humble opinion, those two were men playing the political game with boys. We both miss Mr. Buckley, and we'll mourn the passing of Mr. Novak. RIP, sir. You have earned it.