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I Spy a Bullshit Columnist 

In your top-secret heart of hearts, are you a Bob Novak supporter? Take quiz, find out.

Wednesday, Aug 10 2005
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Syndicated political columnist and noted conservative Robert Novak -- who has written "Inside Report" for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1966, formerly with late colleague Rowland Evans -- has been at the center of the Washington scandal known as the "Valerie Plame affair" since his column in July 2003, in which he effectively outed her as a CIA agent. The wife of administration critic and former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Plame had suggested her husband for the job of investigating whether Iraq was trying to buy yellowcake uranium to make nuclear weapons. After President Bush's spurious remarks in the State of the Union address about Iraq's uranium aspirations, Wilson went public with his report that he had found no evidence in Iraq to support the claim. Novak's column -- which critics in both political parties decried as a possible breach of national security -- followed a short while later, and now he and scores of other journalists and administration officials are the subject of a federal grand jury probe and special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's still-churning investigation. Novak, 74, citing the advice of his lawyers, has steadfastly refused to name his sources or explain himself in light of accusations that he was manipulated into printing the column by vengeful Bush adviser Karl Rove. Are you an apologist for Bob Novak? Take our quiz and find out!


1) A couple of weeks ago, Novak was suspended from CNN after walking off the set of Inside Politics and using an on-camera "barnyard epithet" in response to James Carville. The pair were discussing the Senate candidacy of former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, when Carville said of Novak: "He's got to show these right-wingers that he's got a backbone, you know. It's why the Wall Street Journal editorial page is watching you. Show 'em that you're tough." Novak said, "Well, I think that's bullshit, and I hate that," then walked off. What did you make of the incident?

A) It just doesn't add up! Really, who'da thunk the continued television appearances of a political pundit could possibly be compromised by his central role in an ongoing federal investigation by a White House-appointed special prosecutor?

B) Wait, what the hell is Inside Politics? Is it like Crossfire, only without the obnoxious bow-tie guy? It sounds more like high school.

C) The true tragedy of all this, of course, is that we lose Bob Novak's important, nasal voice. Gosh, if only there were another right-wing mouthpiece somewhere out there, who could make the rounds of afternoon talk shows that nobody watches and speak badly of Howard Dean ....

2) Considering the strained nature of Novak's appearances on CNN over the past few months, in which he never had to answer questions about the scandal while commenting on it and other political stories, some viewers have questioned whether Novak's hysterics were planned ahead of time, as a means for him and CNN to part ways for a while until the dust settles. How likely, in your opinion, is that scenario?

A) Very. There is nothing that will tear Novak away from a camera except his own sense of self-preservation.

B) I'm sure CNN will soon see the error of its ways, invite Mr. Novak back on, and subject him to the kind of intense grilling that the world's leader in news is known for. (Bonus point for adding: "But first, let's book him on Larry King.")

C) Oh, please. All of these conspiracies ... next you'll have us believe that the United States deliberately cooked up false information and manipulated domestic and international opinion to wage an unnecessary war in Iraq. Where will it all end?

3) A few days after his on-camera blowup, Novak released a statement that said, "I apologize for my conduct, and I'm sorry I did it." Do you think Americans will accept his apology?

A) Well, it depends. Is he talking about all of his appearances on CNN over the years, or just the one where he walked off the set?

B) Of course. Do you think this is the first time James Carville has been told he's full of shit?

C) Sure. Robert Novak has a long track record of forgiving public figures for their moral transgressions. Remember how nice he was to Clinton after he apologized?

4) Novak broke his recent silence on the Plame case in an Aug. 1 column, headlined "Ex-CIA official's remark is wrong," in which he took to task ex-CIA spokesman Bill Harlow for saying he had told Novak that he had some facts wrong before writing his initial column. In his vehement self-defense, Novak wrote: "I never would have written those sentences if Harlow, then-CIA Director George Tenet, or anybody else from the agency had told me that Valerie Plame Wilson's disclosure would endanger herself or anybody." Do you believe him?

A) Sure. Who could possibly imagine that the disclosure of a CIA operative's name might bring her harm? It boggles the mind.

B) Absolutely. It's not like the Bush administration had anything to gain by discrediting Wilson and his wife, and besides, do you really think important people like Karl Rove have gotten where they are today by sitting around plotting their political foes' downfall? (Bonus point for saying this with a straight face.)

C) The lesson learned here: Hey, Tenet, pick up the phone and return a call.

5) This is not the first time Novak has been involved in a ruckus involving anonymous sources. In July 2001, the syndicated columnist revealed that just-accused spy Robert P. Hanssen was his primary source for a column a few years earlier about an FBI agent who resigned after tangling with then-Attorney General Janet Reno. He wrote: "Disclosing confidential sources is unthinkable for a reporter seeking to probe behind the scenes in official Washington, but the circumstances here are obviously extraordinary." Why do you think he would name his sources then, in a comparatively innocuous case, but not now, when his column has become the stepping stone to a grand jury probe?

A) Wait, wait, wait. He was using a guy who turned out to be a spy as a source? Yeah, there's no reason to doubt the validity of what this journalist writes -- none.

B) Well, those circumstances were "obviously extraordinary." These circumstances are extraordinary only if you look at them really, really closely, in just the right kind of light.

C) One word: integrity.

6) Many other prominent journalists -- from jailed New York Times reporter Judith Miller to Meet the Press host Tim Russert to noted Washington Post scribe Walter Pinkus -- have spoken to the grand jury about what they knew (and from whom), although it remains unclear how these reporters figure into the special prosecutor's investigation. There's been a public outcry demanding that these journalists come clean with the public, as well, but so far they have followed their lawyers' advice to not answer questions. Do you think they have an obligation to define their role in a scandal that their colleagues and media outlets are covering ceaselessly?

A) Look, these are celebrity journalists. They're different.

B) I don't want to be undemocratic or anything, but doesn't everyone agree that it might be more convenient to just leave Judy Miller in jail?

C) Hmm ... I'll have to see what Novak says about it this week on Capital Gang. Oh, wait ....

7) Given Novak's distinguished career as a journalist and television commentator -- including almost 50 years covering Washington -- how do you think he'll emerge from the scandal and his CNN suspension?

A) In handcuffs.

B) With a fair amount of pomposity, I'd wager.

C) Golden. And I bet he'll look especially tanned and rested during his 25-city book tour, when he'll tell us all about everything.


How to score:

Score zero points for every "A" answer, one point for every "B," and two points for every "C."

0-6 points: Hey, was it Evans or Novak who died? I can't tell just by looking ....

7-10 points: What ever happened to treason, anyway? Do they still arrest people for that?

11-14 points: You are a true Bob Novak apologist. And, no, Mrs. Novak, we hadn't read his column in years either.

About The Author

Matt Palmquist

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