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The Confederate Lawyer
August 26, 2009

Robert Novak, Rest in Peace
by Charles G. Mills

Robert Novak

Robert Novak

GLEN COVE, NY — Robert Novak was to journalism what Ty Cobb was to baseball. Just as Ty Cobb mastered the skills of hitting and base-running like no one else ever did, Robert Novak mastered the skills of investigative journalism. Novak correctly saw his job as finding the story and finding out the true facts of the story. He was never afraid of the truth. Like Ty Cobb, he kept his many kindnesses private and had a public reputation for nastiness. He enjoyed his nickname as the “Prince of Darkness.”

He was not simply a superb craftsman. Like Douglas MacArthur, he was a man destined for one profession. No one can imagine MacArthur as anything other than a soldier or Novak as anything other than a journalist. Like MacArthur, Novak believed in Duty, Honor, Country. He never published a story that had trivial significance but potential harm to the country — as Drew Pearson had done during World War II.

Novak was criticized unfairly in the Valerie Plame affair, which was trumped up nonsense. In that case, however, he scrupulously carried out both his duty to the country and his duty to his sources. That was Bob Novak. Few journalists have been more trusted by sources.

He almost seemed to have the gift of prophecy. Before the 2006 election, he provided predictions of the outcomes of the 2008 Congressional elections that proved to be uncanny in their accuracy.

In 1964, the prestigious Eastern press conducted a shameful campaign of libel against Barry Goldwater. Not even David Lawrence gave Goldwater a fair hearing, although he came closer than the rest. Thanks to Novak, the Evans and Novak column, one of the nation’s most prestigious political columns, alone gave fair treatment to Goldwater. Unfortunately, this fairness was a great missed opportunity for Goldwater. Some of the Arizonans in his campaign simply would not communicate with journalists working East of the headwaters of the Rio Grande, and Novak was not able to get the full Goldwater story to get it out to the country.

Novak was immensely loyal. He never missed an opportunity to root for his alma mater, the University of Illinois. He mastered the transition from print journalism to cable news journalism, even walking off the set once to protest one of the more outrageous abuses that television allows.

He was a conservative in politics and character, but nobody, anywhere in the political spectrum, could ignore him or doubt his accuracy or work ethic. Nobody could find things out like he could.

At a time when the Catholic Church was plagued by disloyal troublemakers in its midst giving a false picture to the world, he made the transition from Jew to Catholic through some intermediate steps. He did not, however, join the dissident and disloyal Catholics. True to his craft, he found out what the Church really teaches, just as he would investigate a story, and joined the Church in full loyalty to its teachings. 

Robert Novak fearlessly followed the truth wherever it led him in religion and politics, and no one worked harder than he did to find the truth. We will not see the likes of him again soon.

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The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2009 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

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