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Novak unfolds career, defends Plame outing

THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS: 50 YEARS OF REPORTING IN WASHINGTON, by Robert D. Novak, Crown, 662 pages, $29.95

The title of this political/journalistic memoir comes from a nickname given Robert Novak by a fellow journalist, who called him "The Prince of Darkness" because of his "unsmiling pessimism about the prospects for American and Western civilization."

Novak is best known as the other half of the Evans/Novak column, which he wrote with Rowland Evans. For 30 years, the column appeared in some of the country's most important newspapers. Novak has written the column solo since Evans retired, as well as authoring six other books, appearing regularly on CNN's "Crossfire" and guesting on NBC's "Meet the Press" more than a hundred times.

The first chapter of "The Prince of Darkness" is an emotional description of how Novak learned that Joseph Wilson, former ambassador to Gabon, was going to Niger to ascertain whether that country had supplied uranium to Iraq. This was the infamous illegal "outing" of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, whose career was ruined by Novak's controversial column in 2003.

Somehow, Novak has escaped legal entanglements, even though it was also his column that led to the accusations against vice president Dick Cheney's assistant, Scooter Libby, in turn leading to his conviction, followed by a commutation from President Bush.

Novak is adamant that in revealing Plame's CIA connection he did nothing wrong.

The rest of the book deals with Novak's explosive career as he worked at the Associated Press in Omaha, Lincoln and Indianapolis, then started covering Washington for several Midwestern papers. On one occasion, he met famed poet Ezra Pound who allegedly advised Novak not to worry about accuracy in his reporting.

Whether accurate or not, Novak has always been feisty, both in print and on television.

Novak's first marriage failed, but nearly four years later he married Geraldine Williams, a secretary to George Reedy, who was President Johnson's press secretary. LBJ insisted that he host the wedding and reception at The Elms, his mansion in Washington. Novak declined, but Johnson said he would do it anyway, then sent his private plane to Texas to provide transportation for Geraldine's family.

Through a combination of print and television journalism, Novak has become a wealthy man. He and his wife have two children — Zelda and Alexander — upon whom they have doted.

Novak's wife joined the St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. — then talked Robert into attending with her, and eventually converting.

Novak writes that he was impressed by two charismatic priests: Father Peter Vaghi and Father John McCloskey, the latter known as "a world-class proselytizer."

According to Novak, Sen. Pat Moynihan, Democrat from New York, helped celebrate his baptism, saying to journalist Al Hunt, "Well, Novak is now a Catholic. The question is: When will he become a Christian?"


Parry Sorensen is a professor emeritus of communications at the University of Utah. E-mail: PDSORENSEN@aol.com