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Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post

He was an opinionated op-ed man, a combative conservative on television, but through it all, Robert Novak prided himself on being a shoe-leather reporter.

That was true, in the sense that Novak regularly vacuumed up scraps and scoops from deep within the Republican Party. But his half-century career was also a monument to Washington insiderdom, to carrying coded messages for the sources he so assiduously courted.

Novak, who died yesterday at 78, was always well-wired on the right, and it was one such relationship, with George W. Bush's confidant Karl Rove, that drew him into a career-defining crisis.

"Karl and I had grown close since he began plotting Bush's path to the presidency as early as 1995," Novak wrote in "The Prince of Darkness," the memoir titled with the unflattering nickname he embraced. "I had never enjoyed such a good source inside the White House. Rove obviously thought I was useful for his purposes, too. Such symbiotic relationships, built on self-interest, are the rule in high-level Washington journalism."


Syndicated columnist Robert Novak died this week at 78, and I already miss him. I first talked to him 25 years ago, when I was a newly hired regional political director at the Republican National Committee. Guys like me weren't even supposed to talk with reporters, let alone bigfeet like Novak. Someone told me he was calling, and so, palms sweating, I picked up the telephone and sheepishly said hello. "I hear they hired some young whippersnapper over there," he said, "and wanted to introduce myself." Then, ending the small talk, he handed down Novak Rule No. 1. "In my world, you have a choice ... you can either be a source or a target ..." I gulped for air and wisely chose the "source" category, after which he growled, "Good," and hung up.

Sucks to be shoe leather.
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