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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
28 Feb 2015
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When he was secretary of state, Henry Kissinger was often — and deliberately — seen in the … Read More.

The Robert Novak I Know


When people learn that for nearly 40 years — including more than 17 spent disagreeing, often heatedly, with him on CNN's weekly "Capital Gang" — that columnist Robert Novak has been my good friend, they often shake their heads in disbelief. In 30 years of covering American politics, the most frequently asked question I get about any journalistic colleague has remained the same: What is Bob Novak really like? This is a question people do not generally ask me about Nevada governor Jim Gibbons or the secretary of the army.

In this week, when we learned that he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor so serious that he is ending, after 45 years, his widely read and influential syndicated column, let me try and answer that question.

In Washington, D.C., a city notorious for front-runners where too many of us in and out of the press corps, pursue the company of the currently popular and prominent, Novak is a shining exception. He is loyal and devoted to old friends who long ago lost their position, their power and their professional usefulness. You can count on it: If you are Bob Novak's friend, you are Bob Novak's friend.

He hates to lose. Whether it's a bet on politics or sports or just an argument. Nobody works harder. Novak has always been a reporter first. Although he had access to national leaders, he did not — unlike so many of his competitors — pretend that a long lunch with a cabinet secretary was a substitute for reporting.

An anecdote: In recent years, the American conservative farm system has produced a bumper crop of bottle-blond right-wing women whom you cannot avoid on cable TV. One of these vixens, notorious for her blatant flattering and flirting with older, powerful men who might help her, batted her baby-blues and turned her charms on Novak one day. I overheard her pitch that went like this, "Bob, you are truly my idol.

I want to be just like you. What one piece of advice can you give me to some day achieve what you have achieved?" Unmoved, Novak told the young Samantha Glick what she did not want to hear: "I would recommend doing what I did, starting as an AP reporter covering the Nebraska state legislature."

As he wrote in his riveting and refreshingly candid autobiography, "The Prince of Darkness," he learned well on that Nebraska tour that it "paid to be friends with low-level staffers." He has done the same in Washington. When he first interviewed me in the late '60s, I was a widely unknown campaign manager and, by nobody's definition, a well-placed source.

Bob has never pretended to be objective. I often kid him that his cure for declining Sunday school attendance or a national epidemic of halitosis has always been the same — Cut the capital gains tax! That tax-cutter's zeal may explain Novak taking too seriously an altogether unlikely presidential candidate like multimillionaire Steve Forbes.

Most people generally seek to put on a public face more appealing than the less attractive reality of their private personality. Bob Novak is the total opposite. His public "game face" is a scowl. He looks about as happy as an orange-suited prisoner on an Alabama chain gang sent to pick up roadside litter on a 100-degree August day. While Novak can be prickly, he is far more likeable — with a truly wonderful smile — in private than he is in public. We have argued about the misimpression he creates with his over-the-top declarations endorsing economic Darwinism. Bob Novak, it will pain his critics to learn, is an exceptionally generous human being whose acts of charity are literally countless.

His conversion to Catholicism has been a great source of strength, comfort and confidence. All I can say is that I count myself fortunate to call this talented, loyal man, Bob Novak, my friend.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



1 Comments | Post Comment
Mr.Shields; Reading to the end of your article trying to find some tunnel at the end of your light, I must report that I succeeded. I was raised Catholic, and I'll be Catholic until they shut the doors on me, even if I never cross the threshold of another Catholic Church. And the sad thing is that I know your friend, Mr. Novak will fit right in there. There were always a lot of people in every Catholic Church I ever attended that thought the American Flag flies in heaven. Now; I am uneducated. Perhaps I am uneducable. I will be forever grateful for the education I recieved at the hands of the saintly ruler across the knuckles Ursalines; though I recognize now that much of it was propaganda. And I find it sad, and not a little frightening that so many Catholics are bound to the church because it represents the most reactionary, parochial, bigoted, and backward looking of attitudes present in America today. And so what if I'll always be like Erasmus and leave my church when I find a better one, knowing there is no such thing. I don't have to like it. I doubt that Erasmus liked his church much. And he might have liked it even less if he knew to what extent Protestantism drove Catholicism out of the cleansing waters of Humanism and into a deeper reaction that embraced the past more tenderly than any possible future. And now we have as our Pope a man who once swore an oath to Adolf Hitler. What good is his word, and what power has his prayer?.... Catholicism has always had a political agenda. I think they should take care of their flock and stay out of politics. Politics is a place where reasonable people tangle with practical problems in a rational manor. If you trust in God, let God handle your problems. Don't tell me you live in faith, which is all trust in authority anyway, and then say you have the right to sit at a table with rational people. The Catholics have one thing right. They want to build a community.They call it a community of Christ. And yet, it is primarily through the efforts of the church, the Catholic Church, which was the first modern western state, with the first modern system of Western Law that has been the great destroyer of communities all around the world -in its effort to build one large all encompassing Catholic Community. But it does not matter to me if your community is the first Baptist church, or the thirteenth. These are all communities, and if they are truly communities, then they have power over their own, and they also bear responsibility for their own. I would not blame any of these church communities for dropping out of the larger community of the U.S.A... Clearly the U.S. does not support their morals, so why should they support the Nation? And I would not punish any community for withdrawing from this nation. I wish, that if they do not support what is happening, that they would withdraw. If the Jews don't want to be Americans, and think they are better, run up a flag and govern yourselves. Live on your own, like the Kings of England. If the Catholics want to be Catholics first, and Americans second, let them them be. If all the Baptists want their own government, so be it. The fact is that all of these groups have the support of the state, and in part support the state, and all the while undercut the fabric of unity we all need to make the state work as it should, for all the people regardless of faith, or place of origin. If these communites were really communities, they would police their own, punish their own, defend their own, and understand that each must bear the responsibility for any crimes committed by their own. The invention of Western Law broke down every isolated community in Europe, and made possible great nation states. But; the break down of community has continued until now, parents do not dare to discipline their own children. The churches realize things have gone too far. How far do they want to go in establishing the staus quo ante? Because, right now, they represent a great destructive force in this country. And, I'm not buying it. I don't think they can manage themselves let alone manage the country. They are playing a game against the very state that supports them. I understand the game. It's called growth. I have built many a church, and I see them being built every day. And the people can't fill them up, and they have to advertize. Tell me why, if they are doing God's work, and being successful at it, that they would have to advertize? Is that what Jesus said: to sell all you own and advertize? In fact, they support a lot of divisiveness to no good purpose. They should just stick to what they have. And that is a community of sorts, that is a support group, and a club, and a family, and even if much of it is about the avoidence of taxes for a personal advantage, it would be worth it if they would take care of their own souls and stay out of politics. Thanks, and lest I forget; God Bless You!..Sweeney... P.S. Don't be afraid to say a prayer for old Sweeney. He will take all he can get.
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Aug 9, 2008 6:05 AM
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