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Book Review:autobiography of Journalist Robert Novak"The Prince of Darkness"
Robert D. Novak
I just heard over the radio that Robert Novak died from a brain tumor. I recall hearing about his having a tumor, so his death is not a surprise but it is sad, nevertheless. His is the third death in the last year or so of Journalists I admire. The first was Tim Russert and the other was Tony Snow. Russert was a liberal, Snow a conservative and Novak was a conservative in the end but I think he wrestled with his political identity over the years. Religiously he was a secular Jew but converted to Catholicism in his sixties.
I read his autobiography some time ago. It is called “The Prince of Darkness” which was the nickname he had earned over the years. It is a very interesting book, at least for anyone having an interest in either politics or journalism. Novak recounts 50 years of experience in reporting what happens in Washington. It has tremendous insights into politics and I think shows what a good reporter can do.
The book starts with the Valerie Plame Affair. If anyone recalls that was hot news at the time because Novak was unwilling to give up his sources. I won’t go into the complexities here, but this story, I think, is reason enough to at least read his first chapter.
Novak starts his story of his own life with his first going to the capital after two and a half years as an Associated Press reporter. His goal was to break important stories, not to promote a political ideology. His grandfather was a passionate Democrat but his father was anti-New
Deal.He digresses to tell of his boyhood in the depression
He relates his growth in journalism and politics, with time in the Army during the Korean War. In chapter 8 he relates that he had his first taste of campaign coverage with the Nelson Rockerfeller’s campaign.”It would be hard for today’s ultraserious journalists to imagine what fun it was on the campaign circuit then. A poker game most nights, and drinking around the clock,” he relates. Journalism in the old days was rather freewheeling.
Again, besides the insight into journalism life in the “old days” the book is full of observations about history (to us) and politics. He felt Rockefeller, if president, would have got involved in Viet Nam without a plan for winning it. On the other hand big government would not have gotten bigger without the Kennedy and Reagan tax cuts. He went on to cover Kennedy.He relates how Lyndon Johnson though Pierre Salinger was responsible for Kennedy being so popular and wanted a Salenger of his own. Novak thought it ridiculous.
Without rereading the book it is hard to relate all the fascinating things in the book. He has been what they call a Washington insider since Eisenhower and has observations that would be hard to get elsewhere. It seems that Novak interacted with everybody who was anybody from the time he arrived in Washington until he got the brain tumor that eventually killed him. Whether you are liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, If you want one book to learn about United States history in the last 50 years, this one is worth reading. As Novak says, “I have tried to combine three elements of :my personal experiences as a columnist and commentator, my interactions with the famous and powerful, and the nation’s political developments over the last fifty years.”His book is a bit over 650 pages, his original manuscript would have been fourteen hundred pages if it had not been cut down.
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© 2009 Don A. Hoglund