Sunday, October 19, 2003

Blowing Novak's cover

Excellent reading from Eric Alterman:
Abrams and Novak and Rove? Oh My!

Alterman especially takes a hard look at Robert Novak, whose non-official cover as a "journalist" is pretty well shot:
I interviewed Novak not long after this for a too-kind profile I was writing and asked how he felt about being a pawn in Abrams's deception. His answer: He "admired" Abrams for lying to him on national television because the lie was told in the service of fighting Communism. "He had a tough job and there were lots of people out to get him," Novak averred, expressing zero regrets about misinforming his viewers. "Truth" did not even appear to enter into his calculations. There was his side and there were the other guys, period. That the Post and CNN willingly lend space to the man, knowing what they do, is another of the ongoing scandals involving journalistic standards and conservative ideological domination of the elite media.

My own favorite little Bob Novak anecdote -- unrelated to the Plame matter, but certainly revealing of the man's character -- comes from Sept. 12, 1995, when he was filling in as the host of "Larry King Live," and his guest was Sen. Jesse Helms. According to a Cox news report by Arthur Brice filed at the time:
Helms (R-N.C.) seemed somewhat shocked when the caller from Alabama said, "Mr. Helms, I know this might not be politically correct to say these days, but I think you should get a Nobel Peace Prize for everything you’ve done to help keep down the niggers."

"Oh, dear," guest host Robert Novak said.

"Whoops," said Helms. "Well, thank you, I think."

"That was the bad word," Novak said. "That was politically incorrect. We really don’t condone that kind of language, do we?"

"No. No," said Helms, a vocal opponent of affirmative action.

Helms went to say the slur is not part of his lexicon.

"My father didn’t condone it when I was a little boy," the 73-year-old senator said. "One of the worst spankings I ever got was when I used that word, and I don't think I’ve ever used it since."

Of course, Helms was as believable as Elliott Abrams.

What was noteworthy about both Novak's and Helms' responses, of course, was that they were flustered over the use of "the n-word". Neither bothered to even address, let alone repudiate, the content of the man's remarks -- you know, the part about "keeping the niggers down." Indeed, Helms seemed to thank him for them.

Novak is not simply a conservative-movement operative in reporter's clothing. He represents, as Alterman suggests, a much deeper and more systemic problem in modern journalism.

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