Robert Novak, the pugnacious Washington political writer and pundit died Monday following a bout with brain cancer. The ” Prince of Darkness” tag was both the title of Novak’s memoir and a nod to his tough-minded, in your face style of reporting. Novak was a hardcore conservative who didn’t give a damn who disliked him.
As a print journalist, I found Robert Novak to be an intelligent, savvy, well-informed and authoritative writer.
But when he went on to do television he learned to condense complicated issues into pithy 30 second soundbites. He dumbed down his message to fit the format and limits of the talking head.
As a talking head on Crossfire, The McLaughlin Group and other programs, I thought he was an inflamed asshole. Before there was Bill O’ Reilly or Sean Hannity, there was Novak, the Prince of Darkness.
In print Novak was deep. On the boob tube he was a dick. But he had to be. Like wrestling, that was the role he was cast in.
Like Novak, I’ve appeared on television and radio and given my opinion on issues that are too complex to adequately explain in 30 seconds, but I’ve done it. I know most people who try to provide their insights on television provided more heat then light and the superficial triumphs over the substantial. Unlike Novak, nobody has ever written me any big checks for a truncated opinion.
My father once said he’d love to catch Novak in a dark alley with a baseball bat. I would have loved to bat clean up. Novak came off a right-wing prick on television and he knew it, but the gig paid too well for him not to.
I learned to ignore Novak on television and just read his column instead. Rarely would I agree with with him, but he did an excellent job of presenting the conservative side of the argument.
As a journalist, I think Robert Novak was damned good at his job. As a talking head he was part of the problem of the journalist-as-celebrity and that has been poisonous to the profession.
Not that Novak would give a damn.