Friday, August 05, 2005

The Novak crack-up

Bob Novak's sudden exit from "Inside Politics" yesterday, apparently spooked at the sight of a bulky red book, had a distinctly Novakian weirdness to it - huffing self-righteousness underlaid by veins of anger, its original emotional/historical sources obscure. Novak may be cracking under pressure or just dodging Plame questions. But after months of silence, something is obviously up.

The cross-currents of pressure are growing, and Novak's not handling it well. After swearing up and down to every interlocutor that he couldn't say a damn thing about the Plame case, why did he write a column this week disputing what a witness - a CIA spokesman - had said about what happened?

The lawyers also urged me not to write this. But the allegation against me is so patently incorrect and so abuses my integrity as a journalist that I feel constrained to reply.

After publicly declaiming on the case, his pretext for not commenting or answering questions evaporated. The air of obscure, impenetrable mystery around him disappeared. He became just another guy who had testified and was conducting a CYA campaign - "fair game," as Karl Rove might put it. As Jay Rosen describes it:

It seemed to me, as a viewer, that Novak was in an impossible position every time he went on the air to talk politics. If he met his duty to himself (by not speaking up while the Plame case was open) then he could not meet his duty to his peers and his profession.

This was to tell CNN viewers just what he knows about a newsworthy story, and answer a fair-minded interviewer’s questions. To put a man on the air in a situation so constrained is neither fair nor wise. It didn’t make journalistic sense, or human sense.

So what happens now? Novak will disappear from TV for a while. But his credibility and career are now in serious danger.