My Interview With Robert Novak

More

Columnist Robert Novak is dead, from a malignant brain tumor, which by most accounts was a pretty terrible way to go. Just about everyone in Washington has a Novak story -- being a Washington institution will do that to you -- and I'm no exception. Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote a profile of Robert Novak for the Guardian newspaper. This, naturally, called for interviewing him, so I did.

Novak was, to be perfectly honest about it, the least pleasant person I've ever interviewed. He didn't shake my hand upon entering or leaving his office, and expressed fairly open contempt when I asked him a question about the Valerie Plame affair. His response was: "You can't imagine how tired I am of answering those questions." And then he proceeded not to answer the question.

I don't mean to rag on the guy. It wasn't his job to be pleasant -- certainly not to the kind of nervous and uppity young reporter he ate for breakfast -- and I didn't get the sense he tried to give anyone an impression to the contrary. I hope it's fair to say that he embraced the reputation that preceded him, and that the face grew to fit the mask. You don't call your memoir "The Prince of Darkness" if you're hoping to make new friends. (And on the day that I sat down with him I remember, distinctly, that he was wearing the same suit and tie that he wore glowering on the cover of his new book.)

There are many people who think, for good reason, that his career was spotted by ethical lapses -- like trading access for protection (you were, famously, a "source or a target"), or outing sources after they died. Novak was unapologetic about all of that. About his conduct in the Plame affair, he told me: "It's an irrelevant question to ask what I would do if I could do it all over again, because I don't have the chance to do it all over again. It's done."

So he was perhaps a bit of a jerk, but an admirably fatalistic one. The first thing he said to me was this: "I don't watch my words very closely. I'm 76 years old, and I don't have that much time on this earth. There's very little people can do to hurt me, and so I say what I want to say." And, to his credit or not, he did just that.

Crossposted to the Daily Dish

Jump to comments
Presented by

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?

In a series of candid video interviews, women talk about self-image, self-judgement, and what it means to love their bodies


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

Just In