There have been quite a few remembrances of conservative columnist Robert Novak, who died yesterday. There was praise, and there was scorn, but only one writer has made the case that a key moment of the man's life and legacy remains an absolute mystery. Marcy "Emptywheel" Wheeler of FireDogLake, who produced definitive reporting and analysis on the CIA leak scandal of which Novak was such an integral part, pointed out the gaping unanswered questions about Novak's role. When others opined on the columnist's character and style, Wheeler dug through facts and details, and that is why she may have more success in defining Novak than anyone.
"The fact is that Novak died with most of his role in the [Valerie] Plame outing still shrouded in secrecy," she wrote. "That's partly true because of the significant changes in Novak's story over time." Wheeler detailed those changes, including who gave him the name of Plame, the CIA agent he outed, and how he learned the details of a CIA report on Plame's husband.
Wheeler also asked how Novak got a very specific "talking point" that also showed up in a note from Dick Cheney to his chief of staff, Scooter Libby.
"Yet today, most journalists assume Novak's final answers--the ones that eventually shielded Rove and Libby and Cheney from most consequences--were truthful, and believe they know what happened," she wrote. "Me, I don't claim to know what happened. But I see no reason to trust Novak's most recent answers when there was so much volatility in his story over time."
She concluded, "Short of [Bob] Woodward making up some wildarsed story about a conversation with Novak on his deathbed, much of this story will likely remain unrevealed."
Another question, implied but not raised explicitly by Wheeler, is whether these unanswered questions will define Novak's legacy. Occurring as it did at the tail end of Novak's five decades in journalism, the mystery surrounding his role in the Plame scandal may yet mark Novak's tombstone in our collective memory.