Just Above Sunset
August 7, 2005 - Novak Loses It

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While blithely snapping aerial photographs over Los Angeles Harbor from a the front seat of the Goodyear blimp, "Spirit if America," much was happening in the other real world on Thursday, August 4.  Robert Novak, the columnist who revealed the name of a CIA agent in a column and started a scandal that may sink the administration, or not, lost his temper, and, for now, his job at CNN.  The event happened as the blimp was over the Queen Mary in Long Beach harbor.


Drat.  Missed it.

Novak got upset on CNN's "Inside Politics" when James Carville interrupted him, then he muttered "I think that's bullshit" in Carville's general direction, and then he stalked off the set.  The video is here.

Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly is puzzled:


It beats me what happened. It seemed like just the usual banter between Novak and Carville, who have done this kind of thing about a thousand times before, so I don't know what set Novak off - although I understand that he's been under a lot of pressure lately over some controversy or other. Planegate? Something like that, anyway.

In any case… CNN says, "We've asked Mr. Novak to take some time off."

The world is a brighter place already.


Yeah, but what's up?

Tim Grieve here


Novak was reacting most immediately to James Carville, who interrupted him while he was talking about the electoral prospects of Katherine Harris. But is it just possible that he had something else on his mind? Before the segment began, CNN's Ed Henry told Novak that he would be asking him about the Plame case.

Update: In a telephone interview with the New York Times Thursday night, Carville explained his colleague's actions this way: "Bob's probably got a lot going on in his life."


Wonkette offers An on-going look at solving the mystery of Bob Novak's bullshit, but Amy Sullivan puts things in context:


It's really impossible to overstate the extent to which Novak has been coddled and protected for decades by the perfect set-up. He answers to no one - not to an editor (his column is syndicated - if papers don't like it, all they can do is drop it), not to a producer (he executive-produced his own shows), and certainly not to fellow journalists who have, out of a misguided sense of collegiality and friendship, avoided asking him tough questions.

With very few exceptions, Novak has not only refused to answer questions about the Plame affair - he has threatened to immediately terminate any interview in which such questions are raised. That was the ground rule for my interview with him last fall, and I'm almost certain (although I could never get anyone at CNN to confirm it for me) that he threatened to walk off the set if anyone at the network asked him about Plame. The absurdity of that arrangement finally became too much for the network a few weeks ago, as the spotlight on this case heated up, and he has since grudgingly tolerated some queries on-air.

It's not just that Novak doesn't want to answer questions; what's clear is that he doesn't think he should have to. The comparison that keeps coming to my mind is with Jack Nicholson's Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men. "You need me on that wall. You want me on that wall. And you can't handle it if I have to out a few CIA agents now and then."

My interview with Novak from our December 2004 issue, as well as an explanation of how he created his own ethics-free zone, and a theory about why the Washington press corps handles him with kid gloves can be found here.


And for press wonks, that's a good read.

But the immediate cause?  See Tim Grieve - What made Bob blow?  His methods were being questioned, or were about to be questioned. And he may have just been called back to testify before the grand jury.  He was testy.

And Friday he said he was sorry.


"I apologize for my conduct and I'm sorry I did it," Novak said in an interview with the Associated Press. There's no word on why he did it, but Novak insists that his tantrum had nothing to do with the fact that Ed Henry was about to ask him about the Valerie Plame case. "That had nothing to do with it, absolutely nothing," Novak said. "I was sorry he said that."


Yeah, well - whatever.

To put things in perspective, something from Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta –


My theory is that this Plame story - and, in fact, the whole story of us going to war - is being misconstrued in the so-called "media."

Based on what I've heard so far, here's how I personally imagine it goes. Tell me if you disagree.

Set the Wayback Machine to Francis Fukiama's "End of History" piece that argued that the collapse of European Communism meant we no longer had crusades worth engaging in. A group of neocons, led by William Kristol - and who were sitting around with nothing else to do during the Clinton administration - not unlike what the "March of Dimes" did after some idiot came up with a cure for polio - disagreed, and began their search for a new "cause," eventually ending up starting a group they called the "New American Century" that urged that the United States spread democracy around the world. After all, every US administration had been pandering to our Middle Eastern allies, none of whom allowed democracy within their borders, all of which eventually came back to bite us in the butt in terms of bad PR.

When Bush was elected, many of these "New American Century" guys - including Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz - ended up on his staff, and soon convinced him that this "spreading democracy" thing could be what would make history remember him as a great president. The question, of course, was how to bring this about?

The answer, of course, was Iraq! If Iraq could be somehow "converted" to a democracy, the rest of the region would be tempted to follow. Why Iraq? Because it had a history of defying the rest of the world in not living up to the agreements it signed at the end of the 1991 war, because it was governed by a fruitcake who seemed to have no friends anywhere, and was therefore a pushover.

9/11 presented them with the opportunity to do what they wanted to do anyway. The conclusion could naturally be drawn that Saddam might easily share his WMD with terrorists, such as those who attacked us. Even though the world in general, and America in particular, would never accept invading Iraq to bring democracy there, they could certainly be persuaded to go along if the situation could be "framed" as a Global War on Terror thing.

And there was little doubt that Saddam had WMD; after all, he had used them, as we constantly heard, "against his own people!" In fact, I am pretty sure that Bush and his team never doubted that Iraq had WMD programs and stockpiles, and thought they had only to find the evidence - or, in the words of the British, to "fix the facts" around the argument.

I also do believe both the Brits and the Americans did see war as the "last resort," in the sense that they fully intended to work their way through all those other "resorts," particularly in the U.N., to inevitably arrive at the last one. This was largely because, in Britain, it is against the law to break international law, and it is their understanding that international law prohibits going to war simply for the purpose of "regime change." Americans have no such qualms, but the Bush administration went along with this United Nations gambit just to please its primary ally, although fully hoping that the UN would not involve itself in our war.

(It should be noted, by the way, that those who actually listened to the famous sixteen words in Bush's State of the Union Speech in which Bush alluded to evidence of Saddam Hussein trying to buy uranium from Niger, would already have known, I suspect, that the man was full of it. If my memory serves, many of us already knew about the controversy of the forged documents.)

But somewhere along the line, while the administration was trying to "fix the facts" to back up its arguments, I imagine someone in the Vice President's office - although probably not the veep himself - heard about these Niger allegations and asked themselves if the CIA had anything on it, so they made a call over there. The CIA, I further imagine, said no, they had nothing on it.
And in the next meeting of the agency's Counterintelligence Committee, of which Valerie Plame Wilson was a member, someone brought up the VP office inquiry. And I'd guess that Valerie herself might have offered that her husband, Joe Wilson, the former diplomat, personally knew Niger's prime minister and also the minister of mines, and maybe someone then suggested we bring him in here to talk about his going over there to check this out. And they did, and so did he.

And when Wilson came back to report there was nothing to the story, and much later noticed the president making that argument in his speech, he got annoyed that this country was marched off to war on a pig and a poke, and so he wrote that op-ed piece, citing his personal knowledge to back up his charge. And somewhere in his argument, he mentioned that it was his understanding that the veep's office initiated this thing, and so the administration should have known better.

And this being during a presidential campaign, the administration's minions set out to discredit the story, specifically by saying Wilson was not sent by the Vice President Cheney. In fact, they said offhandedly - but not, in my opinion, to punish Wilson by outing his wife, since they probably didn't even understand that she was actually working covertly - it was their understanding that Wilson's mission was suggested by his wife, who worked at the Agency. And for a second source, Bob Novak called some guys in the White House, one or both of whom actually knew no more than they had heard from journalists, and so said something like, "Yeah, I heard that, too."

So who was the first to out Plame? In fact, I don't have a theory on that, but I suspect it was neither Rove nor Libby, and probably not someone that close to the White House. But I suspect - and I could be proven wrong - that it was not so much an attempt to punish Wilson as it was simply to discredit his story by saying it didn't originate with Cheney himself.

And what is Fitzgerald after? I'm not sure about that either, although it may have something to do with perjury - specifically, who said what to the grand jury. I guess time will answer that question.

But I think it's a shame, because I suspect Democrats will end up with some egg on their faces for playing this thing to the hilt. Not that Karl Rove isn't a sneaky bastard, I just think this leak thing will not turn out to have all that many of his fingerprints on it.


Maybe so.  But Novak is on edge.

Time will tell.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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