Eric Alterman: Novak's No Journalist

Eric Alterman, writing in the Nation (Oct. 16, 2003):

The second great fiction of this story is the notion that Robert Novak is a "journalist." Nobody else published this story, because all six of the other reporters given the leak weighed the perceived motives of the leaker and the likely cost of publication to the country and to Plame and Wilson against the value of this hand-delivered scoop. The only person to take the bait was Novak--who published it in the Washington Post unedited, because its editorial page apparently sends his copy to the printer without reading it first. In publishing what one "senior administration official" describes as a leak "meant purely and simply for revenge," Novak even refused a request from the CIA not to reveal Plame's identity.

Novak may have acted unpatriotically but not inconsistently. He has never made any bones about the fact that he is an ideological warrior first and a journalist second, if at all. To offer one small but revealing example from a previous decade that appears to have new relevance today, let's go back to October 5, 1986, when Sandinista soldiers shot down a C-123K cargo plane ferrying weapons to the contras in southern Nicaragua. Of the four-man crew, the two American pilots were killed, but its cargo kicker, Eugene Hasenfus, also an American, survived and was captured. He revealed to the world that his entire effort had been controlled by the CIA and sanctioned by the US government, sending both into a massive panic.

The contras' man in the State Department, Elliott Abrams, took to the airwaves on the Evans & Novak program on CNN. Asked whether he could offer "categorical assurance" that Hasenfus was not connected with the government, Abrams smirked, "Absolutely, that would be illegal.... This was not in any sense a US government operation. None." This performance was a part of Abrams's plea-bargained conviction for withholding information from Congress by Iran/contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh.

I interviewed Novak not long after this for a too-kind profile I was writing and asked how he felt about being a pawn in Abrams's deception. His answer: He "admired" Abrams for lying to him on national television because the lie was told in the service of fighting Communism. "He had a tough job and there were lots of people out to get him," Novak averred, expressing zero regrets about misinforming his viewers. "Truth" did not even appear to enter into his calculations. There was his side and there were the other guys, period. That the Post and CNN willingly lend space to the man, knowing what they do, is another of the ongoing scandals involving journalistic standards and conservative ideological domination of the elite media.

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