Bob Novak Could Sting, But He Was Really A Honey
"Beneath the surface, Novak was a sweetie.." Bernadette Malone, former Novak reporter; Senior Editor, Penguin
"There was nothing more fun after a long day than to sit down with Bob Novak and argue about capital-gains taxes, the Fed, the Contras or [any other] topic. But nobody ever doubted that we liked each other and that there was a part of us that would stand off in a corner saying, 'You can't take this too seriously.' " Democratic strategist Bob Shrum
"[O]nce you talked to Novak, you liked him.." Greg Gutfeld, Fox News
Liberals, moderates, even some conservatives have a right to dislike Robert Novak. Pundits everywhere have cataloged his "evilness" with great relish -- never more than in recent pseudo-eulogies and obituaries.
Well, why not? Novak gave them a giant target. He also gave them a solid example of a determined, dedicated Reporter. Even his enemies grant he was a professional political analyst par excellence.
There was another side of Bob Novak. A lighter side. Generous, funny, kind, thoughtful. And more. Not in public of course. Behind the scenes, among friends. It's true. I was there to see some of it for myself.
So, I am not here to defend Robert Novak's public politics, allegiances or deeds. My modest but determined goal is to assert that for those who knew the private man, especially in the years before his dark public persona had solidified, calcified, virtually taken over -- there was quite a lot about Bob Novak to like.
I'm not speaking about or for his family. I don't know them and I imagine they're having a tough enough time dealing with his death and the public glee expressed by so many. I do know he wasn't an easy family man, so I also imagine they'll have a tough time making peace with it all.
I'm referring to Novak's other family. Not in a legal sense. Not other children. A privileged family of friends. An enduring love. Nothing "official" or even widely known.
Way back in the dark ages of the 1970's some things weren't acknowledged or discussed. The things some of us lived.
It seems like yesterday that I was such a young pup. First a student, then an intern, a low level 'operative." Eager for knowledge and to be all grown up inside the political universe of Washington, DC.
I ran in circles that included some pretty big names in journalism and politics. Some became my friends. Some my mentors. A few lovers. Many provided great stories.
My closest friend and mentor was Johnny Apple, aka R. W. Apple, Jr. of the New York Times. When he died in 2006, he took a big chunk of my early professional and personal years with him. And some of those great stories too. Read my Personal Notes on a Professional Journalist when you can.
Another whose path I crossed gave me one of my all time best stories: Dousing Dan Rather. (This one's especially dedicated to my Texas friends).
It's a different world now, but back then, politics and journalism were strange bedfellows, in both senses of the word. We all worked together, played together, helped --and used-- each other, loved and laughed and learned and betrayed and protected one another.
Life was a little more black and white on the outside and a lot greyer on the inside. Hard working, hard drinking, hard living people created and reported the news. Relationships were intense but friable. Entertaining, free-spirited, at times well-choreographed, often wildly chaotic and doomed.
There were very few constants. Oddly, Bob Novak was one. A grown-up, a power-broker, a potential king maker or breaker. A man who know exactly who he was, what he wanted and how to get it.
And no matter how high he flew (and he did, um, fly), his feet stayed on the ground. He seemed almost a father figure to the younger among us, me included.
He was so proper, edging toward pompous, it was beyond fun to watch him let loose, make indecently funny jokes, double over with laughter, become The Enforcer trying to quiet our riotous behavior.
Even when serious, if you knew where to look you could still see that private twinkle in his eye. Often pointed in one specific direction.
From the 70's through to the present, Bob Novak was friend, mentor and more to one of my oldest, dearest friends. For her loss, I grieve. He was her treasured LH (initials of her private nickname for him), known only by a few intimates. No, I won't tell you what LH stands for, you'd never believe me anyway.
There are a lot of things I'll never tell. But it doesn't matter now to say that Bob Novak had a very special relationship with a small group of insiders and with one very special woman.
You're shocked? Doubtful. You don't care? Fine. Enough of us do. We know there are no absolutes in people or relationships. Everybody's got secrets. Regrets. Imperfections large and small.
Everybody's got some good inside too. And true light. Just because you've never seen it doesn't mean it wasn't there. For some of us, that light's gone out. Though not darkness, but sweetness remains. And we'll always have P Street.