On CSPAN’s Q & A last night, conservative pundit Robert Novak revealed that he tries to never criticize sources in his column. “That’s the way the world works. Very few reporters will admit that,” said Novak. “That’s one of the unusual things about this book.”
Throughout the interview with CSPAN president Brian Lamb, Novak also discussed who some of his most consistent high-level sources have been over the years, including senior Bush aide Karl Rove, of whom Novak said he “never enjoyed such a good source inside the White House.”
“Karl Rove has been a source since he was a young fellow as a consultant in Austin, Texas, in I guess the 1970s,” said Novak. Watch it:
During the interview, Lamb asked Novak to describe his relationship with a number of his top sources, including Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. “I thought I was a personal friend of Bill Kristol and he was a super source. I never would have revealed it,” he said. Novak and Kristol had a falling out recently and Kristol has since become a target of Novak’s poison pen.
While Novak’s “super” sources such as Rove have come under little or no criticism from him over the years, Novak noted that he has made a point of criticizing officials, including Henry Kissinger and former Nixon chief of staff Bob Haldeman, who have refused to be his sources. “You said that Bob Haldeman…was treated more harshly because he refused to contact you,” queried Lamb. “I think so. … I think he deserved it,” replied Novak.
UPDATE: John Amato notes that Rove was fired by Bush 41 in 1992 over a leak to Novak.
BRIAN LAMB: You say you never criticize a source in your column.
ROBERT NOVAK: Try not to. Someimes you do a little bit. You don’t get total protection by being a source. But that’s the way the world works. Very few reporters will admit that. That one of the unus…I think that’s one of the unusual things about this book.
NOVAK: A lot of sources I do reveal who aren’t dead, but the ones who are dead, I definitely reveal.
LAMB: I wrote a bunch down. I’m gonna name them and I’m gonna read what you say about them, and then you can explain it. Ken Duberstein, who was he? You call him a long time source.
NOVAK: He was a long time source of mine. He was Ronald Reagan’s last cheif of staff…he was a former…he was a high powered lobbyist.
LAMB: Second name on the list is Karl Rove. And you say “never enjoyed such a good source inside the White House.”
NOVAK: That’s true. He was a confirming source on the Valerie Plame story. He revealed himself, he quoted himself of what he told me, so the confidentiality was gone by his own statement.
LAMB: What do we mean when we say source?
NOVAK: Source is somebody who tells you something about news. A reporter relies on sources.
LAMB: How long have you known Karl Rove? How long has he been a source?
NOVAK: Karl Rove has been a source since he was a young fellow as a consultant in Austin, Texas, in I guess the 1970s.
LAMB: What’s the rule? What are the rules when you have a source? Did you name him in any of these columns?
NOVAK: No, I didn’t name him. But everybody knew he was my source. That was known, what was not known was that he was a confirming source on the Valerie Plame story, but that information came out through him and his lawyer.
LAMB: Bill Kristol. You write a lot about Bill Kristol. You say he’s been a super source before, but you’ve had kind of a falling out. Tell us the background of Bill Kristol.
NOVAK: I thought I was a personal friend of Bill Kristol and he was a super source. I never would have revealed it, but…
LAMB: You said that Henry Kissinger, John Negroponte and Al Haig were all sources.
NOVAK: They were more Rollie’s sources than my sources, yes.
LAMB: In what way? And did you know that you were being used? Did you feel that you were being used?
NOVAK: I didn’t…I never got…I didn’t think…I got some contact with John Negroponte. I never got much out Haig and Kissinger. They were Rollie’s sources.
LAMB: But you do say that you don’t remember ever criticizing Henry Kissinger in a column.
NOVAK: I did. I criticized him a lot. In the book I say I criticized him a lot. Rollie never criticized him. So we had a little tension on that. But I was highly critical of Henry. But all the criticism in the column of Henry was from me and not from Rollie. These little things were more complicated because we were a partnership and we had to kind of bargain these things out on how it would come out in the column.
LAMB: You said that Bob Haldeman, chief of staff to Richard Nixon, was treated more harshly because he refused to contact you. He refused to talk.
NOVAK: I think so. I was…I think he deserved it.