Panel on the Passing of Robert Novak

Panel on the Passing of Robert Novak

By Special Report With Bret Baier - August 18, 2009


ROBERT NOVAK, REPORTER: I have sources who are young enough to be my grandchildren, you know. And I don't have any pride in calling them up and taking them you out to lunch. And the only way - I'm just a - I'm a reporter, and the only way I can write a column is if I have information to put into it.

My role model as a columnist was Joe Alsop who, whatever fault he had, he reported every day of his life. And I report every day, seeing people on the phone and doing it any way I can function.


BAIER: Columnist, pundit, author, and friend to a lot of people here at FOX News Channel. Robert Novak died today. He was known by many here in Washington as a, really, a columnist who reported his column, a real shoe leather kind of guy.

We are back with the panel with some thoughts. Juan, that was an interview that you did with Robert Novak back in 1998. Your thoughts on the man and his legacy.

WILLIAMS: I think that he really expressed something very important there, Bret, which is that he was a real reporter. He had been a reporter at "The Wall Street Journal" in Chicago, and he had come up and developed the idea that you put out real information.

And what it became was kind of a live wire for everybody who was the inside group in Washington, D.C. Political insiders would read Novak, and it was almost like you were reading tea leaves to see what was exactly in that column, what was the latest on the grapevine of the people who are most inside the political universe here in D.C.

The thing that really always struck me about Bob Novak was that he persisted in the reporting. He never stopped. People would say Bob know Novak is ideological. Some people on the left would say he was the prince of darkness.

Bob Novak would take on Republicans as well as Democrats. Bob Novak was an honest reporter, and for me an inspiration in that sense, a tough guy. I used to co-host "Crossfire" with him and everything like that, and he was the kind of person who would pin you to the wall because he had good information.

BAIER: Fred, you were a close friend.

BARNES: I was. I knew him 36 years. Among others things, as you know, Juan, Bob was a great basketball fan, one of the most astute fans I have ever known. We sat next to each other at the Washington Wizards games for 35 years. It's a long time.

And he was a better reporter than Joe Alsop who he cited in that interview, because Bob thought every column ought to have, if not a big scoop, it ought to have at least some nuggets of new information that people hadn't heard before.

And along with what Juan was saying, Bob was a conservative, but he wasn't partisan. He would pound Republicans if he thought they were slipping away from the conservative position they should have taken, and Democrats, of course, were never there, so he would pound them as well. And he basically terrified official Washington. They were afraid of him because they knew he was an honest guy who would take any of them on. If he had good information, he was going to report it.

KRAUTHAMMER: That's what made him so influential and really unique was his independence. He was a reporter, but what he did by writing his reportage in a column was he severed any control any editor or managing editor would have had over the content or placement of his material. Nobody edited him. He was his column. So he was out there as a reporter on his own.

And there was a second kind of independence he had, which was he was a consummated insider. And he succeed the great early 20th century columnist like Walter Lippman who were also insiders but who were actually part of administrations. Lippman worked with Woodrow Wilson.

He was an insider who knew everybody, but he was never a member of a team. So he was always independent politically and also editorially. That's why he was important, and that's why he was respected, and that's why he will be missed.

BAIER: Fred, late in life, did he ever regret being part of the story in the Valerie Plame case when he reported that?

BARNES: That was one of the lesser events in his career as a reporter. He was the first guy to report that she had gotten her husband off of his assignment from the CIA, and he put it in his column, and though he did exactly the right thing, which, of course, he did.

So look, there were bigger feats of reporting than that that he pulled off, many, many of them.

WILLIAMS: And I think people forget that it wasn't that somebody fed him this on an ideological basis. It was a function of his reporting that went out there and got the information, and then it turned out to be in this way.

And one last thing to say is he had a wonderful wife Geraldine, and I think all of us here on the panel want to say, you know, Geraldine, our love goes out to you.

BAIER: Our condolences.

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