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'Churlish,' 'Pugnacious' Novak Couldn't Always Document Scoops, Times Chides

In Novak obituary, Times reporters Douglas Martin and Jacques Steinberg insert snide, snarky jibes into a piece on the conservative journalist.

According to the Times' Douglas Martin and Jacques Steinberg, the "often churlish," "pugnacious" Robert Novak "could not always document" his scoops. Littered in the August 19 obituary of the conservativejournalist are other snide remarks and asides. Discussing the political column that Novakco-wrote for 30 years with Rowland Evans, the reporters worried:


For all its influence, though, the column could not always document its scoops. In April 1972, Mr. Evans and Mr. Novak reported that Senator George S. McGovern, the Democratic presidential candidate, favored abortion rights, legalization of marijuana and amnesty for draft dodgers - positions that crippled his standing with most conservative voters.


Mr. Novak said the source had been a Democratic senator, but his refusal to say more prompted accusations that he had made up the story. Only in 2007 did Mr. Novak say that the source had been Senator Thomas F. Eagleton, who had briefly been Mr. McGovern's running mate before being forced off the ticket by disclosures about electric shock treatments in his past.


In regards todocumentation, this is the same New York Times that published an obituary of Walter Cronkite on July 18 that was riddled with seven errors, prompting a lengthy correction.


Martin and Steinberg also complained, "On cable television, Mr. Novak was the often churlish commentator in the three-piece suit, his eyebrows, it seemed, permanently arched." Churlish? As in boorish or rude? That sounds like an oddly aggressive description for an obituary. The piece began by labeling Novak "the pugnacious political columnist."


Other asides included:


Mr. Novak relished making outrageous comments. He once complained that his Thanksgiving dinner had been ruined by seeing so many homeless people on television.


At times, the two reporters seemed unable to refrain from editorializing:


In interviews, Mr. Novak seemed to rub salt into the wounds of the other journalists. "I don't know why they're upset with me," he told Brian Lamb of C-Span in 2004. "They ought to worry about themselves. I worry about myself."