Howie Kurtz reports yesterday morning on my article about paleoconservatives in the print NR and on the reaction. If it weren’t a trademark violation, I’d say the piece was both fair and balanced.
There is a point that emerges in Kurtz’s careful story – and in some of the other commentary that is now appearing in print and on line – that does seem to me to call for response: the suggestion that my comments were somehow improper. Novak himself said that my article “poison[ed] the political discourse.”
I suppose I could reply that this is a very strange protest indeed from a man who has spent the past year insinuating that the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy is a Zionist plot against American interests.
But let’s deal with the substance of Novak’s complaint. Is it indeed “poisonous” to quote a writer’s words and hold him to account? Novak may genuinely think so. He has a habit of saying horrifying things and then exploding in rage when others venture to discuss them. Thus, on the November 24, 2001, edition of Capital Gang, he condemned Israel for killing Hamas leader Mahmoud Abu Hanoud. Margaret Carlson pointed out that Hanoud was after all a terrorist: He had organized, most recently, two suicide bombings in that had killed a total of 36 people, all civilians, many of them teenagers. Novak’s answer: “Well, why do you call him a terrorist? I mean, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. They’re trying to get their own land.”
These words of Novak’s prompted former New York mayor Edward Koch to lodge a very respectful protest in a newspaper column and then, a year later, a rather less respectful protest in a radio commentary. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Novak described Koch’s protests as “filth.”
Today Novak is once again demanding exemption from the criticism he happily metes out to others.There’s a war on, you see, and it’s time for national unity. Just as Tom Daschle has rallied to the president, so the pro-war conservatives should rally to … Bob Novak.
“Daschle,” Novak wrote in a Monday column in his Inside Report, “ended up following the old American custom of supporting the war once the shooting starts. Frum, on the other hand,chose that moment to begin shooting at ‘paleo-conservatives.’” Novak was irked by my NR cover story that connected his antiwar views to the blame-America politics of the paleoconservatives.
You can see why this no-criticism-of-Robert-Novak-during-wartime rule would appeal to the thin-skinned pundit. In fact, the rule could prove to be the one and only thing that yet might win Novak’s support for the war on terror.
In his Inside Report, Novak passionately repudiated the “paleoconservative” label. He said he “abhorred” the paleos’ “anti-semitic and racist” views. All he had ever done, he said, was question “an overly close identification of the U.S. government with Israel.”
You can understand his point of view: things have come to a pretty pass indeed when a journalist cannot write that the U.S. government is secretly controlled by a cabal of war-mongering, um, neoconservatives without being accused of anti-semitism – and predicting that every action and decision of the U.S. government will end in total disaster without being called a defeatist.
Speaking of defeatism, as the media fill their screens with shots of brutalized American prisoners and talking heads fretting over all that might go wrong, you might want to get your eye back on the ball by reading this by David Warren.