Interviewing Novak, Blitzer confirmed Novak's description of him as a “soft interviewer”


On the July 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer interviewed conservative columnist and former CNN host Robert D. Novak about his new memoir Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington (Crown Forum, 2007), which Blitzer called “must reading for a lot of young aspiring journalists.” But Blitzer -- described by Novak in Prince of Darkness as “a soft interviewer who seldom pressed on-air guests” (Page 604) -- did not challenge Novak to explain key contradictions in his version of events regarding the leak of Valerie Plame's CIA identity.

In particular, Blitzer discussed Novak's relationship with White House senior adviser Karl Rove, and Novak stated that, during the CIA leak investigation, Rove “cut off all relations with me” because of his “legal troubles” and his fear that “he was going to be indicted.” As Media Matters for America has noted, Rove was Novak's confirming source for the information that Plame was a CIA operative.

Questions Blitzer could have asked about the Plame case including the following:

  • In a September 14, 2006, column, you disputed the assertion by former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage that, in your July 8, 2003, meeting with him, he had revealed Plame's identity to you inadvertently: “Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat, as he now suggests. He made clear he considered it especially suited for my column.” You further wrote that, "[a]s for [Armitage's] current implications that he never expected this to be published, he noted that the story of Mrs. Wilson's role fit the style of the old Evans-Novak column -- implying to me it continued reporting Washington inside information." In Prince of Darkness, you repeat that Armitage described the information as “real Evans and Novak,” and you “interpreted that as meaning Armitage expected to see the item published in [your] column.” Nonetheless, you go on to conclude: “I am sure it was not a planned leak but came out as an offhand observation” (Page 4).

    Why should readers accept your current assertion that the leak was offhand and unplanned?

  • In Prince of Darkness, you write that "[i]t is important to note that Armitage reached out to me before [former ambassador] Joe Wilson went public on the New York Times op-ed page and on Meet the Press" [emphasis in original]. You make this assertion in support of your claim that Armitage's leak was unplanned -- that is, he could not have been out to undermine Wilson because Wilson had not yet gone public with his allegations. But isn't it true that Wilson had been quoted anonymously in newspaper columns that appeared in May and mid-June of 2003 and that Armitage was already well aware of Wilson's trip, its potential ramifications, and Wilson's criticism of the administration at the time he contacted you?
  • Also, in Prince of Darkness, you write about the circumstances under which the meeting between you and Armitage was arranged. You state that you had “asked to see Armitage early in [Secretary of State Colin Powell and Armitage's] administration and repeated [your] request after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001,” but that you had been “rebuffed” by Armitage -- “not with the customary evasion of claiming an overly full schedule but by his secretary making clear that he simply did not want to see [you].” Yet despite Armitage's blunt refusal to meet with you several years earlier, you write that Armitage's office suddenly contacted you “in the last week of June 2003” to schedule a meeting with no explanation “given then or subsequently for this change of heart.” You also observe that since you and Armitage “had no personal relationship and never before had had a conversation, [you were] surprised that no press aide sat in on [y]our meeting.” You also have described your conversation -- aside from the Plame leak -- as “high level insider gossip.”

    Given your descriptions of the scheduling of the meeting and the meeting itself, as well as your suggestion that nothing significant came out of it beyond the Plame information, why should readers accept your assertion that the leak was offhand and unplanned? Furthermore, given your disclosure that nearly two years passed between your last request for an interview with Armitage and his decision to schedule a meeting in June 2003, can you really describe yourself as having "initiated contact" with Armitage, as you do on Page 601?

Blitzer could also have explored this topic with Novak:

  • In Prince of Darkness, you state that your abrupt, on-air exit during the August 4, 2005, edition of CNN's Inside Politics -- where during a live segment with CNN contributor James Carville and guest host Ed Henry, you used vulgar language and then stormed off the set -- came about because you lost your temper at Carville. At that point, you write, “Two and one-half years of coping with Carville's ad hominem attacks welled up in me. 'Well, I think that's bullshit,' I said. 'And I hate that. Just let it go.' I removed my microphone and stalked off the set” (Page 632).

    After the segment ended, Henry apologized to viewers for your having left the set “a little early,” adding: “I had told him in advance that we were going to ask him about the CIA leak case. He was not here for me to be able to ask him about that. Hopefully, we'll be able to ask him about that in the future.” In your book, you state that you “could not believe he [Henry] was suggesting I left the set to avoid being asked about [finding Plame's name in] Who's Who [in America]” and state that "[a] few minutes later, I asked Henry why in the world he would say that about me on the air. 'What else was I to think?' he asked." You then write, “I had been dubious when the obsequious Henry told me how thrilled he was to work with an old pro like me, and now my suspicions were confirmed that he was a duplicitous phony” (Page 633).

    Do you stand behind your comment that Henry is “a duplicitous phony” ?

Media Matters has documented several instances in which Blitzer has failed to ask his guests about relevant controversies. In Prince of Darkness, Novak characterized Blitzer as “a soft interviewer,” a style he contrasted with the interview Blitzer conducted with him on September 30, 2003. From Pages 603-604:

I had hoped my comments on [the September 29 edition of CNN's] Crossfire would satisfy my CNN obligations, but I was told I also must be interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on his nightly program. Wolf first came to my attention as longtime (1973-89) Washington correspondent for the Jerusalem Post only because he was one of many younger journalists befriended by Rowly Evans. He was occasionally used on CNN as an expert on the Mideast, and was hired by CNN as Pentagon correspondent in 1990. His prominence in covering the 1991 Gulf War propelled him upward at the network. When Wolf came aboard at CNN, I learned that we were brothers in the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (he at the State University of New York, Buffalo). We each addressed AEPi's national convention in Washington one year, and we occasionally exchanged the fraternity's secret handshake.

Blitzer was a soft interviewer who seldom pressed on-air guests. Given that background and our personal relationship, I was surprised to hear Blitzer on Monday voice the canard that the White House had shopped the Valerie Plame story around to six journalists before finding one who would swallow it -- me. But I assumed Wolf had just been reading what some harassed CNN staffer had put together hurriedly.

Blitzer on Tuesday evening launched an interrogation of me that was far more confrontational than his handling of big-time politicians. Blitzer took off on my statement that the CIA had informed me that Mrs. Wilson never would have another foreign assignment.

From the July 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: He is known as the Prince of Darkness, conservative and controversial, the political columnist Bob Novak has been covering Washington for half a century. His new book about those 50 years is called, what else, The Prince of Darkness, and the prince, Bob Novak is here in The Situation Room.

Congratulations, Bob, on writing this book.

NOVAK: Thank you very much, Wolf. Thanks for having me back. It's nice to be back at CNN.

BLITZER: It's good to have you back here. And let's talk a little bit about some of your thoughts in the limited amount of time we had -- we have.

[...]

BLITZER: Here's another line from Page 7, Karl Rove: “Karl Rove and I had grown close since he began plotting Bush's path to the White House as early as 1995. In four decades of talking to presidential aides, I never had enjoyed such a good source inside the White House.” Even though the president didn't like your thoughts on Iraq, did he stay a good source, Karl Rove, to you?

NOVAK: He did until the Valerie Plame case, when it was developed and, of course, he revealed it that he had been -- I had counted -- I had regarded him as one of my confirming sources. And because of the legal troubles -- he was afraid he was going to be indicted -- he cut off all relations with me.

We're talking again. It is not like it used to be, though.

BLITZER: It's not like the old days.

[...]

BLITZER: I think this book, The Prince of Darkness, is going to be must reading for a lot young aspiring journalists, because you really open up and you really go into your gut, your heart, you tell the stories as you saw them over these 50 years.

Let me read from Page 58, because this will -- for newer journalists, this is going to be, I guess, a lot different than the era that you got involved in: “It would be hard for today's ultra-serious journalists to imagine what fun it was on the campaign circuit then. A poker game most nights and drinking around the clock. Everybody started the morning with a Bloody Mary. Near the end of the trip, when Eastern Airlines ran out of Vodka, reporters nearly rioted. Flight attendants solved the problem by mixing the Blood Marys with gin. Nobody complained.”

It was really a different era here in Washington, covering politics in the '50s and the '60s, as it is today.

NOVAK: A lot more booze. A lot more fun. But I'll tell you something, Wolf, in those 50 years I have had a ball. I've been blessed to be able to do this, and I hope people reading the book get some idea of what a joy it's been for me and how great it is to be in America and be a journalist.

BLITZER: Well, that jumps out on virtually every page in the book. The book is entitled The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington, Robert D. Novak. Bob, thanks for coming in.

NOVAK: Thank you very much, Wolf.