Letter from David Brock to CNN president re: Novak contract

November 9, 2005

Jim Walton
President, CNN News Group
Time Warner Inc.
One CNN Center
Atlanta, GA 30303

Dear Mr. Walton:

I am writing to respectfully ask that you not renew CNN's contract with syndicated columnist and CNN contributor Robert D. Novak, which is reportedly set to expire in early 2006. While Novak has not been on the air since August 2005, when he was suspended for uttering an obscenity and storming off the set, I would ask that you take this next step.

Very little has been disclosed regarding Novak's involvement in the ongoing CIA leak investigation that has so far led to the indictment of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. But as Media Matters for America has documented, in the two years since Novak exposed former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative, Novak has made several contradictory statements with respect to crucial issues in the case. In two instances, Novak's account of events appeared to change in the fall of 2003, after the Justice Department launched a formal investigation into the case.

As we noted on August 5, 2005:

  • Novak contradicted his own account of how he was given Plame's name. He first claimed that “two administration officials” gave him the name because they thought it was “significant.” After the Justice Department investigation began, Novak claimed the officials had given him Plame's name only in an “offhand” way.
  • In his original July 14, 2003, column, Novak clearly laid out Wilson's qualifications to conduct the trip to Niger, which included 15 years as a Foreign Service officer and his appointment as ambassador to Gabon by President George H.W. Bush. After the Justice Department investigation was launched, Novak began to repeat publicly that he was initially “curious” about why Wilson had been chosen to investigate the Niger allegations.
  • In a July 15, 2004, column, Novak accurately stated that in its 2004 report on prewar intelligence on Iraq, the Senate Intelligence Committee had not reached an official conclusion as to whether Plame had suggested Wilson for the fact-finding mission to Niger. But in his August 1, 2005, column, Novak contradicted his earlier reporting, falsely stating that the committee's unanimous report refuted Wilson's denial, concluding that Wilson's wife had “suggested his name for the trip.”

Mr. Novak's credibility as a CNN contributor has been severely compromised by these contradictory statements and accounts, as well as by his complete lack of candor on the issue of his involvement in the outing of Plame. In light of the recent indictments handed down against Libby by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald, I trust that CNN will acknowledge the seriousness of this matter and make Novak's suspension permanent.

David Brock
President and CEO
Media Matters for America