In a Hannity & Colmes discussion of Robert Novak's column claiming that "[a]gents of Sen. Hillary Clinton are spreading the word in Democratic circles that she has scandalous information" about Sen. Barack Obama, Dick Morris said of Novak: “I know that Robert Novak is almost never wrong,” adding: “He's never proven wrong. He's always right.” Media Matters for America has identified numerous instances in which Novak has been “proven wrong” -- by others, and by himself.
In his November 17 column, nationally syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak wrote that "[a]gents of Sen. Hillary [Rodham] Clinton [D-NY] are spreading the word in Democratic circles that she has scandalous information about her principal opponent for the party's presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama [D-IL], but has decided not to use it." As Media Matters for America noted, Novak acknowledged on the November 19 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends that he had no personal knowledge of any “scandalous information,” and that his source was not on the Clinton campaign, but rather a “well-known Democrat” who “was told by an agent of the Clinton campaign ... about the alleged scandal.” Despite the complete absence of specifics in Novak's allegations or his sourcing, Fox News contributor and nationally syndicated columnist Dick Morris defended Novak's column during the November 19 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes and said of Novak: “I know that Robert Novak is almost never wrong,” adding: “He's never proven wrong. He's always right.”
Morris' praise of Novak notwithstanding, Media Matters for America has identified numerous instances in which Novak has been “proven wrong” -- by others, and by himself, including:
- Media Matters has documented Novak's continually evolving -- and frequently contradictory -- accounts of his July 8, 2003, conversation with then-deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, during which Armitage disclosed to Novak former CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA employee. Novak -- who later outed Plame in his July 14, 2003, column, sparking a Justice Department inquiry into the leak of Plame's identity -- has claimed that Plame's identity “was given to me as an offhand manner” and that his original source (subsequently revealed to be Armitage) “told me through a third party that the disclosure was inadvertent on his part.” But he also said, challenging Armitage's account, in a September 14, 2006, column: “Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat. He made clear he considered it especially suited for my column.”
In his memoir, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington (Crown Forum, July 2007), Novak wrote that in the exchange over Plame's identity, Armitage described the information as “real Evans and Novak.” Novak added: “I believe he meant that was the kind of inside information that my late partner, Rowland Evans, and I had featured in our column for so long. I interpreted that as meaning Armitage expected to see the item published in my column.”
Novak was quoted in a July 22, 2003, Newsday article saying of his interview: “I didn't dig it out, it was given to me,” adding that his then-unnamed source “thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it.” When later asked to reconcile that quote with his claims that the revelation was “offhand,” Novak claimed both that his comments were not “very artfully put,” and that Newsday misquoted him.
- In a June 4 column, Novak claimed that deputy White House political director Scott Jennings “targeted no candidate for support” during a January 26 political briefing for General Services Administration (GSA) administrator Lurita Doan and more than 30 of the agency's political appointees. In fact, according to a May 18 report by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, Jennings' briefing specifically targeted dozens of Republican candidates for support and Democratic candidates for opposition.
- In his March 12 column, Novak accused Sen. Clinton of “re-inventing her past” because Clinton's March 4 speech in Selma, Alabama, included a “claim of her attachment to Martin Luther King Jr. as a high school student in 1963,” suggesting that this conflicted with her description of herself as a “Goldwater girl” in her memoir, Living History (Simon & Schuster, June 2003). As Media Matters noted, however, Clinton wrote in Living History both that she heard King speak when she was a teenager and that she was a Goldwater girl.
- In his August 28, 2006, column, Novak suggested that U.S. District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's decision striking down the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program was so off-the-wall that it “has been stayed and probably will be reversed” by a federal appellate court. In fact, Taylor stayed her own order when the parties to the lawsuit -- the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the federal government -- agreed to ask her to do so.
- On the April 21, 2005, edition of CNN's now-defunct Crossfire, Novak claimed that President Bush and other Republicans “never said” Social Security should be privatized. As Media Matters noted at the time, Bush, members of his administration, and other prominent Republicans have advocated on several occasions that Social Security be “privatized.” As a presidential candidate in 2000, Bush said: “What privatization does, it allows the individual worker his or her choice to set money aside in a managed account.”
- On the February 21, 2005, edition of Crossfire, Novak defended the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, saying that their attacks on Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) during the 2004 presidential campaign were “honest” and “exactly correct.” As Media Matters has noted several times, most of the Swift Boat Veterans' allegations about Kerry's Vietnam war service have been thoroughly discredited, often by official military records, but also by the Swift Boat accusers themselves, who struggled to keep their stories straight.
From the November 19 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
COLMES: We now continue with Dick Morris. I want to get to this Novak issue on this alleged bombshell. It's a he-said, he-said, somebody told me and I have no sources. Do we automatically believe a story with no name, no attribution, no sourcing? Novak said he heard it from somebody who was told, quote, “by an agent of the Clinton campaign about alleged dirt.” This is so far removed from any kind of sourcing --
MORRIS: Well, the last time this particular columnist did something without a lot of sourcing, as I recall, you felt for it, hook, line, and sinker.
COLMES: I did?
MORRIS: Yep, when he said that Valerie Plame was outed by somebody in the Clinton [sic] administration and he wouldn't identify who. They named a special prosecutor --
COLMES: I didn't fall for that hook, line and sinker.
MORRIS: They spent hun -- well, he turned out to have been right. They spent -- they spent millions --
COLMES: Valerie Plame was outed by the Bush administration. That's not what I fell for. That wasn't my position.
MORRIS: -- no, no, Novak said she was outed by the Bush administration. And there was no sourcing on it. It was his word, and based on his word, all of Washington got turned upside down, named a special prosecutor, some poor son of a gun almost went to jail for it, even though he didn't do it, so --
COLMES: Well, fine. We found out there was Richard Armitage, we found out that there was Scooter Libby. Let's find out who the names are behind this.
MORRIS: -- so I -- so, you know and I know that Robert Novak is almost never wrong.
COLMES: I'm not questioning his talent as a reporter.
MORRIS: And therefore -- and therefore --
COLMES: I'm questioning that in this particular case, before you say, “Well, you know, I'm alleging that I have stuff on Obama, or at least I heard it from somebody who heard it from somebody,” shouldn't there be some degree of sourcing?
MORRIS: No more than there was on the Valerie Plame story. One of the good things about Novak is, like Jack Anderson before him, he breaks stuff that always turns out to be right. He's never proven wrong. He's always right. But he doesn't get his sourcing.