David Zurawik, the Baltimore Sun’s TV critic, didn’t even wait a full 24 hours after Robert Novak’s death to launch a stinging criticism of the former Crossfire host on the newspaper’s website on Tuesday. Zurawik lamented the apparently contaminated state of political discourse on cable TV and placed much of the blame on Novak in the blog entry titled, “Robert Novak on cable TV: A Polarizing Presence.”
The critic began by announcing his intention to focus on the conservative’s television legacy, instead of his “place...on the political and journalistic map.” He then when right into his attack on Novak, which read like a thinly-veiled critique of the Fox News Channel: “Novak titled his 2007 memoir, ‘The Prince of Darkness,’ and he was indeed a very dark force in cable TV news contributing mightily to the toxic culture of confrontation, belligerence and polarization that so defines cable TV and American political discourse today. There is no way to be nice about his impact on cable TV during its formative years -- and his contributions for the worse to the tone and style of what passes for political conversation today.”
Zurawik then ventured to remind his readers about the 2005 on-air incident at CNN which book-ended Novak’s long career at the network, all the while praising current CNN president Jonathan Klein for moving the network away from the columnist’s “dark force.”
There are some things we shouldn’t forget, like the ugly way Novak’s career ended at CNN when he used vulgar language on-air and then stormed off the set. The backstory was that he knew a question was coming from host Ed Henry about his role as the first journalist to disclose the identity of CIA operative Valeria [sic] Plame. That was in August of 2005.
Novak was suspended by CNN and left the cable channel in December of 2005 when his contract was not renewed.
The backstory here: In January of 2005, shortly after taking over as president of CNN/US, Jonathan Klein cancelled “Crossfire,” which Novak once co-hosted, and set out on a mission to do what he could to move CNN away from a toxic cable talk show formula defined by confrontation and insult rather than information and discussion. TV and the nation are in Klein’s debt for that effort, which included moving away from the likes of Novak.
The TV critic ended his blog entry by giving Novak one of the biggest insults, at least from the left side of the political spectrum- he compared the conservative to Nixon in the 50s, possibly hinting that Novak was a bit like Joe McCarthy: “I am sure Novak’s colleagues from the cable TV shows on which he appeared over the years...will have warmer recollections of the man. But I am talking about Novak’s sneering TV persona and the role it played in reaching back to the dark political style of the 1950’s Richard Nixon -- and leading us to the polarized, angry space that cable TV and the conversation of American politics now inhabits.”
Even the liberal CNN, who, as Zurawik noted, chose to not renew Novak’s contract, paid tribute to the veteran columnist. That might give you a hint as to how much class, or lack thereof, the TV critic has.
[H/t: Jason Rantz, executive producer for the Phil Hendrie Show]