Novak to leave CNN as commentator

He will start with Fox News in January

December 17, 2005|By NICK MADIGAN | NICK MADIGAN,SUN REPORTER

Conservative columnist and commentator Robert Novak, one of the first journalists hired by CNN when it was launched 25 years ago, will not return to the news network after his contract expires Dec. 31.

Novak, a central figure in the Valerie Plame leak scandal, has agreed to contribute to the Fox News Channel starting in January.

CNN and Novak said the decision not to renew his contract had nothing to do with his involvement in the Plame case. Novak was the first to publish her identity as a CIA operative, in a Chicago Sun-Times column July 14, 2003.

"I'm going to be 75 years old in February, and I was working too damn hard," Novak, who will continue his Sun-Times column, said in a telephone interview yesterday. "I'm ready for a softer schedule. It won't be anything like what I was doing at CNN."

Novak said he regretted that several shows on which he appeared, among them Crossfire, The Capital Gang and Inside Politics, are no longer on the air.

"CNN canceled all the shows I was on," Novak said. "They're going in a different direction, but that's their privilege. They own the business."

In a statement issued by his office, Jon Klein, president of CNN/U.S., said that through the years, "Bob has offered incisive analysis for much of CNN's programming" and been "a valued contributor to CNN's political coverage."

But Novak's final moments on the network, in August, were anything but cordial. During a discussion with James Carville, Novak's left-wing foil, he cursed and left the Inside Politics set after Carville said Novak had "to show these right-wingers that he's got a backbone."

Novak apologized but has been off the air since. CNN denied reports that he was suspended, saying that it was mutually agreed that Novak take some time off.

With Novak's contract expiring, said Edie Emery, a CNN spokeswoman, "it was a good time to take stock of things."

Novak's reluctance to reveal how he came to publish Plame's name - which prompted an investigation that led to the jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and the indictment of I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff - was met with widespread criticism in journalism circles.

Bob Steele, a professor in journalism ethics at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., said Novak's silence "speaks loudly, in some respects, about his questionable ethical behavior in this unsavory story."

"At the least, I believe he owes the public an explanation for why he won't say more about his role, given how significant his actions were," Steele wrote in an e-mail.

Novak has said only that he will discuss the matter when the special prosecutor in the Plame case has completed his probe.

Novak said yesterday that he would have returned to the air on CNN shortly after the August incident had it not been for the Plame case.

"The problem was that it was very difficult to deal with the special prosecutor's investigation of the CIA leak," Novak said. "While it was going on we decided not to put me on the air. After the Libby indictment they extended the prosecutor's term, so I never went back on the air."

Novak said he would likely do a "wind-up" interview on CNN before the end of the year.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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