Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Is CNN Marginalizing Robert Novak?

Is the Robert Novak era at CNN coming to an end?

Novak has appeared on the network since 1980. But in recent months two of Novak's politically oriented shows -- the weekday Crossfire and weekend The Capital Gang -- have been canceled. Last week, Inside Politics, which occasionally featured Novak, was pulled in favor of The Situation Room, the network's new three-hour, late-afternoon news show.

For the time being, Novak won't be seen on any of CNN's remaining shows. CNN has pulled him off the air indefinitely, following an Aug. 4 outburst on Inside Politics.

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Novak's outburst happened 10 minutes before the end of the show in the midst of an exchange among Novak, host Ed Henry and liberal analyst James Carville. They were talking about the possible Senate candidacy of Florida congresswoman Katherine Harris when Carville needled Novak and tried to interrupt.

"He's got to show the right-wingers that he's got backbone," Carville said. "Go ahead, the Wall Street Journal editorial page is watching. Show them you're tough."

Novak, shown on the screen sitting next to Carville, waved his right hand and replied: "I think that's bull----, and I hate that. Just let it go." While Henry addressed another question to Carville, Novak stood up, walked off the set behind Carville -- fully visible to viewers -- and apparently pulled off his microphone.

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The veteran conservative pundit and columnist has been under fire in recent months for his role in the identification of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Novak's column identified her, and questions surrounding administration leaks -- Novak indicated he learned Plame's identity from two "senior administration officials" -- led to an ongoing investigation being conducted by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Novak's refusal to discuss the matter publicly has drawn criticism from many quarters.

Henry later told Reuters that "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 able to ask him about that, and hopefully we'll be able to ask him about that in the future."

But Novak said his outburst, and subsequent suspension, had nothing to do with Henry's planned question.

"That had nothing to do with it, absolutely nothing," Novak said. "I was sorry he said that."

However, New York University Journalism Professor Jay Rosen's blog quotes an e-mail from reporter Scott Heiser of Financial Times, which said that Novak walked out of an Aug. 1 Young America’s Foundation National Conservative Student Conference, when a question came up about the Plame investigation.

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Regardless, the question has to be asked: Is CNN trying to marginalize Novak?

Certainly, with Novak unwilling to comment on the Plame-leak story, the conservative pundit has essentially marginalized himself on one of the top political and journalism stories of the year.
CNN, and its website, have covered Novak's involvement in the Plame-leak story as aggressively as any other news outlet.

CNN's decision to rid itself of yellfests like Crossfire may mean that the network is growing tired or partisan arguments posing as information on what is supposed to be a "news" network. Perhaps the latest brouhaha will serve as an excuse for CNN to reduce Novak to an occasional commentator, or to end its 25-year relationship altogether.

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