The operative

White House water-carrier Robert Novak, infamous for exposing Valerie Plame, has been flacking for the Swift Boat Veterans book -- not bothering to disclose his close personal ties with the publisher.


Conservative commentator Robert Novak, who has energetically promoted the bestselling book “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry,” published an unusual addendum to his syndicated column on Sept. 6. It read: “In response to queries: My son, Alex Novak, is director of marketing for Regnery Publishing Inc., publisher of ‘Unfit for Command.’ He is 36 and has been employed at Regnery for six years, since receiving his MBA from the University of Maryland. He has had no connection with my reporting about ‘Unfit for Command,’ a bestselling book dealing with Kerry’s war record whose news value is obvious. I plan to continue to pursue this story as developments warrant.”

But Novak’s son’s employment at Regnery, revealed by the New York Times on Aug. 30, isn’t Novak’s only tie to the Washington publisher of conservative polemics. Novak also has a long-standing professional and personal relationship that he did not reveal — with Regnery’s owner, newsletter magnate Tom Phillips. Phillips owns Eagle Publishing, whose subsidiaries include Regnery; Human Events, a 60-year-old conservative newsweekly; and the Evans-Novak Political Report, Novak’s subscription-based newsletter ($297 a year). In addition, Novak is an unpaid member of the board of Phillips’ private foundation, the Phillips Foundation, which awards journalism fellowships to young conservatives.

At Morton’s Steakhouse in downtown Washington on Sept. 21, Robert and Alex Novak joined Phillips and several dozen other cogs in the right-wing propaganda machine to celebrate the success of “Unfit for Command,” which boasts 850,000 copies in print and sits at No. 2 on the New York Times bestseller list. (“Unfit” was knocked from the top spot recently by Kitty Kelley’s exposé “The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty.”)

Most of the guests at the party — including the two generations of Novaks — have been promoters of the negative narrative of Kerry’s military past that culminated in a ringing cash register for Regnery.

The guests of honor were the authors of “Unfit,” former Nixon operative John O’Neill and Jerome Corsi, who are driving forces behind the discredited Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The group, with millions of dollars from Republican Party donors closely linked to Bush political advisor Karl Rove, ran a barrage of television ads attacking Kerry’s war record in August and September — which many analysts believe has helped tilt the race recently in Bush’s favor.

You Might Also Like

On television and in his columns, Novak has trumpeted the “Unfit” authors’ unfounded claims that Kerry lied about the heroism that earned him the Bronze and Silver stars. Novak’s work has been amplified by other guests at the party, such as talk radio host Laura Ingraham and Greg Mueller of Creative Response Concepts, the conservative P.R. outfit that promoted the book and SBVT.

Other prominent conservatives at the party included lawyers Victoria Toensing and Joseph DiGenova, a husband-and-wife team of cable TV commentators; GOP direct-mail wizard Richard Viguerie; African-American radio host Armstrong Williams; and Chris DeCivita of DCI, a Washington lobbying firm that helps advise the Swift Boat group.

Then there was a crew from the Phillips publishing empire, including Regnery Publishing president Alfred Regnery, Phillips Foundation secretary John Farley and Eagle Publishing president Jeffrey Carneal.

Since the Swift Boat ads began running in August, Novak has been one of the chief peddlers of the group’s line that Kerry served dishonorably in Vietnam and lied about the events that led the Navy to award his medals. He has persisted despite the fact that none of the Swift Boat accusers actually served with Kerry on his boat, while Kerry’s actual crew mates are adamant that he did act heroically. Novak has ignored an investigation by the Washington Post that found that the Swift Boat accusers’ own military records contradict their assertions that Kerry did not save a crew mate’s life under fire and instead support Kerry’s version of events. And he has even dismissed the Navy’s announcement that Kerry’s awards were proper.

“Nothing has been disproved that the Swift Boat Veterans say!” Novak exclaimed Sept. 18 on CNN’s “Capital Gang.” In an Aug. 28 column, Novak trumpeted the “first on-the-record interview” with a retired rear admiral, William Schachte Jr., who said he was present when Kerry received the wound for which he was awarded his first Purple Heart and that, in his opinion, the Democratic nominee had merely “nicked himself.”

And on CNN’s “Crossfire” on Aug. 27, Novak threw up his hands and declared, “I’m just a humble journalist,” when Democratic commentator and consultant Paul Begala backed him into a rhetorical corner over the controversy. Begala, Novak said on the show, is a “very, very able political practitioner” — as if Novak weren’t.

Indeed, Novak explained to New York Times reporter Jacques Steinberg for an Aug. 30 article that he didn’t disclose his son’s employment at Regnery, while essentially flacking the “Unfit for Command” book, because “I don’t think it’s relevant.” Novak added: “I’m just functioning as a columnist with a point of view.”

Phillips Foundation secretary Farley said in an interview that Novak and Phillips are old friends, and that “Bob was the trustee [of the Phillips Foundation] who came up with the idea of giving journalism scholarships.” Farley said Novak is unpaid and does not receive expense reimbursements from the foundation. “It’s sort of a labor of love for him.”

The foundation’s net worth in 2001, the latest year for which public tax returns are available, was $9.4 million. According to Farley, most of the foundation’s wealth comes from stock it owns in Phillips Publishing International, the newsletter company Phillips founded. In 1999, the Thomas L. Phillips Revocable Trust made a $5.5 million gift to the foundation, records show. Phillips did not respond to a request for comment placed with Farley.

The Phillips Foundation has received money from other conservative foundations. In 2001, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation donated $50,000, the Charles G. Koch Foundation gave $25,000, and the Lebensfeld Foundation gave $25,000, records show.

Novak, the “humble journalist,” has been in high dudgeon over what he perceives as others’ conflicts of interest. Exposing a “conflict of interest,” after all, was the rationale Novak gave for his decision to blow the cover of covert Central Intelligence Agency operative Valerie Plame in a column last year after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, at the behest of the CIA debunked claims that Iraq had signed an agreement with the African country of Niger to purchase uranium for nuclear weapons. That column, citing “two senior administration officials” as sources, led to the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate possible felonies that carries a 10-year prison term.

In a brief interview with Salon by telephone Thursday, Novak declined to comment on whether his service on the Phillips Foundation board and his personal and professional relationship with the owner of Regnery should have been disclosed in the columns he wrote promoting the Swift Boat Veterans group. “You want me to draw conclusions,” he said, “and you can draw your own conclusions.”

Mary Jacoby is Salon's Washington correspondent.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>