What made Bob blow?

Did "Who's Who" cause Robert Novak to walk off the "Inside Politics" set? Or was it something else?

By T.g.

Published August 5, 2005 4:47PM (EDT)

So why did Robert Novak flee the set of "Inside Politics" Thursday? Jame Carville said last night that his CNN colleague has "probably got a lot going on in his life." But the Progress Report, Mickey Kaus and a lot of others are speculating today that Novak's blow-up just might have been related to the book that was sitting on a table on the set: A fine looking, hardbound volume of "Who's Who in America."

Now, we've always thought that "Who's Who" was a little cheesy, but it's not the sort of thing that was send us stomping off national TV. For Novak, though, "Who's Who" raises a thorny question: Is he intentionally trying to spread a false story about how he came to know that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA?

In his column on the Valerie Plame case earlier this week, Novak said -- as he did in a column back in October 2003 -- that anyone could have learned the name of Joseph Wilson's wife by looking up Wilson's listing in "Who's Who." Although Novak hasn't said explicitly that he learned Plame's name that way, the New York Times said earlier this week that Novak's repeated references to the book seemed to be a suggestion that administration officials weren't as involved in Plame's outing as other reports would have us believe. "In drawing renewed attention to the published listing," Anne Kornblut wrote in the Times, "Mr. Novak seemed to suggest more directly than ever before that the scrutiny that has focused on which of his sources provided him the name might have been misplaced, and that he might well have figured it out by himself."

The problem -- a problem Kornblut missed -- is that any such theory would be contradicted by what Novak said back in 2003. In an interview with Newsday then, Novak said his "sources" told him of Plame's identity. "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," he said then. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."

So unless Novak counts "Who's Who" as one of his "sources" -- and if he does, his reporting skills may be even more dubious than we thought -- whatever "suggestion" he's making now contradicts the version of the story he told back then.

Was someone about to ask Novak about the contradiction when he walked off the set Thursday? "Inside Politics" host Ed Henry says he told Novak before the segment began that he was going to ask him about the Plame case. The last time he did that on the air on the air, Novak got testy but managed to remain seated until the end of the discussion. Something pushed Novak over the edge this time, and it sure seems unlikely that Carville's garden variety sniping about Katherine Harris was enough to make him blow.

Was it the book? Or was it something else? The blogger Atrios is reporting a rumor -- unattributed, unsubstantiated, and see, Jeff, this is how you make it clear that speculation is just speculation -- that Novak is going to be testifying today. If that rumor turns out to be true, things begin to make a little more sense. When Novak took off his microphone and said, "That's bullshit," Carville was mid-riff about how Novak has to make a good show of being tough in front of his right-wing friends. If -- if -- Novak has an appointment with Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury today, Carville's words might have been hitting a little too close to home.

By T.g.


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