When Robert Novak Backed Giving Up Reporter's Sources

By: Greg Mitchell Since the late Robert Novak became known for his stout defense of journalists' refusal to reveal sources -- in the wake of his entanglement in the CIA leak case -- it may surprise some to learn that he applied this principle selectively.

Case in point: the controversy that followed Dan Rather's "60 Minutes" report in September 2004 on President George W. Bush's National Guard record.

Novak, who died yesterday at age 78, apparently believed that the principle of not revealing confidential sources is rather flexible.

He said on national television that CBS should release the name of its source for the documents at the center of the dispute over its recent program.

On the CNN panel show, "Capital Gang," Novak joined the many who expressed grave doubts about the CBS documents, then said: "I'd like CBS, at this point, to say where they got these documents from. They didn't get them from a CIA agent. I don't believe there was any laws involved. I don't think we'll have a special prosecutor, if they tell. I think they should say where they got these documents because I thought it was a very poor job of reporting by CBS ...."

Fellow panelist, Al Hunt, from the Wall Street Journal, then replied: "Robert Novak, you're saying CBS should reveal its source?"

The transcript continues:

Novak: Yes.

Hunt: You do? You think reporters ought to reveal sources?

Novak: No, no. Wait a minute.

Hunt: I'm just asking.

Novak: I'm just saying in that case.

Hunt: Oh.

Novak: I think - I think it's very important. If this is a phony document, the American - the people should know about it.

Hunt: So in some cases, reporters ought to reveal sources.

Novak: Yes.

Hunt: But not in all cases.

Novak: That's right.

Hunt: OK. Mark Shields, what's the relevance of all this?

Shields: A point well taken, Al.


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