Robert Novak, controversial conservative columnist, dies at 78

Robert Novak, the conservative columnist whose role in the Valerie Plame affair made him a focus of late-life controversy, has died of brain cancer at age 78.

Novak, known with backhanded affection to political buffs as "the Prince of Darkness," wrote a syndicated column, "Inside Report," that ran for decades in the Chicago Sun-Times. For 30 years, he co-wrote it with Rowland Evans Jr., then continued solo after Evans retired in 1993. Though a stalwart right-winger, Novak was known more for his well-sourced reporting than for his editorializing.
It was some of that reporting that earned him a central role in the controversy over the Bush Administration's attempt to discredit critics of the Iraq War by exposing the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative. Citing confidential sources, Novak reported on July 14, 2003, that Plame had suggested sending her husband, retired diplomat Joseph Wilson, on a mission to Africa to investigate claims of Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium.

Not long after Wilson refuted the White House's uranium claims on the opinion pages of the New York Times, Novak wrote a column divulging Wilson's relationship to Plame. Novak was never indicted for jeopardizing the safety of a CIA agent by revealing her identity, but the repercussions from his column led indirectly to the jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller, the conviction of vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and a First Amendment fight over anonymous sources.

Novak resurfaced as a newsmaker inadvertently last year, after he hit a pedestrian with his sports car on a Washington, D.C., street. The victim was not seriously injured. Days after the incident, Novak revealed that he had been diagnosed with the brain tumor that would eventually kill him.

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