Robert D. Novak valued hard facts over hype. When he would storm, “I have a million things to do!”, a daily refrain, I never hesitated to take him literally.
From my perch at the intern desk, and later, as a researcher, I watched him cover what would be his last presidential race. He boarded the Straight Talk Express with journalists less than half his age. He trekked to the New Hampshire primaries in the dead of winter. He logged long hours working sources from behind his desk and at home.
The rigors of campaign coverage didn’t keep him from packing columns on other topics with solid, exclusive details. He laid bare earmarks buried in appropriations bills and exposed proponents of pork. Following his beloved Fighting Illini to the 2008 Rose Bowl tournament, he issued strict orders from his California hotel room as I rooted through the Library of Congress archives for source articles on the ’46, ’51, and ’63 games.
I never found out which primary candidate won the vote of this bastion of the commentary pages. He would only ever answer my queries with silence and a mischievous smile that drove me back to my research projects. Commentary was secondary, new facts first. I’m privileged to have learned that lesson from a giant of journalism.