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Novak's Not So Fond Farewell

By Andy Alexander

Anonymous online comments can be brutal, especially when they involve polarizing figures in public life. As I’ve written, I believe in anonymous comments as a valuable form of free speech. But while the constitution guarantees our right to speak freely, it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) assure that our speech will always be civil.

That’s worth keeping in mind when looking at the comments on The Post’s Web site in response to a question posed by Obituaries Editor Adam Bernstein. After writing Wednesday’s front page obit on legendary conservative columnist Robert D. Novak, Bernstein used the online “Post Mortem” blog to ask: “What aspect of Novak do you think will prove most crucial to his legacy?”

Many of the roughly 250 comments are tributes to Novak. But they're drowned out by those who have bid him a not-so-fond farewell. Brace yourself. Here’s a sampling:

From someone using the handle “kase:” "Excellent! In an otherwise bad dreary week the death of this SOB is a ray of sunshine! (Hope he suffered...) One less republican!!"

“Beingsensible” recalled the incident where Novak, driving his Corvette in downtown Washington, struck a pedestrian. Novak was diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly thereafter: “His ability to strike a homeless man with his vehicle and continue to drive as if he hit a bird. That's the Novak I will always remember. “

“Crapdetector” recalled: “I watched Novak be abusive to his wife in a dispicable [sic] way at lunch once. One of the few regrets of my life is that I didn't say something to him at the time. We were schmoozing about the events of the day. His wife expressed an opinion. He turned to her and yelled, ‘That's stupid. Why would you say something so stupid! Why would you speak at all! No one cares what you have to say!’ She didn't say another word after that. You can tell a lot about a man by how he treats his family.”

“a_DC_denizen” wrote: “Couldn't have happened to a more-deserving individual - what goes around, comes around.”

“george_w_bush0” called him a “Race-baiting maggot who contributed nothing meaningful or substantive to meaningful political and policy discourse. Death is the great equalizer."

“Good Riddance!” wrote “AnotherRealAmerican."

Apparently unaware that Novak had opposed President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq, “AverageJane” said: “I wonder if he had to pass by the 4332 U.S. and 100,000+ Iraqi souls on his way to the judgement [sic] chair, and what their thoughts were as he past [sic]?”

“applejerry2” wrote: “No martini today. It might dull my feeling of great joy.”

From “arrabbiato:” “He will be remembered as a vicious, corrosive personality, a vindictive, arrogant-oh-so-arrogant BULLY.”

“Southernbred1” wrote: “I'm delighted that he died. I hope he suffered greatly from his malagnant [sic] brain tumor - and oh yes, I'm a liberal who is not tolerant of evil.”

Alluding to Novak’s controversial outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, “gasmonkey” wrote: “Good riddance! Seriously, we're a nation better off with him gone. He was completely unrepentant about exposing a CIA agent's identity for political points. In Novak's world, NOTHING was out of bounds provided his side scored a point.”

“starman0722” wrote: “He should be remembered as an ugly little man inside and out.”

From “stiygdgy:” “Novak's death from brain cancer has convinced me that God answers prayers.”

By Andy Alexander  | August 21, 2009; 2:41 PM ET
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Dead heads beating a dead horse to try and feel better. I guess they are trying to escape the poverty of their own lives. They're all playas and thug lifers.

Posted by: Dermitt | August 21, 2009 6:34 PM | Report abuse

Some of these comments are offensively vulgar, others are not so much objectionable as ungracious, given Mr. Krauthammer's death. Since the introduction to this entry suggests that these comments are inappropriate, which some of them clearly are, one wonders why Mr. Alexander would choose to re-broadcast them, giving them far more prominence?

Posted by: Seytom1 | August 21, 2009 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Seyton (above) refers to Mr. Krauthammers death, incorrectly of course, as we are referring to Mr. Novak. The reaction,though, would be the same.

Do conservative commentators have the same style because most of the time they don't have facts or logic on their side?

Posted by: MTgrassland | August 21, 2009 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Andrew some time ago you were on your soap box about the poor quality of proofing (and fact checking) in the Post. Time to proof your blog before hitting post. Three typos in a single blog, two in one sentence?

"But they're drowned out by those who have big [sic] him a not-so-fond farewell."

"Alluding to Novak’s controversial outsing [sic] of CIA operative Valerie lame [sic],... “

(Unless of course the controversy was Novak of the gravelly voice actually outperforming Ms. "lame" on American Idol. That would have given us cause to remember him more fondly.)

Posted by: krush01 | August 22, 2009 2:10 AM | Report abuse

While some of the comments were brutal (I can’t excuse those who said that they hoped Novak suffered before he died), Bernstein did ask about Novak’s legacy, not for eulogies.

Novak may have been a fine man in private, but his public persona is all that most of us knew. That Novak was a mean-spirited bully, who will be remembered for his part in outing Valerie Plame and never accepting responsibility for it.

Posted by: hgillette | August 22, 2009 2:19 AM | Report abuse

Andy, why on earth would you give these rude people a larger forum than they already had? Why are you encouraging this ugliness by highlighting it?

It doesn't make any difference who they are talking about, these kinds of comments in response to any article are best totally ignored by everyone, most importantly you.

Posted by: pmi1027 | August 22, 2009 2:31 AM | Report abuse

You're quite right to call out hate-ridden comments. While I'm among those who have quite a lot of criticism of Mr. Novak's behavior, there is no excuse for nastiness.

Will you similarly call out Mr. Broder for his empty, hagiographic, glossing-over-everything-Novak-did-post-sixties obit column of the 18th?

Posted by: sembtex | August 22, 2009 4:00 AM | Report abuse

Hmm . . . I guess Garrison Keillor's comment would be, "Sumus quid sumus" (We are what we are). This is to be tempered by the good counsel, "Nil nisi bonum de mortuis" (Say nothing unless good about the dead). In the end, after the usual flurry of hype about saints and sinners, Mr. Novak, like all of us, will disappear into the dust bin of history, although his memory will undoubtedly linger longer than for most of us.

Posted by: JackN | August 22, 2009 4:18 AM | Report abuse

Same vicious vulgarity was seen when Tony Snow died.

Liberals are just disgusting hypocrites.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | August 22, 2009 9:14 AM | Report abuse

I don't think anyone would be surprised to know that people post hateful rants online. What I find stunningly hypocritical is that the Post allows such "free speech" online but not in the letters to the editor published on the editorial pages. The products are from the same brand. In an era of hemorrhaging readership and revenue, is this helpful? For readers to associate this level of discourse with the Post, and for the Post to allow it?

I also find it stunningly hypocritical that anonymity is so unequivocally tolerated in online comments, yet the ombudsman and the Post are yet again engaging in navel-gazing of the paper's own apparently unfollowed guidelines on anonymous sources in reporting.

Yet a third example of the ambivalence: In guidelines for posting comments to this blog, the rules state: User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. It seems pretty clear that the comments about Novak constitute personal attacks. Were they removed? If not, why?

Why the multiple double standards? Why has the medium become the message?

Posted by: mat1 | August 22, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

The hateful response of the angry and hypocritical partisans on the left was to be expected. When news of Novak's cancer was made public, similar comments were posted on the Post's site.

The Post staff knew this was going to happen and it is disgraceful that they would put up their colleague to be attacked in this predictable fashion.

Posted by: bobmoses | August 22, 2009 6:58 PM | Report abuse

As I see it, both hgillette and mat1 are right. Yes, this wasn't an obituary thread, but one asking for the legacy. So, you couldn't expect crocodile's tears, but honest statement, however raw and often distasteful.

And yes, the Post should have shown more responsibility in moderating those comments. We commenters here know that often comments don't get published without the reason for that censorship being clear at all. But in that thread, the Post allowed such obvious violations of the guidelines? Sry, that smells of hypocrisy! You can't publish such rants and then complain about them!

My personal take on Bob Novak: Only after he became mortally ill, he discovered his inner Mensch. Too little, too late.

One more point to Mat1: CNN just had a story about bloggers being fired from their job. Pls respect that other people have a different, more increased sense of privacy than you. They may have good reasons for that. And if you regularly read comments, you should be aware that posting under their allegedly real name doesn't keep people from becoming hateful and insulting. And that there are pseudonymous commenters who always try to be respectful. There simply is no general rule about this.

Posted by: Gray62 | August 22, 2009 7:12 PM | Report abuse

After the vile nasty words from the left when Tony Snow passed, I didn't bother to read the Novak comments. I didn't even read the comments you have high(low)lighted.

When Ted Kennedy passes, I won't be sorry he's no longer in the Senate, but I also will not celebrate his death.

Some people have class; others don't.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | August 22, 2009 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Btw, I looked through some of those comments. Among the first 40 or so, I found only one that had really something nice to say about Novak. Regarding the fact that there are many conservatve readers and commenters at the Post, this is telling. Looks like even his denfenders acknoledge he was not a nice person.

Now, shall commenters lie about their feelings when asked for their honest opinions? Did Novak expect any better? If he would have wanted more positive eulogies, he certainly would have worked harder on this during his lifetime. Whatever people say about him, nobody called him dumb.

Posted by: Gray62 | August 22, 2009 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Gray62 -

"Now, shall commenters lie about their feelings when asked for their honest opinions"

You don't have to lie. If you have nothing but hateful things to say about somebody, you can at lease show some class and take a day off when the guys dies and say nothing. You know, behave like you would if you weren't anonymous.

Posted by: bobmoses | August 22, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

bob, asking people for the most important aspekts of that very controversial person, and expecting only positive answers, is ridiculous. Especially for a newspaper. If the Post didn't want to hear the truth, they shouldn't have asked.

Posted by: Gray62 | August 22, 2009 7:56 PM | Report abuse

Reading Bernstein's blog post now for the third time, I still can't find anything really positive about Bob Novak as a human being in it, either. The attributes are "smart", "aggressive", "brutally candid", "gambling habit". Not any mention of, say, "devoted family man", "caring person", "selfless", or any other human quality. And even the quote only tells us that Novaks positions "hardened".

Now, really, Mr. Alexander, what should the readers have done, make something up, where the Post's own editor came up empty? Or stay mum even though they were asked for their participation? I respect that you want Bob Novak to get a more favorable goodbye, too, but if even the Post can't find anything positive to say, maybe the paper shouldn't have run an obituary at all. Because the three page story doesn't tell us anything positive about the columnist, too. It's the most disturbing summary of a life I've ever read. No surprise the readers couldn't find a positive point, either.

Posted by: Gray62 | August 22, 2009 8:27 PM | Report abuse

I guess trashing a dead man means that the vulgar shall inherit the earth.

Posted by: PaulShultz1 | August 22, 2009 10:11 PM | Report abuse

"bob, asking people for the most important aspekts of that very controversial person, and expecting only positive answers, is ridiculous. Especially for a newspaper. If the Post didn't want to hear the truth, they shouldn't have asked.

Posted by: Gray62 "

You can give your opinion of someone without spewing vile hate speech at them.

It is sad to think that folks are getting so used to the vile hate speech on the web that they refraining from comments like"Race-baiting maggot " and "In an otherwise bad dreary week the death of this SOB is a ray of sunshine!".

It is particularly laughable that these hateful and vulgar comments come from folks who constantly beat their chest about how much more "tolerant" and "intellectual" they are than those who dare not share their narrow minded views.

Posted by: bobmoses | August 22, 2009 11:48 PM | Report abuse

"You can give your opinion of someone without spewing vile hate speech at them."
Bob, no misunderstanding, as I wrote in my first comment, I think "the Post should have shown more responsibility in moderating those comments". Maybe I should have said more explicit that of course I don't support comments that speak of "ray of sunshine", "great joy", "being delighted" and that "god answers prayers". Those are over the top, and shouldn't have been published.

However, since Novak never has shown much respect for other people's feelings, too, I think that "good riddance" is totally ok. "Hitting a homeless man with hsi car" WAS an aspect of Novak's life, even the three page obituary mentions it. The incident where he called his wife a five letter word (or two letter, depending on spelling) is true, reported by witnesses, and was an aspect of Novak that influenced many people's views on him. And the stubbornly right wing columnist was really "completely unrepentant about exposing a CIA agent's identity for political points" and ner expressed regrets he endangered national security and ruined the carreer of a good agent. So, my point is, half of the examples on Mr. Alexanders list don't belong there. They are strong opinons on Bob Novak as a human being, but not "incivil". And the Post's Adam Bernstein asked for those opinions, so it hypocritical to complain about them now.

Posted by: Gray62 | August 23, 2009 6:21 AM | Report abuse

And now to something completely different: Choosing God and Tylenol
Mr. Alexander, is this an advertisement, or part of the paper's content, on the frontpage? And what are the guidelines for naming commercial products in stories, especially in headlines? Certainly even WaPo admits that here is a line beyond which reporting becomes surreptitious advertising. Imho those are crossed when the brand name isn't essential to the actual contnet of a story at all.

And in this case, Barbara Bradley Hagerty's video allegedly is about "why she left Christian Science and found her own faith". So, what is that drug brand doing in the headline?

Posted by: Gray62 | August 23, 2009 6:29 AM | Report abuse

Gray62 -

We clearly have a difference of opinion as to what is acceptable behavior. You think that gratuitous hate speech towards the dead is acceptable as long as you don't like the person in question. I do not.

Unfortunately, there are a lot more of you out there among the posters and it says a lot about how our culture is "advancing".

Posted by: bobmoses | August 23, 2009 7:26 AM | Report abuse

Yup, Bob, "we clearly have a difference of opinion" on this. I guess it's because I was never a friend of those "traditional" obituaries which distort the truth by showering the desaeased with high praise. Let's face it, there are lots of selfish persons who never did anything good to their fellow men, and ignoring this in their obituary is really too hypocritical, imho. You seem to hold the opinion that all sins should be forgiven after death. Ok.

However, let's not forget that we both agree that expressing "great joy" and "being delighted" is bad style and vile. So, we both see limits for what's appropriate in such a situation, we just differ about where they are.

Posted by: Gray62 | August 23, 2009 8:07 AM | Report abuse

To raise this on a meta level: Doesn't everybody has it in his own hands, to a certain degree, what will be said about him after he leaves the material world?

As I see it, this should makes us work harder on accomplishing at least some good deeds so that well meaning eulogists find some stuff they can work with. Not to speak of the ultimate court. It is our own fault if we arrive on judgment day with nothing on record to make good for our sins.

Posted by: Gray62 | August 23, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

Hey! Mr. Alexander, I protest your not-so-fond characterization of a merited intelligence agent:
"CIA operative Valerie lame"
That's outrageous! Valerie Plame is a very dynamic person instead!
Oh, and btw, what's an "outsing"?

Posted by: Gray62 | August 23, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

I never got the impression that Novak cared much what people thought of him. Indeed, he seemed at times to actively promote his dark public persona, which was probably good for book sales. Personally, I wasn't a fan.

Nonetheless, those of his critics who went so far as to hope that his death was a painful one (as it undoubtedly was) are sad, sick, sadistic individuals.

Posted by: tresangelas | August 23, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

About half of these comments are cruel, and the rest are merely factual.

Posted by: amethyst2 | August 23, 2009 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Please remember, we are first a land of people who have various ideas of thought, practices and values. We're reminded we live in this land of liberty where one's thoughts and words are to be sought and debated in the true spirit of democracy with respect towards another. Criticism and critque are to be encouraged and are needed as never before but shouting down speakers or calling people names accomplishes exactly WHAT!!

Posted by: pkmatt3 | August 24, 2009 1:46 AM | Report abuse

I want to know what happened to the comments section of the ombudsman column. This is off topic, but there is no comments section in the ombudsman column.

Posted by: markoller | August 24, 2009 1:52 AM | Report abuse

Better send an email to Mr. Akexander, markoller! Obviously, nobody at WaPo, except maybe a moderator, reads what we post here. Evidence: Check the comment by krush01 from August 22, 2:10 am. He pointed out several typos. And now read the blog post again - it's August 24 and the typos are still there!

Posted by: Gray62 | August 24, 2009 7:20 AM | Report abuse

Disgusting that people revel in death. If there were term limits or at least compulsory retirement for politicians and pundits we would be spared some of the vitriol engendered by those who have hung around long past their best years. Mr. Novak was a terrific muckraker in his early years, having contacts throughout the government where there is lots of muck. Since perhaps 1980 he deteriorated into a partisan hack. Too bad since the muck still needed raking.

Posted by: LHO39 | August 24, 2009 7:53 AM | Report abuse

The man was garbage. The fact that he died does not make him any better.
He was a a hater and the people that he hated have every right to show their contempt of him.

Posted by: jldubnoff | August 24, 2009 7:54 AM | Report abuse

You can know all you really need to know about Robert Novak by what he told government officials he contacted: “You can either be a source or a target.”

Posted by: hgillette | August 24, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for repeating it all, I didn't have the pleasure of seeing the remarks before. It was a pleasure indeed. He was a sick, twisted, disgusting, despicable excuse for a human being.

Posted by: mtravali | August 24, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

As a reader, I have been exposed to the acid ramblings of Novak and Krauthammer for too many years. Due to their positions as "public mouths", they deserve all the negative comments that their years of preaching has caused. I feel no sympathy for either of them ... dead or alive. Having suffered their "opinions," you now have mine.

Posted by: loretoguy | August 24, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

It should also be pointed out that many people expressed the same opinions of Novak when he was alive. Novak was called a traitor for his role in publicly revealing Valerie Plame’s name in virtually every article he wrote afterwards.

There was no shortage of commenters calling Novak a poor excuse for a human being (or worse) every time he wrote something particularly mean-spirited (which was pretty often).

While such opinions would be in poor taste at Mr. Novak’s funeral, I don’t find them inappropriate in an article asking for opinions on Novak’s legacy.

Face it - Robert Novak will not be remembered for saving a puppy’s life or adopting a handicapped child. He reveled in his nickname “The Prince of Darkness”, and worked hard to deserve it.

Posted by: hgillette | August 25, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Liberals are MUCH better people - don't ever forget.

Posted by: Ynot1 | August 25, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

As a life-long liberal (and unrepentant) I usually thought Novak's news and views on time and provocative. A majority of the time we disagreed but once he put his teeth into some politician's derrier, you could expect a real test of patience as the truth struggled to emerge.

It isn't a shame that he died. We all will. His acidic moods will be missed.


Posted by: crowesq | August 26, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Dear Ombusdman

The Washington Post left,online a comment declaring that

a bomb should be dropped on an elected Swedish government official. Even though several posters complained.

Charming, princely little WAPO poster. You get the snottiest, roughest brats, don't you. Which you
richly deserve.

And screams of
everyday all day. Congratulations.

Posted by: whistling | August 26, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

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