'A Long Journey to The High Country of the Right'

[On May 13, the Phillips Foundation held its Tenth Annual Journalism Fellowship Awards Dinner at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The highlight of the gala dinner-attended by 200 prominent editors, reporters and conservative leaders-was the presentation of the foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award to legendary political reporter and columnist Bob Novak. Previous recipients include William Rusher, George F. Will, James J. Kilpatrick and William F. Buckley. Here are Mr. Novak’s remarks in accepting the award.]

This joyous occasion for me confirms one of the closely held tenets of my life-stick around long enough, and people feel constrained to give you honors.

And I have been around an awful long time-56 years getting paid for writing for newspapers, 46 years as a Washington correspondent, and-as of Thursday [May 25]-40 years as a syndicated columnist.

This may look like a conflict of interest, to get an award from a foundation whose board I sit on. But, honestly, I was not consulted or advised prior to my selection. It is a great thrill to be so honored by my colleagues, to be put in the same category as such legendary previous winners of the award as James Jackson Kilpatrick and William F. Buckley.

So, I want to thank my colleagues on the board of trustees-Al Regnery, Don Hodel, Tom Fuentes and, especially, Tom Phillips.

Nobody has ever questioned whether Jack Kilpatrick and Bill Buckley is really a conservative. But is Bob Novak? In truth, I consider myself taking a long journey from the mushy ground of the middle to the firm high country of the right. I have moved a long way since the first Evans-Novak column was published on May 15, 1963. Indeed, I feel myself moving-a little farther to the right-every single day.

Alas, I have not moved enough for some people. A former recipient of this award-the esteemed William A. Rusher-suggests I am posing-his word-as, what he calls, a perfectly standard conservative-which he considers deceptive advertising. He says that because of my position on Middle Eastern policy, which he says differs from the Bush Administration and most conservatives.

Mr. Rusher seems to have established a litmus test for conservatives. I am not much for litmus tests, because they often freeze the wrong policy. In the 1930s, a litmus test for conservatives was to oppose defense increases. Disastrous. In the 1950s, it was to oppose tax cuts. Disastrous now, the Rusher litmus test for conservatives appears to be support for the policy of the current Israeli government.

The question of litmus tests, I think, goes to the business that we are about tonight. Tom Phillips, one of the most generous and public-spirited persons I have met in nearly half a century in this town, created this foundation to try to improve the deplorable state of journalism in America and he asked me to join him.

By sheer chance, I had served for years as a juror in selecting the annual Alicia Patterson journalism fellows. I found that none of the proposals I judged each year could remotely be called conservative, but that was not the worst of it. Nearly every proposal was based on premises and clearly indicated conclusions that ranged from the left to the far left. I asked myself: were there not some young journalists who were not off in the swampy terrain of the left?

We have found that there are many. I suggested the Phillips Foundation Fellowships, and thanks to Tom Phillips’ philanthropy and insight, we have built a program that we are proud of.

The only litmus set by the Phillips Foundation is in our stated mission: Advancing constitutional principles, a democratic society and a vibrant free enterprise system. That’s all.

We never have asked the young men and women applying for Phillips Fellowships about their ideology, much less their political preference. What we have been looking for and what we have found are young journalists who are not embedded liberals with a preconceived agenda-and are dedicated truth-seekers.

Many of the Phillips fellows are not conservatives-not yet, anyway-and that includes some of those whose selection is announced here tonight. What we are interested in are honest, fair reporters seeking the truth.

Frankly, we are not interested in young conservatives who just want to voice a party line. We can find them in abundance. We want reporters, who are dedicated in finding the truth. They are scarcer, but we are finding them.

Reporters are a special breed-pretty odd, really. We get a high in finding out and reporting on things we are not supposed to know. That’s why I am doing much the same thing at age 72 that I was doing at 23. My late partner Rowland Evans called it intersecting the lines of communications. Show me somebody who will sell his soul for a scoop, and I’ll show you a reporter. We have some here tonight who will be announced shortly.

However, I doubt anybody can go through four decades of column-writing without coming to some pretty firm conclusions. It’s really not that hard to tell what I’m for from reading me and listening to me: radical tax reform, radical Social Security reform, limited and reduced government, a strong defense, free trade, no interference in global commerce, protection of the unborn, term limits-and restraint in our interventions around the world. If Bill Rusher thinks I’m masquerading as a conservative, so be it.

I’m not a cheerleader, as I fear some conservative columnists have been. Indeed, I don’t believe that a Republican President and a Republican-controlled House and Senate guarantees heaven on earth. During my long career, I’ve never been offered a job in politics or government. The politicians, I guess, are not as dumb as they sound.

I think George W. Bush can be a great President, but I wish the President would spend more time on basic reform and downsizing of government and less on creating an American imperium.

Before I was relatively infamous, over 40 years ago, I became known as the prince of darkness-somebody who always sees the glass as half empty rather than half-full. Not always, actually. In my life, I have seen a miracle that proved there is a God-the defeat of the menace to our values and our nation posed by the Soviet Union and international Communism. I thank the Lord for that.

Finally, when I’m out lecturing, people ask me: is the press really liberal? And I respond with a question: is the Pope really Catholic? It was bad when I got here in the second term of the Eisenhower Administration, but it is much, much worse now. The newsrooms of America are second only to university faculties as a center of left-wing contagion.

That’s why I am so pleased that we are doing a little bit to reward and encourage journalists who follow the principles of the Phillips Foundation: Constitutional principles, a democratic society and a vibrant free enterprise system. Thank you, Tom Phillips, for making that possible, congratulations to the Phillips fellows, and thank you to the Phillips Foundation for honoring me tonight.


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