By BARRY SCHWEID and WILL LESTER, Associated Press Writers Barry Schweid And Will Lester, Associated Press Writers
WASHINGTON – Political columnist Robert Novak, a diehard conservative and pugilistic debater who became a household face on TV, has died after a battle with brain cancer.
His wife of 47 years, Geraldine Novak, told The Associated Press that he died at his home in Washington, D.C. early Tuesday. He was 78.
Long known as the co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," Novak had been a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times for decades.
He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in July 2008, less than a week after he struck a pedestrian in downtown Washington with his Corvette and drove away.
In recent years, Novak ended up actually being a part of a big Washington story, in ways he likely never intended, becoming a central figure in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case. Novak was the first to publish the name of CIA employee, and he came under withering criticism and abuse from many for that column, which Novak said began "a long and difficult episode" in his career.
"I had a terrific time fulfilling all my youthful dreams and at the same time making life miserable for hypocritical, posturing politicians and, I hope, performing a service for my country," Novak wrote in his memoir, "The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years reporting in Washington."
Actually Novak had been dubbed the "prince of darkness" by a journalist friend early in his career, and he embraced the moniker. He wrote in that 2007 memoir that he became proud of the label derived from his "unsmiling pessimism about the prospects for America and Western civilization."
"He loved being a journalist, he loved journalism, he loved his country and his family," Geraldine Novak told The AP.
Novak wrote in his book about often giving politicians the choice of being a source or a target, a strategy that often produced scoops for his column.
Among those scoops included a 2003 column in which he outed Plame as a CIA agent. The article was published eight days after Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, said the Bush administration had twisted prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat of nuclear weapons.
Citing two Bush administration officials, Novak revealed Plame worked for the CIA on weapons of mass destruction. That blew her cover as a CIA operative and led to the investigation of who leaked that information, and eventually to the conviction of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. Libby's prison sentence was later commuted by President Bush.
Born and raised in Joliet, Ill., Novak began his career in journalism in high school as a sports stringer for the Joliet Herald-News, then worked at the Champaign-Urbana Courier while attending the University of Illinois.