Evans and Novak

by David Sheff

A candid conversation with the dynamic duo of pundits about what really goes

on in washington, how journalists blow it and why they’d vote for trump and

oprah

Rowland  Evans  and Robert  Novak  have been around forever, like those two

uncles down at the end of the dining room table who have an opinion on

everything. They have wielded major clout in the Beltway-and beyond. Their

jointly reported and written newspaper column ran for 30 years-longer than any

other joint report. At the peak of its popularity, the column appeared in 300

newspapers throughout the country. Then they showed up on TV, becoming regulars

on CNN, covering political campaigns and conventions and sparring on The

McLaughlin Group,  Evans and Novak  and their current CNN show with Al Hunt and

Mark Shields. Their newsletters, magazine articles, books and commentaries are

ubiquitous. Michael Kinsley once said, “Their column can place an item on the

Washington agenda.” One column based on  Novak’s  1978 interview with Deng

Xiaoping helped open the way for normalizing relations with China.

 

Although they are both serious conservatives and aren’t shy about saying so,

Evans and Novak  have gone after Republicans with a fervor nearly equal to that

of their attacks on Democrats. From the start, they supported Kennedy,

championed Reagan and loathed Clinton. Their columns on the Middle East were

particularly contentious. They were called the “mother of all Israel bashers.”

Other criticism came from mistakes that appeared in the columns-one critic

dubbed them “Errors and No facts.”

Their politics are similar but their backgrounds are very different.

Novak,  69, was born in Joliet, Illinois, where he first worked as a reporter

for the Joliet Herald-News and the Champaign-Urbana Courier while studying at

the University of Illinois. After serving as a lieutenant in the Army, he took a

job as a reporter with the Associated Press in Omaha. Then he moved on to

Indianapolis, covering the state legislature. In 1957 he was transferred to

Washington, D.C. to cover Congress for the AP. In 1958 he became the Senate

correspondent for the Washington bureau of The Wall Street Journal. In 1961 he

became the Journal’s chief congressional correspondent. In reference to his

crabby demeanor, Newsweek called him the Prince of Darkness. Morton Kondracke, a

colleague on The McLaughlin Group, once described him as “the troll under the

bridge of American journalism.”

 

Rowland  Evans,  78, was born in White Marsh, Pennsylvania. His first job as

a reporter was with the Philadelphia Bulletin. He then covered Washington and

the U.S. Senate for the AP. Next, he worked the political beat for the New York

Herald Tribune and traveled extensively to the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and

Asia.

 

It was  Evans’  idea to try a joint column with  Novak,  the first of which

appeared in May 1963. “It was like having a second wife,”  Evans  once said of

the partnership that has survived for more than 35 years. The column ran four

times a week, analyzing world events with plenty of scoops. It became a morning

must-read in the capital. In May 1993, when he turned 72,  Evans  retired from

the column, though he still writes occasionally under his own byline and appears

on their joint CNN show.  Novak,  whose energy knows no bounds, is still the

co-host of Crossfire, a regular on The Capital Gang and a political analyst on

Inside Politics. He often shows up on Sunday morning network TV shows.

 

Evans and Novak  may be at their best in an election year, when they

consider the candidates who are running for the highest office-the perfect time

to sit them down for the Playboy Interview. For the assignment we tapped David

Sheff, who has been conducting Playboy Interviews for 20 years (his most recent

was with Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos). Here is Sheff’s report:

 

“I first met  Evans and Novak  at the Metropolitan Club, the stuffy if high-

toned meeting spot of Washington’s media and political elite. Lunchtime at the

Members Grill-necktie and jacket required-is old-boy Washington. In fact, one

balding, near-octogenarian member joked to a friend: ‘There are lots of people

here with oxygen masks.’

 

” Evans and Novak  are different in dress and personality.  Evans  is more

casual;  Novak  always wears a three-piece suit. Columnist Jack Germond once

said, ‘If they hadn’t been partners, Rowly never would have had Bob  Novak  in

his house.’ Political consultant Frank Mankiewicz once described them this way:

‘Rowly is your Perrier-and-lime friend.

 

Bob is your shot-and-a-beer friend.’

 

“Throughout the interview,  Evans  sucked on cigarettes;  Novak  quit 30

years ago, even before two separate bouts of cancer.  Evans,  though ten years

older, excused himself from our first interview to play squash;  Novak

participates in spectator sports. Still, their affection for each other, even

after all those decades of collaboration, was evident throughout the interview;

they finished each other’s sentences, heartily teased each other

and-particularly when they weren’t together-praised each other’s journalism. And

they obviously share a nearly uncontainable delight in skewering politicians.

That was made immediately clear when I began the interview by asking about the

coming presidential election.”

 

PLAYBOY: The election is fast approaching. Do you have a favorite candidate?

 

NOVAK:  Who should go first?

 

EVANS:  Age or beauty?

NOVAK:  You win on both counts, Rowly. I’m older than  Evans  in many ways.

 

EVANS:  Bob, you are ten years younger. Don’t let him kid you.

 

NOVAK:  Fine. I’ll start. I don’t really worry about whether a candidate is

going to do a good job as president, because most of them do such a terrible

job.

 

PLAYBOY: Then what do you look for? As journalists, do you occasionally

judge candidates on whether they will be fun to cover?

 

NOVAK:  There’s an old story about when Lyndon Johnson went on a joyride at

his ranch with a young, good-looking female columnist. She batted her baby blues

and said, “You are such fun, Mr. President.” Apparently she looked for fun in

presidents, but I don’t. Nor do I look for someone who will do a good job.

 

PLAYBOY: So what do you look for?

 

NOVAK:  What I look for in a president is somebody who agrees with me. It’s

a good model for every American.

PLAYBOY: Rowland, are you as cynical as your partner?

 

NOVAK:  [Interrupting] I am not cynical. I am realistic. Rowly and I don’t

agree on much, but we agree that there were only two good presidents in this

century: Reagan and Coolidge. Why? Because they both did as little as possible.

 

PLAYBOY: Do you indeed agree with that, Rowly?

 

EVANS:  I agree, though I approach it differently. I think trying to make

preelection judgments about what a president will do is an absolute waste of

time. We never know. So much depends on the unpredictable, such as who they put

in important positions. Before he was president, who predicted that Reagan would

bring down the Soviet Union? I didn’t. Maybe Bob did.

 

NOVAK:  Nobody could have.

 

EVANS:  Yet as a member of the political press corps, I have to admit that

there are some candidates who are more interesting than others to cover.

Somebody a little doltish, who doesn’t really know how to handle himself well,

is good fun. In this election, Albert Gore would be the most fun. But we are not

going to get Gore. It is going to be George W., and I’ll say it right out loud.

I find him to be an extraordinarily attractive fella. There may be a lot I

don’t know about him, though Bob and I did an interview with him for CNN last

August. You hear that Bush doesn’t have a position on anything, but it’s untrue.

He has a lot of positions. I don’t agree with them all, but I like him. I say

that after admitting that Gore would be the most fun-as well as the worst

president. John McCain would be fun, too, but he hasn’t got a shot.

 

PLAYBOY: Bob, do you agree about Bush?

 

NOVAK:  If W. gets to be president, one question is whether he’s going to

be much better than his father, who wasn’t a good president in my view. When

George Sr. succeeded Reagan, he said, “In this administration, we will be

burning the midnight oil.” It was a slap at Reagan, who definitely wasn’t

burning the midnight oil-he was sawing wood. When George Sr. said that, it made

my blood run cold. In my opinion, when presidents are burning the midnight oil,

the country is in trouble. We don’t want workaholics running the country. We

don’t want presidents doing much of anything, because we get into trouble when

they do. If you read the Haldeman diaries and hear the Nixon tapes, you see that

Nixon was way too busy. He was constantly getting involved in things he had no

business being involved in. He should have taken it easier. Johnson thought he

could run the whole government. If nothing else, this worries me a little bit

about George W. He thinks he can run the whole damn thing.

PLAYBOY: What’s your take on the other candidates? How about Bill Bradley?

 

EVANS:  I like Bradley. But he’s hard to get a fix on, even though I spent

a lot of time with him when he was in the Senate.

 

NOVAK:  What do you make of some of the third-party candidates?

 

EVANS:  Indeed, there are all these fringe candidates who get taken

seriously! Jesse Ventura was elected governor, which means you can’t just write

them off. Donald Trump? Who knows! I have a lot of respect for Donald Trump. We

interviewed him once.

 

NOVAK:  Remember what he said when we asked him if he would ever run for

president? He said he was too honest to run for president [laughter]. I guess he

lost his honesty.

 

EVANS:  They say his running mate might be Oprah Winfrey. She is probably

the smartest of them all.

 

NOVAK:  The more I think about that ticket, the more I like it. I just

can’t imagine Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey bombing the hell out of Kosovo. I

can’t imagine that happening.

EVANS:  It would take them six weeks to find it on the map.

 

NOVAK:  Yes, I might vote for the Trump-Winfrey ticket.

 

PLAYBOY: In spite of  Evans’  observation that they wouldn’t know the

location of Kosovo?

 

NOVAK:  Precisely because they wouldn’t know. I just can’t imagine that

they would try anything terribly dangerous. I can’t imagine that they would do

anything as silly as remaking the map of the Balkans from the Oval Office.

 

PLAYBOY: Because they just don’t know enough, or because they would be too

afraid?

 

NOVAK:  Maybe they are too smart. Maybe they have lived in the real world

too much, as opposed to somebody like President Clinton, who has never had a

real job, who has lived in government housing. That affects his judgment.

 

PLAYBOY: Speaking of Clinton–

 

EVANS:  Here’s what I think of Bill Clinton: He has seriously diminished

the presidency. When you get the kind of action that he got in the Oval

Office-or right next to it-and you are talking to congressmen while you’re

getting your thrills, it cheapens the presidency. Clinton has changed a lot of

opinions in this country about how important the presidency is. He is why it is

difficult to become excited about the next president. We are living in an unreal

time. We have no foreign problems of any real dimension. Sure, wars are going

on, but there is no Soviet Union. We have prosperity. Everybody is supposed to

be getting a little richer. So at this point I agree with my partner 100

percent. I, too, would vote for Trump-Winfrey, though I would prefer it be

Winfrey-Trump, if she were on the top of the ticket.

 

PLAYBOY: What do you think of Warren Beatty, who toyed with running?

 

EVANS:  I met him during the McGovern campaign. Had dinner with him one

night. He was very hot for George McGovern. Warren is very committed, but he’s

an elitist.

 

NOVAK:  And he’s too earnest. He wants to save us all-from the special

interests and from everything else. He thinks of the presidency as some kind of

evangelistic office. From my reading of history, the presidency, except in times

of crisis, was an administrative office. After Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow

Wilson, Calvin Coolidge initiated little legislation, which is a plus. The idea

of a president being a grand monarch penetrating our lives goes against the

original concept. It’s one good thing you can say about Clinton: Just think if

he spent the time on governing and dealing with Congress that he spends on

fund-raising! No president has ever spent so much time raising money and so

little time governing, and I am happy for it. It suits me fine.

 

PLAYBOY: Do you understand why Bill Clinton’s popularity remained so high

throughout the Lewinsky scandal?

 

EVANS:  Clinton is the best communicator I have ever seen. Better than

Kennedy, and I thought Kennedy was better than Reagan. He has a miraculous

touch.

 

NOVAK:  I don’t think that’s why. I think it’s the nation’s prosperity.

That’s what people care about.

 

PLAYBOY: Can Clinton take credit for the strong economy?

 

NOVAK:  It’s like blaming the Johnstown flood on a leaky faucet in Altoona.

There is no cause and effect. But I’ll say one thing. If Clinton had come in and

really tried to restore prohibitive tax rates and had made government even

bigger than it is-if there hadn’t been a Republican Congress that inhibited

spending-the economy would not be as vigorous as it is. So I think credit for

the nation’s prosperity should go to the Congress and to the president for what

they didn’t do. Now, when voters are asked what the biggest problem facing

America is, most say education. That is a sign that we are in pretty good shape.

 

EVANS:  But education is a major problem. Housewives and mothers don’t take

care of their children anymore. They are worried about their second house on the

lake, and that means a second income is required, so the kids get shipped out.

It’s probably the most serious crisis this country faces: the breakdown of the

family.

 

NOVAK:  Rowly is correct. There’s a problem with families. Children go to

school unprepared forfirst grade. They don’t know their numbers, they don’t know

their shapes. They can’t sit still. But the idea that somebody in Washington is

going to spend more money and reduce class size and therefore solve the problem

is nonsense.

 

EVANS:  TV is a huge part of the problem. Consider the number of hours most

kids are allowed or encouraged to watch television because it takes the burden

off the mother and father to take care of them. Twenty or thirty years ago, kids

were watching less television. When I was growing up in the Twenties and

Thirties, we were listening to Amos ‘n Andy.

NOVAK:  They had radio when you were growing up?

 

EVANS:  Just barely. The point is that kids can’t conceivably do what you

and I did when we were growing up-our homework-if they are watching six, seven

hours of TV a night. In my family, with five kids, we had homework rules and

they were followed.

 

NOVAK:  I have four grandchildren. The oldest is just a little over three.

She is rigorously rationed television.

 

EVANS:  How do their parents do it?

 

NOVAK:  They say, “You can’t watch!” What a novel idea! I don’t know how

long they are going to be able to keep that up, but the kids watch almost no

television.

 

EVANS:  That’s the kind of thing a president could do. He could talk about

it, but ours doesn’t have the guts to get outand say to families, “Stop it,”

because it might not be popular. Instead he goes around to classrooms and crawls

around on his hands and knees, playing dolls with the kids for the cameras. That

is supposed to be politically attractive and appealing to voters.

PLAYBOY: You included Reagan as one of the two best presidents. Is that

because of what he accomplished or what he didn’t accomplish?

 

EVANS:  Reagan’s mind was not a highly calibrated instrument, but it worked

in certain situations. The few big ideas he had were huge ideas. Getting rid of

the Berlin Wall was not a small matter. I don’t think there was any subtlety in

hispresidency-or in the man-but somehow it worked for him. I hate to tell this

story because it makes him look so bad, but here it is: Reagan was talking to

Hosni Mubarak in the Oval Office at a time when we and the Egyptians were

working together to try to round up some terrorists who were believed to be in

Cairo. Early in the session, Mubarak got a call from Cairo and had to leave the

room for a moment. Mubarak disappeared and, according to a guy who was there,

Reagan asked, “What’s his name?” All those stories about him are true.

 

PLAYBOY: It’s not a surprise that you supported Reagan and other

Republicans, but we were surprised to note that you both voted for John Kennedy

in 1960. Was that your last Democratic vote?

 

NOVAK:  I voted for LBJ in 1964.

 

EVANS:  I, too, voted for Johnson, though that was the last time I voted

for a Democrat. I certainly didn’t vote for Carter.

PLAYBOY: Throughout the Lewinsky scandal, there was a lot of discussion

about the way that the press used to protect Kennedy. Was that better than now,

when the press reports everything?

 

EVANS:  Is that better than now, when you’re expected to report every time

a guy reaches over and gives a pretty girl a peck on the cheek? If you don’t,

your boss says, “Hey, you’re not covering the news!” I don’t know.

 

NOVAK:  Gary Bauer is a good friend of mine. When I saw him on television,

accompanied by his wife, who is a lovely woman, his two beautiful daughters and

his nice young son, who is a good athlete, denying unattributed and

unsubstantiated allegations of adultery, I thought, What is going on? And George

W. Bush has had 100 times more questions about whether or not he ever used

cocaine than on any substantive issue.

 

PLAYBOY: So where should the line be drawn? When is a politician’s character

relevant?

 

EVANS:  It’s relevant when the politician goes almost public with that kind

of conduct. I am thinking of Bill Clinton. When you are doing things in the

working quarters of the White House-or, I should say, having things done to

you-that is in the public domain.

PLAYBOY: So it matters where you have your affairs?

 

EVANS:  It certainly shows something.

 

PLAYBOY: Should Gary Hart have been brought down for the affair he had with

Donna Rice?

 

EVANS:  That’s where it all started. Before Gary Hart, sexual escapades

were not covered. Jack Kennedy had 100 women, and nobody wrote anything.

 

PLAYBOY: Did Kennedy flaunt his affairs?

 

EVANS:  He never did with me.

 

NOVAK:  There needs to be some sense of proportion. When I saw Bauer, I

knew it was out of control. That is one extreme. The other extreme is back in

the Kennedy administration. When he was president, Kennedy had an assignation

with a famous actress at the Carlyle Hotel on the way back to Hyannis Port.

Everybody in the White House press corps knew. It didn’t get any press for about

30 years. Was that the right way to do it? I certainly don’t condone adultery,

so I don’t know.

EVANS:  I got whiffs of what was going on in Kennedy’s personal life all

the time. But it never occurred to me he was involving the country or somehow

deserting his duty, though you could make a case that he was because he was

breaking a law and he had sworn to uphold the law of the land.

 

PLAYBOY: Should Bob Livingston have resigned as Speaker of the House when

Larry Flynt exposed his infidelity?

 

EVANS:  I was shocked.

 

NOVAK:  I wish I knew the answer. There obviously was a huge problem

between Bob Livingston and his wife. Does it impinge on his ability to be

Speaker of the House, particularly since it was in the past?

 

PLAYBOY: Was Clinton’s infidelity relevant? Many Americans felt it was his

and Hillary’s personal business.

 

EVANS:  The president spread malicious rumors designed and calculated to

destroy somebody’s reputation. That is a far cry from an assignation in some

hotel. But it’s certainly a change that everything a person does or might have

done or didn’t do but is accused of doing is fair game- particularly with the

Internet.

PLAYBOY: What impact does the Internet have?

 

EVANS:  It’s big. In the old days, if you had an insight about a real

scoop, the last thing you did was mention it to anybody. Maybe you would tell

your boss. Then you pursued it, and if you got it, you would write it for the

next newspaper cycle, depending on the newspaper. Today a hot item that may or

may not be true inevitably gets out and is on the Internet somewhere, like the

Drudge Report. A lot of the stuff is inaccurate. Much hasn’t been checked and

double-checked. It’s all about getting it out there no matter who is affected,

who is hurt or how accurate it is. It’s diametrically opposed to the training we

had.

 

NOVAK:  And yet there’s more babbling than ever. When I first got here the

networks had two news shows and there were two half-hour Sunday interview shows,

Meet the Press and Face the Nation. There were no talk shows. Now you have this

plethora of outlets, babbling on television and radio, and less newspaper

readership than ever. And if you watch the three network news shows, you’ll see

less and less serious reporting. There is instead a combination of

sensationalism and expose. You can go for a week on the network news programs

without any serious political stories. And we’re part of the problem, though not

a big part of the problem.

PLAYBOY: How are you contributing?

 

NOVAK:  I am on Crossfire, which is vastly more serious than most of these

programs, but we’re trying to have entertainment value. It isn’t like Ed Murrow

and Eric Sevareid pontificating.

 

PLAYBOY: Is the fiery debate that characterizes Crossfire simply about

making good television?

 

NOVAK:  Yes. We’re presenting a serious subject in a way that is

entertaining.

 

PLAYBOY: What would happen to a serious discussion of events that wasn’t so

adversarial and shrill?

 

NOVAK:  I don’t think that people would watch.

 

PLAYBOY: Is it ultimately impossible to deal seriously with issues on TV? Is

the audience’s attention span simply too short?

 

NOVAK:  On television, a minute is long. On TV you are trying to be

provocative, if not entertaining. You don’t want people to nod off.

EVANS:  And I think it’s going to get worse. For a while I thought we had

seen so much sensationalism that it would wither. But that hasn’t happened. The

problem is that the stations have to fill 24 hours a day. Some of what they fill

it with is good, but there is so much that’s dreadful.

 

PLAYBOY: Which commentators do you respect?

 

EVANS:  Frankly, I get tired of them. My favorite television guy is Brit

Hume on Fox. I think Meet the Press is a wonderful show. I used to go on it all

the time. What Jim Lehrer tries to do is good, though he ought to have more

varied panels. Of the commentators, I like Bob  Novak  better than anybody. He’s

the best thinker on television.

 

PLAYBOY: Do you have favorites among TV commentators, Bob?

 

NOVAK:  A lot of them are annoying. I don’t think I will mention them.

 

PLAYBOY: How about print columnists?

 

NOVAK:  I like William Safire a lot. I like Thomas Friedman on foreign

policy, though I don’t agree with him an awful lot of the time.

EVANS:  I read everybody.  Novak,  of course. Safire is great. Maureen

Dowd, too. I think the best column in The Washington Post is David Ignatius.

 

PLAYBOY: How did CNN change news reporting?

 

NOVAK:  Rowland and I were with CNN from the beginning. When it arrived,

everyone called it Chicken Noodle Network, and it was viewed with a lot of

contempt. Cable just wasn’t a big deal.

 

PLAYBOY: Was it exciting to you that there would be such a thing as a news

channel?

 

NOVAK:  It was fascinating, but it was so primitive when it started out. It

was a potluck operation compared to the professional operation it is today.

During the Gulf War, the ratings went way up and it became the standard for

watching news. It tries to cover all the news. Does it spend a vast amount of

time on something like the Columbine massacre? Yes, to the exclusion of all

else. But it spends a lot of time on serious subjects and does a lot of foreign

policy. That’s important, particularly since people aren’t reading newspapers

anymore. Out of every 100 people who stop me in airports, three mention the

newspapers and 97 mention television.

PLAYBOY: Is that disheartening?

 

NOVAK:  It is a fact of life. When somebody mentions my column, I feel like

hugging and kissing them.

 

PLAYBOY: Do you worry about whether or not newspapers will survive?

 

NOVAK:  I worry a little bit about it. I’m 69 years old. Newspapers are

going to outlive me, but I’m not sure by how much. Yes, I worry about it.

 

PLAYBOY: Because of nostalgia or because of what they contribute to the

debate?

 

NOVAK:  I have sentimental feelings about them, though I think newspapers

have declined. They have become a little less substantial than they were, but

they still are important.

 

PLAYBOY: At one point your column could put something on the agenda in

Washington. Did you relish having that type of responsibility?

 

EVANS:  I wouldn’t put it that way. I think we had a slight influence. In

the Kennedy administration, Larry O’Brien, the head of the Democratic Party,

was quoted as saying, “The first thing everybody reads in Washington is  Evans

and Novak. ” That gave a sense that we had some influence. But I don’t think we

ever stepped over the bounds when it came to exercising that influence. What we

did was get stories that showed the outrages in government and write them as

hard as we could. The effect of that was influence. People read us and said,

“You know, these guys are right,” or they said, “These guys are full of shit.”

 

PLAYBOY: Do you think that you changed readers’ opinions?

 

NOVAK:  I get the feeling from the reactions I get in airports and the mail

that I am preaching to the converted. People who agree with me are happy. Just

like I want a president who agrees with me, they want a television head or

columnist who agrees with them. Maybe I’ve convinced somebody somewhere, but I

wouldn’t make book on it.

 

PLAYBOY: Since JFK, you have moved steadily to the right. Why?

 

NOVAK:  The big moment was in 1976, the Republican primary in the state of

Maryland, when I voted for Reagan over Ford. I couldn’t believe I was doing it.

I was really turning into a right-winger. Since then I have become still more

conservative.

PLAYBOY: What do you think caused the transformation?

 

NOVAK:  I have much less faith in government all the time. In a speech in

New York, Governor Bush said that we shouldn’t be hostile to government. Well, I

am hostile to government. I think it is very much an American tradition to be

hostile to government. It’s the tradition of Tom Paine, Thomas Jefferson, James

Madison and others. The right is for less government, the left for more. It’s as

simple as that. Recently, the thing that has pushed me even further to the right

is five years of Republican rule of Congress, which has been miserable. These

Republicans don’t really want to downsize government. They don’t really want to

deregulate. They don’t want to change anything. They just want to be sucking on

the spigot instead of the Democrats sucking on the spigot.

 

PLAYBOY: What changed your politics, Rowland?

 

EVANS:  It started during the Johnson administration: the deep interference

by government in every aspect of life. I never became a Republican, but I

certainly moved way to the center and then to the right of center. I was never

as conservative as Bob, though, which is not to say I didn’t learn from him. I

was sitting in that office with him from seven in the morning until seven at

night, and a lot rubs off on you. He had something to do with shaping my

politics. Another thing that affected my thinking about politics was the whole

Middle East situation.

 

PLAYBOY: For your views on the Middle East you’ve been accused of being

anti-Semitic.

 

NOVAK:  I’ve been accused, but I have always said that if I am anti-

Semitic, Abba Eban, the great Israeli leader, is anti-Semitic. We felt the same

about many issues related to Israel. Being critical of Israel isn’t being

anti-Semitic.

 

PLAYBOY: You’ve also been called “the mother of all Israel bashers.”

 

NOVAK:  There has been a lot less Israel bashing from me in the past six

years.

 

PLAYBOY: Because?

 

NOVAK: Because Evans  left the column.

 

PLAYBOY: So you were the Israel basher, Rowland?

EVANS:  Not at all. But I was critical of the concessions the U.S. has made

to Israel. Over and over. Basically, the Israelis have too much clout in

Congress. The Israeli lobby is too strong. Once there was a movement in the

Senate to kill one of the weapon systems that was going to be sold to Saudi

Arabia or Jordan or Egypt. The sale was all set until the Israelis got everybody

they possibly could to stop it. Hubert Humphrey wasn’t yet vice president, and I

called him. As a senator, he was big with the Jewish lobby. I knew him well and

said, “Hubert, how can you do this? How can you put our country in this

position? Our policy is so transparently uneven!” He said, “Rowland, let me tell

you something. There are some things I’ll never do. One is that I will never in

my life get up on the floor of the Senate and say anything against blacks, labor

or Jews.” That’s what I don’t like.

 

PLAYBOY: Do you disagree that Israel, surrounded by Arab states, has needed

U.S. support in order to survive?

 

EVANS:  It’s a complex matter. Generally, our Israel policy has caused

problems, not eased them. Here’s an example: I got to know Egyptian president

Nasser very well. Some considered him a terrorist, but I think he was a great

leader. I went over there to do a television interview with him. At the time,

there was a big controversy about whether we could stop the Israelis from

bombing Cairo. I was kept waiting four days for the interview. When it finally

happened, I went to his ornate palace, and Nasser took me into a little room and

said, “I want to ask you something.” He said, “My country has no arms at all. We

have no artillery. We have no planes. We can’t defend against the Israelis. The

reason I made you wait here four days for this interview was that I had to go to

Moscow. Why did I have to go to Moscow? I had to try to buy some defensive

aircraft so I can protect my people from the Israelis. I wanted you to stay here

for days and watch planes flown by Israel bombing the hell out of the suburbs of

Cairo. I can’t stay in charge of this country and do nothing about protecting my

people. So when you go home, won’t you please tell your country that it is

absolutely essential for me to get weapons? If you won’t give me weapons, I will

go to the other major supplier.” It wasn’t that he liked the Russians. He didn’t

like Communists, but was forced into this position by our policies. That is just

a tiny nugget. Then, once it became known that Nasser was begging the Russians

for weapons, there was a tremendous movement in Congress against Egypt and the

Arabs because they were playing with the Russians. But we sent them there.

 

PLAYBOY: How do you feel about the latest Israeli elections in which Ehud

Barak won against Benjamin Netanyahu?

 

EVANS:  I like Barak. He will continue the policy of Yitzhak Rabin, and I

was very fond of Rabin. Barak wants a peace settlement. I don’t know whether

Netanyahu did. I didn’t like Netanyahu.

NOVAK:  I was delighted by the election. I was not a Netanyahu fan, either.

Rabin, on the other hand, was a great statesman.

 

PLAYBOY: Art Buchwald commented that you two were male chauvinist pigs

before it was fashionable. Were you?

 

EVANS:  I won’t say he was wrong. He was right that we weren’t-aren’t-as

modern as some people [laughs]. We were already part of the older generation

when the feminist movement got rolling, and we were on the edge of the male

chauvinist pig thing. It didn’t bother me to be called a male chauvinist pig.

Saying that mothers should raise children is torturous terrain to walk; you make

enemies.

 

PLAYBOY: What is your view on women in the military?

 

EVANS:  It bothers me. Certain jobs are fine, but I don’t think women

should carry rifles. I don’t think they should be in the front lines or in naval

vessels.

 

PLAYBOY: Exactly why?

EVANS:  I think the sex thing is significant. God made us that way.

 

PLAYBOY: So women would distract male soldiers?

 

EVANS:  Yes, plus women simply aren’t as strong as men. Saying “a woman’s

place is in the home” is a terribly snide thing to say today, but I bemoan the

breakdown of the family. Somebody has to take care of the kids. In some places

now men do it. Maybe that’s what we are coming to: equal responsibility. Maybe

that’s all right. I do agree with women about equal salaries and the glass

ceiling and all that. I love to see women go up to the top of corporations and

go to the Senate, and I would love to see a woman go to the vice presidency or

presidency. But as a general matter, I cannot say that men and women should have

the same role in life.

 

PLAYBOY: What’s your view about gays in the military?

 

EVANS:  I am mixed on it. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is probably as good a

resolution as we are going to get. People feel strongly about it on both sides.

I don’t think Bill Clinton quite grasped the issue because he never was in the

service. He was never in a platoon where you have these close relationships. I

think it has a deleterious effect on the nongay component, but I could be

totally wrong. I am sure there were gays in my unit in the Marine Corps. We

never called them that. We called them queers.

 

PLAYBOY: On some of your views, you’re aligned not only with the right but

with the far right. How close do you feel with the far right as represented by

Pat Buchanan?

 

NOVAK:  I like Buchanan a lot personally. I like his views on foreign

policy. I have trouble with Pat on international economic policy-where he wants

to unscramble the eggs of globalism. He resents Daimler Benz- Chrysler because

he can’t tell whether it is an American or German company. He thinks it is an

arrow poised at the heart of the nation’s fate. That’s reactionary, as far as

I’m concerned. But I like Pat very much and I like his views on

noninterventionism. I agree with his feelings about interventionism in Kosovo

and around the world-that we shouldn’t do it.

 

EVANS:  The Republican Party has changed since the days of Goldwater. I

remember the convention when he was selected as the Republican candidate. That

was when the far-right element began to take over the party.

 

NOVAK:  What I remember of that convention is that I’d been up late

drinking. We used to drink a lot;  Evans  still does, though I don’t drink much

anymore [smiles]. I had a terrible hangover. I was covering the platform

committee hearings before the convention at the St. Francis Hotel in San

Francisco. A young Republican, who I had quoted with disdain a few months

earlier, came up to me and verbally attacked me. He called me slimy, with a few

other epithets thrown in. I took a swing at him and hit him. Everybody grabbed

us. I really hurt my hand.

 

EVANS:  [Smiling broadly] I remember this great event.

 

NOVAK:  The thing I really didn’t want to do was get in the papers. I told

Rowly about it and told him to keep it quiet. The next night he was at a dinner

party I wasn’t at and, I am sure, lubricated by a little wine. He told the

story. Among the people at the party was Herb Caen, the former columnist for the

San Francisco Chronicle. It ran in the paper the next day. We had started the

column a little more than a year earlier, and Newsweek was about to do a big

press piece to come out at the time of the convention. They were writing about

us as the hottest new political column and picked up the story from Herb Caen’s

column. So it was broadcast everywhere, thanks to my good friend.

 

EVANS:  I don’t know if I ever until this second acknowledged my part in

that. I actually made Bob  Novak  a hero. I didn’t have him just taking a swing.

I had him decking the guy.

PLAYBOY: Which was it?

 

NOVAK:  I didn’t knock him down, but I hit him-hard.

 

PLAYBOY: Was that the only time your words led to physical violence?

 

NOVAK:  There was one other time. It was at the Democratic midterm

convention in Kansas City in 1974. I hadn’t worked around television much and

nobody knew what I looked like, so I left behind my three-piece suit and was

able to sneak into a closed-door labor caucus. I was in the back, just part of

the guys. They had barely started and the door opens and in walks a tall, Waspy

reporter named Chris Lydon, who was with The New York Times. He was wearing an

ascot. They immediately spotted him; he had his press credentials around his

neck. “Get him out of here! Press!” He looked around and saw me and said, “How

come you let some press in and you don’t let others in?” They said, “There is no

press in here.” He said, “Yes, there is!” and he fingered me.

 

EVANS:  Outrageous.

 

NOVAK:  So they kicked me out. I was furious. I got out of there in a rage

and I took a swing at him. Chris is 6’3″.

EVANS:  Six foot two.

 

NOVAK:  I hit him right in the chest. I aimed for his face but I hit him in

the chest. Then people grabbed us both. There were a million reporters around.

That got on page one of The Kansas City Star the next day. So that was my second

and last two-fisted encounter. I was more enraged than I had been the first

time, when the guy called me real bad names and I was a little hung over and

cross. They were ten years apart and 25 years ago.

 

PLAYBOY: How about you, Rowly? Have your words ever led to physical

violence?

 

EVANS:  I haven’t ever attacked anybody.

 

IAC-CREATE-DATE: March 20, 2000

 

LOAD-DATE: March 21, 2000