Evans and Novak
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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