I hadn’t — and still don’t — intend to pick up columnist Robert Novak’s self-pitying autobiography The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years of Reporting in Washington, but I was slightly intrigued by Russell Baker’s description in The New York Review of Books, because Novak apparently names the names of some of his sources. Here was a tidbit of particular interest to me which Baker used to illustrate Novak’s opinion on source confidentiality:
Novak does not dwell very seriously on this debate. The decisive test, he says, should be whether, after many years, exposure may still be damaging. In his view, death settles the matter. And so the privilege finally ended for former Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri. Thirty-five years ago in conversation with Novak about George McGovern’s prospects for winning the Democratic presidential nomination, Eagleton said, “The people don’t know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot…. Once middle America—Catholic Middle America, in particular—find this out, he’s dead.”
In his column Novak attributed the remark only to a “liberal Senator,” and McGovern’s opponents used it to attack him as a “Triple-A” candidate, supporting “Amnesty, Abortion, and Acid.” McGovern won the nomination anyhow, and for his vice-presidential running mate chose, of course—Eagleton, who was then dropped after it turned out he’d concealed his treatment, by electric shock, for nervous problems. Eagleton still insisted on his privilege thirty years later when Novak asked permission to use the story in his memoir. Eagleton replied that “it was off the record, and I still consider it that way.” He died last March at the age of seventy-seven, Novak writes, “relieving me of the need to conceal his identity.”
I’m still dithering about whether to go to the annual McGovern Conference in a couple of weeks. It should be aparticularly poignant event, on the 35th anniversary of the ’72 election, with another senseless war going on, the death early this year of Eleanor McGovern, and a fine history of the campaign by Bruce Miroff just out this summer.
The conference is free. All you have to do is get to Mitchell, South Dakota for the day.