CNN Suspends Bombastic Novak for Cussing, Walking Off Show

CNN took right-wing political columnist Robert Novak off the air late Thursday after he uttered an expletive and walked off the set of “Inside Politics” while it was still on the air.

Novak’s outburst happened 10 minutes before the end of the show in the midst of an exchange among Novak, fellow analyst James Carville and “Inside Politics” anchor Ed Henry. They were talking about the possible Senate candidacy of Florida congresswoman Katherine Harris when Carville needled Novak and tried to interrupt.

“He’s got to show the right-wingers that he’s got backbone,” Carville, a Democrat, said of his political rival. “Go ahead, the Wall Street Journal editorial page is watching. Show them you’re tough.”

Novak, shown on the screen sitting next to Carville, waved his right hand and replied: “I think that’s bullshit, and I hate that. Just let it go.” While Henry addressed another question to Carville, Novak stood up, walked off the set behind Carville — fully visible to viewers — and apparently pulled off his microphone. Henry and Carville didn’t miss a beat.

“Bob Novak’s behavior on CNN today was inexcusable and unacceptable,” a CNN spokeswoman said. “Mr. Novak has apologized to CNN, and CNN apologizes to its viewers for his language and actions. We’ve asked Mr. Novak to take some time off.”

It wasn’t clear how long Novak would be off the network, where he has appeared since 1980. A CNN executive said Thursday night that it was a mutual decision between CNN and Novak.

In recent months, two of Novak’s politically oriented shows — the weekday “Crossfire” and weekend “The Capital Gang” — have been canceled. “Inside Politics” will go off the air Friday to make way for CNN’s “The Situation Room,” the network’s new three-hour, late-afternoon news show.

CNN declined further comment; Novak and Carville couldn’t be reached for comment.

The veteran political commentator and newspaper columnist has been under fire in recent months for his role in the identification of CIA operative Valerie Plame, the wife of former ambassador and Bush critic Joseph Wilson. Novak’s column identified her, but he hasn’t been under the same scrutiny from the leak investigators that jailed New York Times reporter Judith Miller and forced Time reporter Matthew Cooper to testify before a grand jury.

Novak’s involvement hasn’t been determined, and he has refused to discuss the matter publicly. That has drawn criticism from many quarters, and it was just two weeks ago at the Television Critics Assn.’s summer press tour that CNN executives said they backed Novak.

While neither Henry nor Carville acknowledged Novak’s departure in the segment, Henry noted near the end of “Inside Politics” that the columnist had left the set early.

“I had told him in advance that we were going to ask him about the CIA leak case,” Henry said. “He was not here for me to able to ask him about that, and hopefully we’ll be able to ask him about that in the future.”