In Defense Of Robert Novak

Yesterday, the “Prince of Darkness” Robert Novak clipped a pedestrian while he was toodling around town in his Corvette. That, in and of itself would have drawn some attention, but what has really got the blogosphere’s juices flowing is that Novak didn’t stop after the accident,

Syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak was cited by police after he hit a pedestrian with his black Corvette in downtown Washington, D.C., on Wednesday morning.

A Politico reporter saw Novak in the front of a police car with a citation in his hand; a WJLA-TV crew and reporter saw Novak as well. The pedestrian, a 66-year-old man who was not further identified by authorities, was treated at George Washington University Hospital for minor injuries, according to D.C. Fire and EMS. Novak was later released by police and drove away from the scene.

“Novak said he was a block away from 18th and K streets Northwest, where the accident occurred, when a bicyclist stopped him and said he had hit someone. He said he was cited for failing to yield the right of way.

The bicyclist was David Bono, a partner at Harkins Cunningham, who was on his usual bike commute to work at 1700 K St. N.W. when he witnessed the accident.

As he traveled east on K Street, crossing 18th, Bono said “a black Corvette convertible with top closed plows into the guy. The guy is sort of splayed into the windshield.”

Bono said that the pedestrian, who was crossing the street on a “Walk” signal and was in the crosswalk, rolled off the windshield and that Novak then made a right into the service lane of K Street. “This car is speeding away. What’s going through my mind is, you just can’t hit a pedestrian and drive away,” Bono said.

He said he chased Novak half a block down K Street, finally caught up with him and then put his bike in front of the car to block it and called 911. Traffic immediately backed up, horns blaring, until commuters behind Novak backed up so he could pull over.

Bono said that throughout, Novak “keeps trying to get away. He keeps trying to go.” He said he vaguely recognized the longtime political reporter and columnist as a news personality but could not precisely place him.

Finally, Bono said, Novak put his head out the window of his car and motioned him over. Bono said he told him that you can’t hit a pedestrian and just drive away. He quoted Novak as responding: “I didn’t see him there.”

Now, I’ve interviewed Robert Novak and even took a picture with him last week-end, but honestly, I don’t personally know him and therefore, can’t say whether he’d panic enough to do a hit and run instead of stopping to help. That being said, there are a couple of things worth noting.

First of all, some people may find it to be completely implausible that Bob Novak hit a pedestrian and didn’t even realize it. However, I am not one of those people because, believe it or not, I once actually hit another car and didn’t even realize it.

Granted, it wasn’t exactly the same situation. I was on a three lane road, was pulling from the middle lane into the right lane, and apparently my back bumper caught the other car’s front left bumper in my blind spot. I didn’t see it occur, but I did feel a bump, and shortly afterwards I pulled off into a service station to see if I ran over something. When I did, a lady drove up and asked me why I didn’t stop after I hit the other car. When she told me that, I was shocked and wasn’t sure that she was telling me the truth, but when the other car pulled in with a heavily damaged bumper, I quickly became a believer. After that, we exchanged insurance, called the cops, and things proceeded normally from there. So, after that experience, it seems entirely possible to me that Robert Novak could have hit someone and not realized it.

But, what about the “splayed into the windshield” comment the witness made? Well, that does sound bad, but the reality is that witnesses make mistakes on things like that all the time. It doesn’t mean that they’re dishonest or partisan or anything else; it’s just that perception is a funny thing when something happens in the blink of an eye in front of you. It’s entirely possible that you can get it wrong.

Now, maybe the witness didn’t get it wrong — maybe Novak is a jerk who hit someone and tried to drive off. However, I think it’s just as likely that Novak is a 78 year old man who got distracted and hit someone without realizing it.

Given the limited amount of information we have, I don’t think there is any way to definitively know what really happened unless some more info becomes available, so, with that in mind, I think Robert Novak deserves the benefit of the doubt.

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