In an appearance on CNN's Inside Politics on Thursday, Novak stormed off the set after cursing Democratic strategist James Carville.
It's clear that Carville had little to do with Novak's departure. The Democratic strategist had described Novak's as trying to "show these right-wingers that he's got backbone, you know. The Wall Street Journal editorial page is watching you. Show 'em you're tough."
Novak responded, "I think that's bullshit, and I hate that," and exited stage right.
Bloggers from left to right, however, judge the Carville prodding as typical partisan banter for a show of this sort. Other factors must have caused this cable pundit to come unhinged.
Host Ed Henry had planned to end the segment by asking Novak about his role in the Plame leak investigation. "Hopefully, we'll be able to ask him about that in the future," Henry explained to his viewing audience after Novak's exit.
Jay Rosen of Press Think speculates:
Novak "was in an impossible position every time he went on the air to talk politics. If he met his duty to himself (by not speaking up while the Plame case was open) then he could not meet his duty to his peers and his profession. . . Novak knew that dodging his colleague Ed Henry was no longer going to work. He solved a problem for himself, and for CNN with his theatre of phony rage.
Indeed, Novak, as someone who claims to be a journalist, had painted himself into a corner. But he has been taking heat from other quarters as well.
On Thursday, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania publicly blasted Novak for "falsely and maliciously" libeling staffer Bettilou Taylor after Novak wrote a column that critiqued Specter's performance during a Senate hearing.
The hard right's disdain for Specter is well known – making Novak's ascerbic column less than unusual -- but the GOP's anti-Novak club doesn't end with the Senator. The columnist is being pilloried by right establishment figures including strategists within the White House sausage factory. According to a source in the DC press corps, Bush's communications office sees Novak as a walking time bomb set to explode when least convenient to their boss. They would much rather see Novak disappear quietly beneath the toxic sludge of the Potomac.
If this is true, it would appear that the right have begun to eat their own -- and that Novak is now among the hunted.
And only yesterday the Plame-Rove-Novak case was slipping towards the back pages. Thanks to Novak, it's now burning up the blogosphere -- a fire that threatens to jump lines to the mainstream.
For its part CNN called his behavior "inexcusable and unacceptable" and asked Novak "to take some time off."
SIDEBAR: Jon Stewart puts it all in perspective. B&C gives a historical rundown of famous on-air meltdowns but forgets to mention personal favorite Brigitte Quinn.