THUMBSUCKERS BEWARE: NOVAK'S NAMING NAMES. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak gave quite the unconvincing performance yesterday on �Meet the Press.� As Novak answered question after question from anchor Tim Russert about his role in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson and the subsequent investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the Prince of Darkness (as he is known in these parts) proved himself more dottering than wily, contradicting himself, and giving weak and multiple explanations for why he gave up his sources to the special prosecutor. Novak's excuse? Well, the prosecutor already had their names. How's that for standing on principle?

Novak also told Russert -- who himself appeared before Fitzgerald's CIA-leak grand jury -- that the name of his primary source has not yet been disclosed, though he did not dispute that it was former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage when Russert made that suggestion. "I�m not going to speculate on who the source was," Novak replied.

One would hope that Novak would know himself who his source is -- or at least better understand the meaning of the word �speculate.�

But my favorite excuse of all was Novak's explanation of why, unlike the other reporters called before the grand jury, he didn't fight the subpoena: It would have been bad for journalism, he said.

Because my lawyer said I did not have a clear constitutional chance of surviving. I had to make this decision myself. I was operating as an independent operator, paying the burden�the great burden of my legal fees. The Chicago Sun-Times helped me, but it was, essentially, my decision. And my attorney, Jim Hamilton, a very prominent attorney, believed that there was a high probability that I would lose the case in court, and it would not be good for press freedoms. As a matter of fact, you lost the case. In fact, everybody who went to court lost the case. And the law protecting the rights of journalists, which I feel very strongly about, has suffered by people going�by fighting it, and that�s one thing I wanted to avoid.

And that's not all, but probably enough for here. For more laughs, check out Novak's backtrack on his reported claim that Plame's name was given him by an administration figure, and that the CIA told him not to publish her name because of her covert status. But he didn't out her, Novak claimed. CIA turncoat and traitor Aldrich Ames had already blown Plame's cover years ago, the columnist explained.

But the very best Novak quote from the whole interview is this: "I�m a reporting columnist, as opposed to a thumbsucking columnist..."

--Adele M. Stan