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When Novak Is Duped, the Old Rules Are Out

BALTIMORE — A day after he sent the press corps following McCain scurrying with a report that the presumptive Republican nominee would be picking a running-mate, Robert Novak has said he may have been used by the campaign.

In many ways yesterday illustrated how quickly we are to react to breaking news and the consequences of relying on sources with something to clearly gain. Only 24 hours ago I was sitting with other reporters in a hotel ballroom in Buffalo when Novak’s report came across the web. Initially dismissed, the more we thought about it the more it made sense. McCain would be in New Hampshire the following day, not far from the vacation home of former rival and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He could steal some of Sen. Barck Obama’s world tour thunder, take the news cycle for the day and stick it to the three national networks, whose anchors had followed Obama on his peace train. Before long we were hounding the candidate on the plane and then engaged in a long, drawn out conversation with campaign senior adviser Mark Salter, who declined to not only comment but refused to say whether there would or wouldn’t be an announcement today.

Of course nothing happened. The senator’s wife, Cindy, it turns out, was in Africa working with Bono’s ONE Campaign and the Romneys were in Canada. Time I could have spent ruminating over how many touchdown passes my beloved pseudo-adopted son Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer would throw during the upcoming season were spent in intense speculation as all of us readied for breaking news. Instead we got a pseudo-apology from Novak who said he’d been duped.

As strange as it sounds, you can’t blame Novak, no matter what you might think of his involvement in the Valerie Plame affair. As reporters we rely on sources, building a level of trust that can go back for years, even decades. It’s simply how we do business. Or rather have. Novak’s admission is perhaps an indication that we simply can’t play by the old rules, by the belief in a person’s word no matter how close he or she is to the situation or how long we’ve known them. Maybe it means we’re all simply free agents in this world who can’t trust anyone. The old journalistic adage that says "If your mother says you love you, check it out" doesn’t work if your mother is out to get you. Kids, we’re on our own now. Trust no one and get used to it.

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