Conservative commentator Robert Novak dies aged 78

Slideshow ( 2 images )

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Robert Novak, a conservative political columnist known as the “Prince of Darkness” and who unleashed a political firestorm by publishing the name of an undercover CIA operative, died on Tuesday. He was 78.

Novak stopped writing his column in July 2008 after 45 years when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, saying his prognosis was “dire.”

His most famous column, in July 2003, named as a CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose husband Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador, had publicly criticized the Iraq war.

An investigation into the leak of Plame’s name later resulted in the conviction of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a top aide to then Vice President Dick Cheney, for lying and obstruction.

Novak’s column was one of the longest running in the United States with about 300 newspapers across the country printing it each week, according to his home paper, the Chicago Sun-Times. He developed a second career as a television commentator who pulled no punches, first at CNN and later at Fox News.

Novak teamed up with Rowland Evans in 1963 to write the Evans-Novak Political Report, and went on his own after Evans retired in 1993.

Generally conservative or libertarian and highly controversial, Novak became one of the best known journalists in Washington. He was not without detractors, some of whom referred to his column as “Errors and No Facts.”

But they read him just the same. He reveled in the nickname “Prince of Darkness,” which referred partly to his dour look and partly to what another reporter called a “dim view of the prospects for our civilization.”

Writing by Tabassum Zakaria, Editing by Frances Kerry