Meltdown? Cleverly-planned escape? Evidence of an intelligent designer with low standards? Exactly what went on at CNN yesterday? Let’s look at all the possibilities…

- Novak is feeling the pressure over Plamegate, and he just plain cracked. This is an obvious, simple, and plausible explanation. As such, I intend to ignore it.

- Novak planned this “meltdown” in advance. This one’s pretty likely too. We know that he’d been told he was going to be asked about the Plame inquiry, and he can’t have been looking forward to it. What makes this likely is the apparent mismatch between Carville’s statement and Novak’s reaction, as though Bob was simply plugging his line into the first available cue.

- Carville was baiting Novak about Plamegate and Bob’s role in it. I’ve seen this theory around the web, first at Eschaton. I don’t buy it. James Carville and Robert Novak are not exactly drawing-room drama characters - to Carville, “subtlety” means “using slightly less Tabasco on your Cocoa Puffs.”

- Novak’s a CIA operative who’s said too much and has to disentangle himself from TV journalism fast. Why am I the only guy who sees this? It explains so much - the amorphous “source,” the closed-door questioning, the fact that he’s free to storm off sets while Judith Miller trades cigarettes and sexual favors for copies of The National Review

- There was a third pundit on the knoll. Does anyone know where Paul Begala was while this was taking place? Was he just off-camera, making faces and displaying crude cartoons of Novak dropping the soap in a prison shower?

- CNN and Novak planned this together. Novak finally realized the controversy was compromising his effectiveness as a commentator. CNN finally realized that as far as TV-readiness is concerned, Novak isn’t actually the “teen heartthrob” he claims to be on his resume. Is there a way to generate attention for both the pundit AND the network while ending Novak’s tenure? Maybe…

- Novak’s paving the way for a light sentence. Two days from now, Bob will apologize to the public, citing stress and… a serious medical condition. Eventually he shows up for his sentencing with a cane, dark glasses, crutches, a body cast, several I.V.’s, a wheelchair, two nurses, an iron lung, and a tall, hooded figure standing behind him with a scythe.

Any one of these could be the truth behind the lies, and that’s even discounting certain respectable theories involving aliens, crop circles, and a still-living Richard Nixon masterminding the whole thing from the South Sea island he shares with Elvis.

The only thing that’s implausible is the idea that Bob Novak using the word “bullshit” on CNN is somehow inappropriate. Unless you believe that somewhere in America’s heartland, an impressionable 8 year-old boy was watching, heard the word used, reeled backwards in disbelief, ran to his room, and - lip quivering - pulled the smiling Robert Novak poster from his wall, wailing, “Why, Bob, why?”

Then again, I guess it’s possible