In December 5 articles on the resignation of United Nations ambassador John R. Bolton, four major newspapers -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today -- reported Bush's response blasting the "stubborn obstructionism" of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee members who opposed his nomination, but failed to quote a single one of these senators or otherwise explaining their opposition.
Bush first nominated Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on March 7, 2005. During his subsequent confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic members raised questions about Bolton's harsh criticisms of the United Nations and about his conduct as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, a position he had held since May 2001. On May 12, 2005, the committee decided to send the nomination to the full Senate without any recommendation. The eight Democratic members of the committee, however, published a "Minority Views" report in which they laid out their argument against Bolton's nomination. From the report:
In our judgment, four distinct patterns of conduct disqualify John Bolton for the post of U.N. ambassador: (1) Mr. Bolton repeatedly sought the removal of intelligence analysts who disagreed with him; (2) in preparing speeches and testimony, Mr. Bolton repeatedly tried to stretch intelligence to fit his views; (3) in his relations with colleagues and subordinates, Mr. Bolton repeatedly exhibited abusive behavior and intolerance for different views; and (4) Mr. Bolton repeatedly made misleading, disingenuous or non-responsive statements to the committee.
By itself, Mr. Bolton's credibility problem on intelligence matters makes him the wrong man for the U.N. job at this critical time. His approach to problem solving, his disdain for the United Nations and international law and his failure to deliver results in the job he now holds fatally compound the problem.
Mr. Bolton's many inflammatory statements about the United Nations as an institution and the legitimacy of international law would also hinder his effectiveness in advancing U.S. interests. The United Nations is not a tool to be used ''when it suits our interest and when we can get others to go along,'' as Mr. Bolton has suggested, but rather an essential and ongoing forum for the advancement of United States foreign policy and national security interests.
Finally, Mr. Bolton's supporters point to his effectiveness. We are told that he gets the job done. Yet even a cursory review of Mr. Bolton's record as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security suggests the opposite. Under Mr. Bolton's watch, North Korea -- the most immediate threat to the United States in the area of nonproliferation -- has become significantly more dangerous. The Bush Administration's most touted success in this area -- the disarmament of Libya -- came about because Mr. Bolton was kept off the case, not because he was on it.
By the time Bolton's nomination reached the full Senate, several Republicans -- including Sens. George Voinovich (OH), Lincoln Chafee (RI), and Chuck Hagel (NE) -- had expressed concerns about the choice. The nomination ultimately languished after the GOP leadership failed to gather the 60 votes necessary to end debate on the matter. Then, on August 1, 2005, Bush bypassed the Senate confirmation process by installing Bolton as interim U.N. ambassador via a recess appointment that will last until Congress adjourns before January 2007.
In the summer of 2006, Voinovich reversed course and stated he would support Bolton's nomination if it came before the Senate again -- an announcement that rekindled GOP efforts to schedule a new hearing. In response, prominent Democrats such as Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) argued that Bolton's performance at the United Nations had confirmed their earlier concerns that he would be an ineffective ambassador. From Dodd's September 6 floor statement:
DODD: Mr. Bolton showed his colors as soon as he arrived in New York after receiving his recess appointment last August 2005. After the US Mission had worked for months to negotiate a two year reform effort that was to be endorsed by President Bush and other heads of state two weeks later, Mr. Bolton almost destroyed the consensus around the document by tabling 705 separate amendments to the text. It took the involvement of the President and the Secretary of State to cobble the agreement back together at the last minute at a price of losing some of the provisions that the US had sought included with respect to management reforms.
The Bush administration has made the ongoing crisis in Darfur a key concern. Yet when in June of this year, members of the Security Council visited Sudan to send a signal to the Government of Khartoum, Mr. Bolton thought it more important to travel to London to deliver a UN bashing speech to a private think tank rather than join his colleagues on the visit.
On another occasion, prior to a vote last July on a UN Security Council Resolution intended to sanction North Korea for its provocative 4th July missile launches, Mr. Bolton publicly assured anyone who would listen that he could get support for a resolution with teeth -- with so called Chapter 7 obligations. Turns out he couldn't. The resolution adopted by the U.N Security Council fell short of that.
Last September, Mr. Bolton told the House International Relations Committee that the negotiation of an effective Human Rights Council was a key objective of the United States and that it was a "very high priority, and a personal priority of mine."
There were thirty negotiating sessions held to hammer out the framework of this new Human Rights Council and Ambassador Bolton managed to attend one or two.
In the end the United States was one of four countries to vote against approval of the new UN Human Rights Council.
When the tally is taken on how effective Mr. Bolton has been at the UN, he gets a failing grade in my opinion.
In concluding, Mr. President, I would return to a point that I made earlier, namely that Mr. Bolton has largely burned his bridges with his colleagues in New York and isn't likely to be an effective diplomat when diplomacy is increasingly becoming the coin of the realm in protecting and advancing US interests at this very unstable moment in history.
Following the Democratic House and Senate victories in the 2006 midterm elections, Bush re-nominated Bolton. Soon after Bush did so, Chafee announced that he intended to oppose the nomination. "The American people have spoken out against the president's agenda on a number of fronts, and presumably one of those is on foreign policy," Chafee told the Associated Press on November 9, two days after losing his re-election bid. "And at this late stage in my term, I'm not going to endorse something the American people have spoke out against."
On December 4, the White House formally accepted Bolton's resignation. In his statement on the development, Bush commended Bolton's work at the United Nations and excoriated the "handful of United States Senators" who opposed his nomination:
BUSH: I am deeply disappointed that a handful of United States Senators prevented Ambassador Bolton from receiving the up or down vote he deserved in the Senate. They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time. This stubborn obstructionism ill serves our country, and discourages men and women of talent from serving their Nation.
In their December 5 coverage of the resignation, print media widely reported Bush's criticism of the unnamed senators and their "stubborn obstructionism" and further noted that Bolton had received mixed reviews from his fellow diplomats at the United Nations. But four major newspapers failed to quote a single Senate opponent responding to the resignation or explaining the rationale behind their resistance, despite the fact that many of them -- including Sens. Dodd, Joe Biden (D-DE), John Kerry (D-MA), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) -- issued December 4 statements on the matter.
For instance, the December 5 New York Times article quoted Bush decrying those senators who "chose to obstruct his confirmation," but failed to include a response from any of them:
Ending more than a year of controversy surrounding the blunt-spoken ambassador, Mr. Bush issued a strongly worded statement excoriating Mr. Bolton's opponents on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for refusing to send his nomination to the Senate floor for a vote.
''They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time,'' Mr. Bush said. ''This stubborn obstructionism ill serves our country, and discourages men and women of talent from serving their nation.''
Mr. Bush went on to praise Mr. Bolton, a fiery conservative and longtime critic of the United Nations, thanking him for his ''advocacy of human rights and human dignity.''
In a separate article, the Times reported on international diplomats' "mixed assessments of his effectiveness" as U.N. ambassador, but again included no mention of the basis for the Senate opposition.
Likewise, The Washington Post, in its December 5 article on the resignation, quoted Bush criticizing the "shallow politics of the Senate" but offered no quote from Bolton's Senate opponents:
Bush appeared aggravated at having to abandon Bolton, whose bare-knuckle diplomacy and skepticism of multilateralism made him a favorite of conservatives and a lightning rod for many in the Washington and international establishments.
"I'm not happy about it," Bush said in a one-minute appearance with Bolton before cameras in the Oval Office. "I think he deserved to be confirmed. And the reason why I think he deserved to be confirmed is because I know he did a fabulous job for the country."
In a separate interview with Fox News Channel, Bush said: "On issue after issue, Bolton delivered. And so you're looking at a man who is deeply disappointed, and I would call it shallow politics of the Senate in this case."
The December 5 Los Angeles Times article also included Bush's reference to the senators' "stubborn obstructionism," but quoted no senators explaining their opposition to Bolton:
Bush accepted the resignation Monday with "deep regret."
"I'm not happy about it," the president said in the Oval Office as he thanked Bolton for his service. "I think he deserved to be confirmed. And the reason why I think he deserved to be confirmed is because I know he did a fabulous job for the country."
Bush criticized key senators on the Foreign Relations Committee for blocking Bolton's confirmation, "even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time."
"This stubborn obstructionism ill-serves our country and discourages men and women of talent from serving their nation," Bush said.
Furthermore, the December 5 USA Today article reported Bush's criticism of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but included no response from the committee members who stood against Bolton:
In a written statement, Bush accepted Bolton's decision with "deep regret," and he protested the refusal of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to send his nomination to the full Senate for a vote.
Bush bypassed Congress and named Bolton as U.N. ambassador by appointing him during a congressional recess in August 2005. The appointment expires at the end of the current Congress, which could be as early as this week.
By contrast, the December 4 AP article quoted Kerry and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) responding to the resignation:
Democrats opposed Bolton, whom they viewed as a brusque, ill-suited diplomat. Some Republicans helped scuttle his nomination, including moderate Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.
The president had stinging words for them.
"They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time," Bush said in a statement. "This stubborn obstructionism ill serves our country."
Democrats, though, said Bolton's resignation signaled a fresh start.
"Hopefully this change marks a shift from the failed go-it-alone strategies that have left America less safe," said the incoming Senate majority leader, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada.
"With the Middle East on the verge of chaos and the nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea increasing, we need a United Nations ambassador who has the full support of Congress and can help rally the international community to tackle the serious threats we face," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
In a December 5 washingtonpost.com online chat with Post staff writer Michael Abramowitz, a reader from Washington, D.C., criticized the press's coverage of Bolton's resignation for, the reader claimed, largely ignoring "the very real concerns about Bolton's record, and his philosophy." In his response, Abramowitz disagreed with the reader's "point of view" and stated his belief that "press has aired the negative views about Bolton among U.N. diplomats and among Democrats in the US Senate fairly extensively." Though Abramowitz might have been referring to the press's coverage of the Bolton appointment in general, the reader referred specifically to the coverage of Bolton's December 4 resignation. And as Media Matters for America documented above, four of the nation's most widely read and influential papers -- including Abramowitz's -- left a key part of the story out their coverage. From the online exchange:
Washington, D.C.: Why is Bush getting such sympathetic press in regards to Bolton's resignation? He was a ludicrous nominee to begin with. You simply don't appoint a man who doesn't believe that the U.N. should exist, to be the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. What is more, his record at the State Department is spotty at best, and diplomacy doesn't seem to interest him at all. And yet, all I have heard in the press is regurgitated quotes from Bush about him "deserving an up or down vote," etc. There is little or no discussion of the very real concerns about Bolton's record, and his philosophy. Not to mention the absurd hypocrisy of Republicans continually lambasting Democrats for threatening filibusters and using their committee positions to prevent floor votes. So why the unbalanced coverage?
Michael Abramowitz: I have not done a systematic study of the press coverage of Bolton, but my sense is that the press has aired the negative views about Bolton among U.N. diplomats and among Democrats in the US Senate fairly extensively. So I don't really agree with your point of view here.