During an interview with former Ambassador John Bolton on the April 2 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, guest host and CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux noted the White House's denunciations of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for her scheduled trip to Syria, but did not note that a Republican-led delegation met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on April 1. Malveaux also did not point out the White House's inconsistency in criticizing Pelosi for her trip while remaining silent on the GOP-led visit. Nor did Malveaux report in her exchange with Bolton that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly voiced support for Pelosi's trip to Syria, “urg[ing] Pelosi,” according to an ABC report on April 2, “to convey the message to Assad that Israel would be willing to hold talks with Syria -- if Syria would take steps to stop supporting terrorism.”
Malveaux's final question to Bolton in the interview was, “Do you think that this also perhaps portends to something that might happen in the future? I'm being somewhat flip, but you know, Syria today, Iran tomorrow. I mean, where does it end?” Later in the broadcast, CNN teased a replay of the Bolton interview with an on-screen graphic that read: “Taking on Pelosi.”
As Media Matters for America has noted (here and here), several media figures have reported White House criticism of Pelosi without also noting the inconsistency in the administration's silence on the GOP-led delegation.
The selective criticism by some in the media of Pelosi's planned visit to Syria mirrors conservatives' attacks on Democrats who traveled to Damascus in December 2006. As Media Matters noted, numerous conservative media figures assailed Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson (FL), John Kerry (MA), and Christopher Dodd (CT) for meeting with Assad but ignored Sen. Arlen Specter's (R-PA) meeting with the Syrian president later that month.
From the 4 p.m. edition of the April 2 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
MALVEAUX: Tough questions today about Middle East flash points and risky diplomacy. We are joined by the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton -- thank you so much for being with us today. Of course, the first question: you've worked for the president, you've put in a lot in foreign policy here, what we're seeing is Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is going to Syria to deliver a message from Israel, to open up negotiations. Has the president lost control of his foreign policy?
BOLTON: I don't think he's lost control, but this is a very confusing thing to do, and I think it's naive at best and possibly quite counterproductive. I'm at a loss to understand why Speaker Pelosi wants to do something like this.
MALVEAUX: Well, the White House has said, and it has asked her, essentially, that, look, this is not helpful, in terms of our stand. I know the Iraq Study Group says talk to Syria, talk to Iran. They say don't do this. How would you approach her if you were still in the administration and in your ambassadorial -- kind of in your position?
BOLTON: Well, I don't think it's productive for her to go to Syria at all, but to pretend to be an envoy for -- not just for the United States, but for Israel, has to be sending, at best, very confusing signals to the dictator in Damascus, so I would simply hope that people would understand that, under the Constitution, the president conducts foreign policy, not the speaker of the House.
MALVEAUX: But what's strange here is that the prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, I mean, he knows where to go if he wants to have talks, negotiations, go to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Instead, he goes to Nancy Pelosi here. I mean, what does that say?
BOLTON: Well, I hope that isn't exactly what he's done, and if he has, then I think we need to talk to him, too. This is not the time for people to misunderstand who speaks for the United States, particularly in the Middle East. So, I think there are a lot of mistakes being made here and, hopefully, we'll have this visit get passed without more mistakes being committed.
MALVEAUX: It's hard to believe, because the prime minister really is -- he is very close to the Bush administration. They like the president here. Do you think that we are seeing maybe some back-channel talks that are going on, that perhaps there's a tacit approval from the White House, “OK, let this happen” ? I can't imagine that he would allow this to go forward, perhaps without a wink and a nod from the administration.
BOLTON: If this is a back channel, it's a pretty public back channel, so my guess is there's confusion and, hopefully, once the trip is over, we can get it straightened out, because, if it's not straightened out, it can only be counterproductive.
MALVEAUX: Do you think that this also perhaps portends to something that might happen in the future? I'm being somewhat flip, but you know, Syria today, Iran tomorrow. I mean, where does it end?
BOLTON: I think that's part of the problem. I think, when you have members of the House and Senate, who are out essentially freelancing, it gets competitive. You know, the governor of New Mexico is now about to go to North Korea to conduct some diplomacy, so I think this is a mistake. I think people ought to let the debate in this country take place and let the president conduct our diplomacy overseas.