December 28, 2012

(Darko Vojinovic / The Associated Press)

On Dec. 15, two doctors for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a statement through the State Department saying that she was ill:

Secretary Clinton developed a stomach virus, leading to extreme dehydration, and subsequently fainted. Over the course of this week we evaluated her and ultimately determined she had also sustained a concussion. We recommended that the Secretary continue to rest and avoid any strenuous activity, and strongly advised her to cancel all work events for the coming week. We will continue to monitor her progress as she makes a full recovery.

On the record. Definitive. Detailed. And not good enough for former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton. The Fox News contributor appeared on the network’s Dec. 17 edition of “On the Record” with Greta van Susteren to talk about how Clinton wouldn’t be available to testify at a Dec. 20 congressional hearing on Benghazi. Here’s what Bolton said:

Well, I think she will have to testify at some point. You know, every foreign service officer in every foreign ministry in the world knows the phrase I am about to use. When you don’t want to go to a meeting or conference or an event you have a “diplomatic illness.” And this is a diplomatic illness to beat the band. I certainly hope it was nothing serious, but this was revealed in a way that I think was not transparent. And I think there is an obligation here, especially if Secretary Clinton decides to run for president, to indicate what happened. She may not be testifying this week, but she will not escape it forever.

A couple of days later, Van Susteren wrote a blog post on GretaWire whose title obviates the writing beneath it: “I don’t agree with any of my FNC colleagues or anyone else who is a tad bit sarcastic on our air about Secretary Clinton’s health.” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also had some thoughts on the issue: “It’s really unfortunate that in times like this people make wild speculation based on no information,” said Nuland.

Such slap-backs didn’t apparently tame Bolton. In a New York Post opinion piece published Thursday, Bolton wrote:

Unfortunately, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has still not faced questioning by Congress or the media more than three months after the tragedy. A series of excuses has conveniently allowed her to escape cross examination until after the ARB report was released. Clinton sails right along, now preparing the first steps for what is widely expected to be her 2016 presidential campaign.

Bolded text added to highlight the appearance that Bolton is again dismissing Clinton’s health situation. Yet the rest of the opinion piece doesn’t inventory these excuses. That omission prompted a question from the Erik Wemple Blog to Bolton: Just what are these excuses?

Bolton’s answer:

Her excuses included several instances of foreign travel and her repeated insistence that she would not testify until after the publication of the Accountability Review Board report. There have been repeated expressions of frustration from members of Congress about Secretary Clinton’s failure to testify.

“Several instances of foreign travel” may well constitute an excuse for an embattled director of public works; “several instances of foreign travel” may well constitute an excuse for an embattled state legislator; “several instances of foreign travel” may constitute an excuse for an embattled nurse’s aide. “Several instances of foreign travel,” however, don’t constitute an excuse for a secretary of state. That’s the job.

Bolton’s explanation of these excuses refrains from repeating his allegations about a “diplomatic illness.” Does that mean that he is recanting his out-there statements on Van Susteren’s show?

“That’s my point: her lack of transparency makes it impossible to know,” notes Bolton via e-mail.

Clinton aides or doctors have issued at least six statements in recent weeks about her health. When alerted to the abundance of public proclamations on Clinton’s health, Bolton quipped, “Are you grading by word count or substance?”

Along with the news that Clinton will resume working next week, Foreign Policy’s The Cable notes that “Clinton held 14 press availabilities and gave nine separate press interviews between Sept. 12 and Dec. 7, when she fell ill. She also briefed the full House and the full Senate Sept. 20 on Benghazi.” She has also committed to giving congressional testimony on Benghazi next month.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.