“When you talk about Germany, we have a very strong relationship with the government of Germany,” Heather Nauert, the State Department’s spokeswoman, said in June. She added: “Looking back in the history books, today is the 71st anniversary of the speech that announced the Marshall Plan. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the D-Day invasion. We obviously have a very long history with the government of Germany, and we have a strong relationship with the government.”
While the Marshall Plan rebuilt Western Europe, including West Germany, in the ashes of Adolf Hitler’s quest for global domination, the D-Day comment raised eyebrows, with some suggesting it demonstrated a lack of historical understanding from the former “Fox & Friends” presenter who gained prominence on television during the Monica Lewinsky scandal but has no diplomatic experience. This critique is emerging again as she prepares to move to New York as the American ambassador to the United Nations, a role to which President Trump plans to nominate her.
With the appointment, Trump will solidify the symbiotic relationship between his administration and Fox News, from which he has drawn top communications advisers as well as policy ideas (which, in one case, happened to be a talking point of white nationalists). The move to install a television personality and loyal spokeswoman as one of the nation’s top diplomats will also further transform his foreign policy into an instrument of branding in line with his “America First” agenda.
“In terms of what we normally look for at the United Nations, her résumé is very thin,” David Gergen, the veteran presidential aide, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday night. He said the role of U.N. representative was not a “communications job” but rather “a place where we conduct active diplomacy with nations around the world.”
Trump announced his intentions in a tweet on Friday morning. A senior administration official told The Washington Post on Thursday that Nauert would be “an outstanding advocate for the American people at the U.N.” The State Department also notes that since Mike Pompeo took over as secretary of state in April, Nauert’s foreign experience has grown; Nauert has since accompanied Pompeo on all his overseas trips bar one and has visited 26 countries.
Still, her profile stands in stark contrast to those of her soon-to-be counterparts, including Germany’s Christoph Heusgen, who joined West Germany’s diplomatic service in 1980 and has since been posted in Chicago, Paris and Brussels. To give an example of a high-water mark in bilateral ties between the United States and Germany, he might point her instead to German reunification in 1990 and the end of the Cold War.
In the 1990s, while Heusgen was advising his country’s foreign office on European affairs, Nauert was riding the Lewinsky scandal to prominence “in the world of talkers on the Fox News Channel,” as Leonard Downie Jr. and Robert G. Kaiser documented in their 2002 book, “The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril.” In 2010, as her soon-to-be German colleague was serving as chief adviser on foreign and security policy to Chancellor Angela Merkel, Nauert was playing herself on the eighth season of the Fox series “24.”
Heusgen’s is the sort of experience that is typical for U.N. ambassadors — be they from U.S. partners or rival nations. Russia’s representative, Vasily Nebenzya, has three decades of diplomatic experience, including time already spent with the United Nations. Representing China is Ma Zhaoxu, who also boasts 30 years of experience in foreign affairs. Britain’s Karen Pierce joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1981 and managed portfolios in the United States, Eastern Europe and Asia before she became deputy permanent representative to the United Nations in 2006.
So, too, in the United States, the position has been held by distinguished public servants and scholars of foreign affairs. As U.N. ambassador in 1962, Adlai Stevenson, a Navy veteran and former governor of Illinois, helped defuse the Cuban missile crisis. Arthur Goldberg had already been a Supreme Court justice when President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated him in 1965 to lead the American delegation to the United Nations. Richard C. Holbrooke, who had previously served as ambassador to Germany, helped broker the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian War.
Nikki Haley, who is serving as the American ambassador, lacked foreign policy experience when she was nominated by Trump last year. But she had been elected twice as the governor of South Carolina.
Nauert, 48, will bring a different background to her position on the world stage. Raised in Rockford, Ill., as the daughter of a prominent insurance executive, she earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Mount Vernon College and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia.
She got her start in journalism in 1996, joining Fox News two years later. She jumped to other big-name outlets, including ABC News, before eventually returning to Fox in 2007. She has also worked as a health insurance lobbyist, as well as for her family’s financial services company. Her State Department biography indicates that she served as a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, part a program for “promising young leaders ... to participate in a sustained conversation on international affairs and U.S. foreign policy.” Some of her work has taken her abroad. In 2006, she was nominated for an Emmy for the ABC special series “13 Around the World.”
A profile that appeared in 2000 in The Washington Post took note of her ubiquity on television and asked, “Who the heck is Heather Nauert?”
“Why, other than looking like the younger sister of another Heather (Locklear), is she on TV at all?” wondered The Post’s Paul Farhi. “From what well of life-shaping experiences do our anointed dispensers of video wisdom draw their opinions?”
Tony Snow, who was a host of “Fox News Sunday,” said he had instructed Nauert: “God made you beautiful. Now you’ve got to make yourself smart.”
Nauert said at the time that she thought she could fill a unique hole in punditry, and that she had wanted to be on the screen since she was 16. “It’s more interesting to see a young person talking about issues than a big old fat white guy,” she said.
She continued, “If you’re young and you can’t back it up with smarts, then people are going to say, ‘Who cares what you have to say?’ . . . My belief is, honey, let me show you what I can do. Go for it, girl.”
At first, she struggled to find her footing, but her big break came when the Lewinsky scandal broke in 1998.
“The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal created full employment for pundits of all stripes, but in particular it gave wide visibility to a subset of young, female conservatives — Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Barbara Olson, Kellyanne Fitzpatrick. And Heather Nauert,” The Post profile recounted. “With cable networks filling the air with talk about sex and sexual harassment, the ‘pundettes,’ as they came to be known, filled a market need: a telegenic group of women who were predictably anti-Clinton. And in their own way, they were breakthrough figures.”
Bill Shine, a former Fox executive who was pushed out over his handling of harassment scandals and is now a top White House communications aide, said back then: “When I first saw her, I thought Heather was our demographic, that she could bring in younger people.” The New York Post announced her ascension amid the Clinton investigation with the headline, “Gentlemen prefer blond pundits.”
Nauert’s commentary was hardly explosive. She toed the party line, calling on the president to “tell the truth” and defending Kenneth Starr’s probe.
That’s been her approach ever since, as she expanded her role at Fox, including as a presenter for “Fox & Friends.” She has broadcast just about every right-wing talking-point under the sun, as documented extensively by the liberal watchdog group Media Matters.
In 2014, she warned that immigrant children arriving in the United States were bringing “disease.” In 2015, she attacked the Environmental Protection Agency by suggesting that a grant to college students working on a device allowing hotels to track water usage by guests was a “Big Brother move.”
“Well, forget about taking a long, hot shower on vacation, and if you think you’re doing it in private, well, you might want to think again,” she said.
Nauert has referred to immigrants in the United States without status seeking to obtain an education as “illegals.” She has spread conspiracies about the 2012 Benghazi attacks. In 2013, she said that a swimming group for Muslim girls at a YMCA in St. Paul, Minn., was evidence that “sharia law is now changing everything.” She pledged, “We’ll keep watching this story for you.”
Even as a loyal aide, Nauert hasn’t always stayed on message. A year ago, she issued a lengthy statement recognizing “International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.”
In a notable contrast to the president’s denigration of journalists as “THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE,” as he wrote on Thursday night, the State Department spokeswoman celebrated the work of journalists. “They shine a light on abuses and corruption, expose threats posed by transnational criminal organizations, and counter disinformation and propaganda that spread false narratives,” she wrote.
Nauert joined the State Department last year with no previous government experience, and she never developed a close relationship with then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, The Washington Post reported. But since Pompeo took over in April, Nauert has become a regular on his foreign trips, including three journeys to North Korea and the Singapore summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.
Pompeo also elevated her to the role of acting undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, the fourth ranking position in the State Department. In that role, she oversees 952 employees and a budget of $1.2 billion, a State Department spokesman said.