John Bolton has a long history in Washington. He held various appointments at the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Justice Department and the State Department in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush. He advised the 2012 presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. He did a stint as senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He commentated for Fox News. He worked as national security adviser for 17 months under President Trump, until Tuesday.
A more conservative CV would be difficult to configure.
Yet! On his Fox News shot on Tuesday night, Tucker Carlson claimed that Bolton “fundamentally was a man of the left. There was not a human problem John Bolton wasn’t totally convinced could be solved with the brute force of government. That’s an assumption of the left, not the right. Don’t let the mustache fool you. John Bolton was one of the most progressive people in the Trump administration. And by the way, naturally, once he was ensconced there, Bolton promoted Obama loyalists within the National Security Council — that shouldn’t surprise you, either.”
Hand it to Carlson — that’s some clever misinformation.
In segments on his own program, Carlson has repeatedly inveighed against Bolton’s foreign policy, which favors the use of military might to resolve many of the crises faced by the United States overseas. And to his credit, Carlson has done a fine job of exposing Bolton’s extremism. In a March 2018 interview — before Bolton’s accession to the Trump White House — Carlson pressed him, saying, “You’ve called for regime change in Iraq, Libya, Iran and Syria. In the first two countries, we’ve had regime change, and obviously it has been a disaster, I think we can agree."
Bolton dissented: “I don’t agree with that. … Because to argue that, you have to argue — let’s just take Iraq to begin with — you have to argue that everything that followed from the fall of Saddam Hussein followed inevitably, solely and unalterably from the decision to overthrow him.”
To highlight his disagreements, Carlson played back previous attacks on Bolton. It all felt like a celebration. “It’s a major personnel change, but it’s more than that. It is great news for America, especially for the large number of young people who would have been killed in pointless wars if Bolton had stayed on the job,” said Carlson. The moment was also a personal victory of sorts for the Fox News TV host. According to Eliana Johnson of Politico, Carlson had lobbied Trump to take precisely this action.
“Carlson and a host of others, including several senior administration officials, frequently told Trump that Bolton, a career hawk with a reputation as a vicious bureaucratic infighter, not only wasn’t on his team but was using the news media against him,” reads the Politico article. We asked Fox News whether it disputes Politico’s reporting — as well as about the ethics of a TV news host discrediting a White House official for… talking with news outlets.
Another thing on our list of questions: Has Carlson ever disclosed on air that he’s advising the president? We haven’t seen such a moment. The Erik Wemple Blog checked with Media Matters for America — famous for binge-watching Fox News — and a spokeswoman responded that their watchers couldn’t recall a disclosure.
Viewers are entitled to know whether Carlson developed a personal stake in an issue as pivotal as the employment status of the national security adviser. It might help contextualize his exuberance over Bolton’s exit. A bigger question, of course, is the role of Fox News in subsidizing Trump’s White House team, what with folks such as Carlson and Sean Hannity routinely conveying their thoughts to the president in presumably off-the-record conversations.
Ethical violations at Fox News, of course, are forever competing for a spot at the bottom of the barrel. What’s worse, after all — advising the president on stories you then pretend to cover without favor, or deceiving folks into believing that Bolton is a progressive? Carlson got it right in a June comment that he replayed Tuesday night: “In between administration jobs are always cushy think-tank posts, paid speaking gigs, cable news contracts. War maybe a disaster for America, but for John Bolton and his fellow neocons, it is always good business,” said Carlson.
Bolding added to highlight a confused Fox News anchor.