White House Contests Claim That Bolton 'Resigned'

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
The headlines this morning announced that United Nations Ambassador John Bolton would be resigning from his position. CBSNews.com initially headlined its story "U.N. Ambassador John Bolton Resigns." The Washington Post went with "Bush Accepts Bolton's U.N. Resignation." MSNBC had this: "John Bolton resigns as ambassador to U.N." And CNN.com noted that "U.N. ambassador Josh Bolton will resign within weeks after temporary term ends."

The White House quickly took issue with that characterization. "It is not a resignation," Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino told CBS News. She noted that Bolton would be leaving his post when his recess appointment expired at the end of the 109th Congress. After an email with Perino's comment was passed around CBS News, the headline on the Bolton story was changed to "U.N. Ambassador John Bolton To Step Down."

Why is Perino stressing that the word "resign" isn't right? Because, as we saw with the "civil war" debate, there is a widespread belief that the words used to describe a particular situation can have an impact on public opinion. To "resign," in the minds of many, is to leave a post early, often for having done something wrong. That is not the case here, as Bolton is serving out his term before stepping down, likely because he has little hope of being confirmed for a full appointment by the Senate. The Bush administration would much rather push the idea that Bolton is a successful ambassador derailed by Congress than have the public hear about the resignation of a high-profile administration official.

It's no surprise, then, that Bush did not use the "r" word in his statement today on Bolton. Just as it's no surprise that he said this: "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."

One could argue that, in a case like this, there is little difference between resigning and stepping down in light of the writing on the wall. But perception can be just as important as reality in politics – if not more so – which is why the Bush administration is so quick to fight the war over words.

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