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Déjà Vu, All Over Again

The New York Times and its wars against John Bolton and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

12:00 AM, Jul 31, 2006 • By SCOTT W. JOHNSON
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ONE OF THE MANY FRONTS of the war on the Bush administration is the war on John Bolton. The New York Times's latest contribution to this assault is Warren Hoge's July 23 page-one story "Praise at home for envoy, but scorn at UN."

Hoge is the Times's U.N. bureau chief and a voice of the foreign policy establishment. No less an authority than Sen. John Kerry has testified to the Hogean Weltanschauung when he confided in an interview with the Times in the course of the 2004 campaign that:

I believe that if you talk with Warren Hoge or you talk to David Sanger, you talk to other people around the world, they will confirm to you, I believe, that it may well take a new president to restore America's credibility . . .

In this latest piece, Hoge pursues the thesis that Bolton has "alienate[d] traditional allies" as a result of his combative leadership and unmannerly style. He illustrates his thesis essentially with one tendentious anecdote larded with anonymous negative quotes.

FOR READERS WITH A LONG MEMORY, the Times's opposition to Bolton may recall the paper's equally misguided opposition to Daniel Patrick Moynihan 30 years ago. In his brilliant memoir A Dangerous Place (written with Suzanne Weaver Garment), Moynihan devoted a chapter to his nomination to serve as ambassador to the United Nations in the spring of 1975. In a scene with a remarkably contemporary feel, Moynihan described the failure of the secretary of State's shuttle diplomacy to bring about a ceasefire in the Middle East. "For two weeks [Henry Kissinger] had moved back and forth between Middle Eastern capitals seeking a disengagement of forces." Despite Kissinger's string of negotiating successes, Moynihan wrote, in that fateful spring Kissinger's "luck ran out."

In March 1975 Commentary had published Moynihan's article "The United States in Opposition," proposing that the United States speak up for itself in opposition to the Soviet Union and third-world tyrannies calling the shots in the United Nations. The article prompted Kissinger to call on Moynihan to represent the United States as the American ambassador to the United Nations: "Kissinger said we had to stand up for ourselves, that I understood how to do this, that the Commentary article had pointed the way."

On April 12, 1975, Moynihan met with President Ford and agreed to serve. "A decent man, he inspired decency in others," Moynihan wrote of Ford. The following week the publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Sulzberger, asked Moynihan to lunch. "I came away realizing I was once again at the mercy of the editor of the Times editorial page," Moynihan wrote, referring to John Oakes. Since Oakes's assumption of dominion over the editorial page in 1961, the Times had "commenced to intervene extensively, as it were, in national and international affairs."

Moynihan was not impressed: "Oakes's chief characteristic was that he was almost entirely predictable." Moynihan was of course a famous student of American ethnic groups, and he analyzed the tilt of the Times editorial page under Oakes in ethnic terms: "Its universalist, even deracinated air was its most distinctive ethnic characteristic, the mark of German reform Judaism of that particular branch that so flourished in, and has so influenced, the City of New York."

Moynihan lamented the resulting animus of Oakes and the Times editorial page against him personally, particularly on the subject of race: "In 1970, Oakes had the intelligence to see that my argument on reducing the prominence of racial issues was directed against him, and the likes of him on all sides. Unfortunately he did not have the character to represent what I said fairly and accurately."