In 2014, one wealthy Obama donor after another has been rewarded with ambassadorships to strategically important countries. Yet, NBC has skipped the embarrassing details of these men and women and their unfamiliarity with the places they are to serve. ABC's World News and CBS This Morning investigated the high profile donors.
This Morning guest co-host Anthony Mason spun it as a "growing controversy over gaffes by some of President Obama's picks." Correspondent Margaret Brennan recounted the messy details: "Senator John McCain appeared frustrated that hotel owner George Tsunis, nominated to serve in Norway, was confused about which political party makes up its government." [MP3 audio here.] Brennan also noted that the number of donors selected to serve by the President is higher than President Clinton, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush.
Obama's numbers are lower than Ronald Reagan's over eight years, however.
Brennan pointedly explained that "there are questions at the White House about whether they're actually prepared to represent the U.S."
The Washington Post explained on Saturday:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said in an interview that several of Obama’s recent nominees were "truly alarming" because of their lack of qualifications. "When you put someone in an ambassador’s position who hasn’t even been to the country, you are rolling the dice," he said.
The troubles began last month, when million-dollar bundler and Chartwell Hotels chief executive George Tsunis testified at his confirmation hearing to be ambassador to Norway. Tsunis admitted he had never been to the Scandinavian country and suggested, among other things, that the nation’s Progress Party was part of a discounted "fringe." It is actually part of Norway’s center-right ruling coalition.
On CBS, Brennan highlighted Colleen Bell's poor performance at confirmation hearings to represent the U.S. in Hungary. The journalist explained: "Bell is a soap opera producer, whose show, The Bold and the Beautiful, airs on CBS. But she is also a top fund-raiser who brought in more than $500,000 in donations for the Obama campaign."
According to the Post, she has "raised or contributed $800,000."
On the February 7 World News, Jon Karl also seem perplexed at the audacity of some of the picks.
KARL: Mamet's main qualification, it seems, he raised more than $500,000 for Obama's reelection campaign. This after another big dollar donor was tapped to be ambassador to Norway, who was so unfamiliar to country, he didn't know what form of government it has.
A baffled David Muir wondered, "You can become an ambassador to Norway or Argentina without ever having been? How do we get one of these jobs?"
Yet, the Obama-friendly NBC has yet to discover this controversy. Perhaps the sister network of MSNBC simply couldn't find the time.
A transcript of the February 17 CBS This Morning segment is below:
ANTHONY MASON: This morning, there's growing controversy over gaffes by some of President Obama's picks for a handful of ambassador posts. Margaret Brennan looks at the debate over political supporters and donors being given those jobs as a reward. She's at the State Department. Margaret, good morning.
CBS Graphic: Political Plums: Should Ambassadorships Be Granted as Rewards?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Good morning to you, Anthony and to Gayle. Well, there are 23 political nominees for these ambassadorial positions and four of them are under scrutiny. All of these individuals are highly successful in their own right, but there are questions at the White House about whether they're actually prepared to represent the U.S. From the beginning, there were questions about the new ambassadors to Argentina, Iceland, and Norway. Business consultant Noah Mamet.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Have you been to Argentina?
NOAH MAMET: Senator, I haven't had the opportunity yet to be there.
BRENNAN: Attorney Rob Barber.
SENATOR: JOHN MCCAIN: Mr. Barber, I take it you've been to Iceland?
BRENNAN: Sir, I've not – I have not had the privilege yet.
BRENNAN: Past travel is not a job requirement but winning senate approval is. Republican Senator John McCain appeared frustrated that hotel owner George Tsunis, nominated to serve in Norway, was confused about which political party makes up its government.
BRENNAN: Government has denounced them. The coalition government, the part of the coalition of the government.
GEORGE TSUNIS: Well – I would say – you know what? I stand corrected.
MCCAIN: I doubt seriously if they --
BRENNAN: During her hearing the nominee to become U.S. ambassador to Hungary, Colleen Bell, stumbled through an explanation of U.S. interests there. Bell is a soap opera producer, whose show, The Bold and the Beautiful, airs on CBS. But she is also a top fund-raiser who brought in more than $500,000 in donations for the Obama campaign. So did the nominees to Argentina, Norway, and Iceland. Last week, White House spokesman Jay Carney defended President Obama's choices.
JAY CARNEY: Being a donor to the President's campaign does not guarantee you a job in the administer administration but does not prevent you from getting one.
BRENNAN: The reality is all presidents give plum assignments as political rewards. During his two terms in office, 37 percent of President Obama's ambassadorial appointees have been political supporters, not professional diplomats. That's higher than President Clinton and more than either of the Bush administrations. But it's slightly less than Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Former Ambassador Stuart Holiday was a political appointee under George W. Bush.
STUART HOLIDAY: I really think that political appointees can be wonderful representatives. These people are people of achievement. But, yes, they should be prepared and ready because they are going to have to be ready when they go to post.
BRENNAN: The State Department says these ambassadors should be judged by their performance in office. But before they get there, they need to be confirmed by the Senate and no vote has been scheduled just yet. We know in the coming days the union that represents the foreign service is about to issue new job requirement guidelines. They want more foreign policy experienced officers to get these jobs.