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State Department vs. Bill O’Reilly — Volleys Fired But Nothing to Do With Foreign Policy!

Domani Spero

 

Apparently, there is a war going on between the State Department and Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and it has nothing to do with foreign policy or Benghazi! It all started with the following segment of the O’Reilly Factor. At the 2:04 mark, Bill O’Reilly says this:

“With all due respect, and you don’t have to comment on this,” O’Reilly told Rosen. “That woman looks way out of her depth over there. Just the way she delivers … it doesn’t look like she has the gravitas for that job.”

 

That did not sit well with Marie Harf, the deputy spokeswoman of the State Department, who fired a verbal projectile via Twitter:

 

On September 4, Ms. Harf also said this from the podium (mark 3:16 on this video clip):

“I think that when the anchor of a leading cable news show uses quite frankly sexist, personally offensive language that I actually don’t think they would ever use about a man, against the person that shares this podium with me, I think I have an obligation and I think it’s important to step up and say that’s not OK.”

 

We are not a devotee of Mr. O’Reilly, but when the deputy spox picks a fight with the the most watched cable news program in the United States, we’ve got to ask — what was she thinking?  The deputy spokeswoman of the oldest executive agency ever, cannot have a disclaimer saying “tweets are my own.” What she says from the podium and what she tweets are as official as it gets. So this verbal tussle with Mr. O’Reilly is not between her and the cable anchor. None of the headlines says Marie Harf vs. Bill O’Reilly.  It is officially between the State Department and the cable anchor.  Some people may even infer that this is a fight that the Secretary of State signed on. Whether that is true or not, we don’t know. What we know is if it’s from the podium, it represents the official view of the agency and the U.S. government.

And because the other person in the ring is a cable anchor, this is what you get. Watch starting at mark 1:13

 

Mr. O’Reilly called the WH spox, Mr. Earnest “befuddled,” saying “he doesn’t have a lot of credibility.” Mr. O’Reilly, of course, did not say “that man looks uncertain to me.”  We hope Mr. Earnest doesn’t take it upon himself to fire his own objectiles from the White House podium.

Meanwhile, WaPo’s Erik Wemple makes an important point:

“As a housekeeping measure, let’s toss the “personally offensive” claim right in the trash heap. In slighting Psaki, O’Reilly stuck strictly to her performance as a professional, something that is well within his ambit as a cable news anchor. If a SPOKESWOMAN cannot be evaluated on the basis of how she presents herself to the public, then nothing is fair game.”

 

Mr. O’Reilly did used the term “that woman” as opposed to saying , Ms. Psaki “looks way out of her depth over there.That Woman” is the title of the book on Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, one of the most vilified women in the 20th century. It is the title of a comedy drama movies in 1966 and in 2012.  “That woman” reminds us of “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,“in the 1998 chapter of presidential history.  We can understand why that phrase may be objectionable, but the professional person at the podium does not have the luxury of becoming personally upset in public.

One commenter over in WaPo makes a lot of sense:

[N]o State Department spokesperson should wade into a verbal conflict with an American opinion show host (O’Reilly is NOT a “Fox News anchor”) …not on Twitter, and certainly not from the SD press room podium. [...] Had Ms. Harf not tweeted and her initial comments about his opinions had been in response to a press briefing question (unlikely), she could have just said, “We at State do not concern ourselves with the comments of an opinion show host. We have more important matters to attend to.” End of story; Harf looks like a pro. At this point, she looks like a teenage girl in a Facebook cat fight, and that reflects poorly on the State Department, the Obama Administration and our nation.

Ouch!

The official spokeswoman, Jen Psaki and her deputy Marie Harf came to the State Department from the Obama campaign.  Previously, Ms. Psaki was the deputy press secretary for John Kerry‘s 2004 presidential campaign and press secretary for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.  Ms. Harf also worked on the 2012 Obama campaign.

People on the inside know that access means a great deal. It is not a given that assistant secretaries of public affairs and/or spokespersons see the secretaries they serve as often as they want.  The most notable exception may be Margaret Tutwiler who was Secretary Baker’s spokesperson and was famously quoted as saying, “If you’re a Ph.D. and have 17 degrees, the press doesn’t care,” she says. “They like to know that you have a fair idea of the person on whose behalf you are speaking. And I do know this President and this Secretary of State very well.”

Ms. Tutwiler later contributed to ADST’s Oral History project and here is part of what she said (pdf):

“I have said before, and I firmly believe it, that podium was not my podium, I was not elected to anything, I am staff and serve at the President’s pleasure as a political appointee and the Secretary of State. …. I believed that part of the spokesman’s job is how you come through that TV screen. If you don’t look convincing and are just mouthing words, then you are not doing your job.”

 

We understand that there are folks in the building who yearn for “spokesmen and [spokes]women that used to be — the class acts that they were” — presumably, an assistant secretary-rank spokesperson speaking on behalf of the United States. Some of Ms. Psaki’s predecessors include Ambassador Victoria Nuland, Philip J. Crowley, FSO Sean McCormack , Ambassador Richard Boucher , James Rubin, and Margaret D. Tutwiler. We do recognize that a spokesperson is only as good as his/her access to the Secretary.  What good is an ambassador or AS-rank spokesman or spokeswoman if the Secretary does not trust him or her?   Secretary Kerry picked these individuals as his spokespersons, that’s his prerogative.  But they also represent the voice of the State Department and the U.S. Government, and sometimes, we fell like the spoxes never got off the campaign trail.

For instance, last year, Ms. Psaki was caught in a lie and had to release another statement acknowledging that her boss “was briefly on his boat.”  (see It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Not Superman On a Nantucket Boat Or How to Make a Non-News Into Big News). Asked where Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power was at one point, she was unable to answer a very simple question.  The point is, even on topics, where we, the public expect a straight-forward answer, the podium is unable to do so. Did Egypt had a coup?  Transparency, anyone?  Just a very brief one on the QDDR at the top of your head?  Folks, over in YouTube, the Jen Psaki Greatest Hits is now on Episode 24. It is not/not fun to watch.

We’d like to think that they’re doing the best they can at these jobs.  Whether we approve of their performance or not, we imagine this can’t be easy work; some days it’s a tour of the world’s ever growing hotspots and spitholes of miseries.  The reporters will push to get their stories, that’s their job; and hey, that’s expected, no need to accuse them of “buying into Russian propaganda.” Of course, the spokespersons will not always have the answers that the press want.  But that’s an old story.  Perhaps, the most important point worth noting here is no matter how shitty the days may be, the official spokesperson or deputy spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State cannot, and should not be the story of the day.

Why?

If nobody is listening to them because people are talking about them, then the spoxes are not doing their real jobs, which is spoxplaining the administration’s policies.

Well … okay then, back to watching the lighthouse. Here’s Johnny Nash’s Sun-Shiny day:

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Tweet of the Day: U.S. Embassy Kosovo Welcomes First Consular Officer

– Domani Spero

 

 

 

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Dawn of Libya militia holds pool party at U.S. Embassy Libya Annex; they’ll cut the grass, too?

– Domani Spero

 

Updated on 8/31/14 at 2302 PST:  AP and Reuters have an update on this here including additional photos of the rooms in the annex that appear to be in the condition they were left behind; the pantry appears to still have food items, the kitchen and gym did not look looted and the compound did not show signs of the reported “storming.”

Updated on 9/1/14 at 9:26pm PST: ABC News has additional photos of the annex here. Plus this: “Another commander said the group had asked cleaners to come spruce up the grounds and that U.S. staff were welcome to reside in the embassy while it was under Dawn of Libya control.”

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A commander of the Dawn of Libya militia, an Islamist-allied group in control of Tripoli has told an AP reporter that it has “secured” a U.S. Embassy residential compound in the capital city.  The AP report says that a walk-through in the compound shows some broken windows, but that “it appeared most of the equipment there remained untouched. The journalist saw treadmills, food, televisions and computers still inside.”

On July 26, the State Department suspended all embassy operations in Libya and evacuated all its staff overland to Tunisia (see State Dept Suspends All Embassy Operations in Libya, Relocates Staff Under Armed Escorts).  The U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones is currently based at the U.S. Embassy in Malta.

 

Meanwhile, at the pool party at Embassy Tripoli’s compound residential annex:

 

And because Ambassador Jones is now reachable via Twitter, she was asked about it:

 

We don’t know what that means.  Who told these guys to “safeguard” a U.S. diplomatic property?  Did they bring their own whiskey to the pool party?

The good news is —  the Dawn of Libya militia apparently wrestled the compound from a rivaled militia and neither group set the compound on fire.  The bad news is “securing” the compound was apparently done to avenge U.S. airstrikes. If true, just “securing” the compound, a sip of whiskey and having a dip in the pool may not be enough.

The other good news , of course, if the U.S. needs to, DOD knows where  exactly to send its Predator drones and Navy F-18 fighter jets.

Not that we want the Pentagon to do that for many reasons.  Perhaps the uninvited guests can be persuaded to cut the grass, too, while they’re there?

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Tweet of the Day: Commemorating the White House Burning, Sorry!

– Domani Spero

 

First the good news!  The British diplomats in D.C. enjoy a smokin’ good barbecue.  Apparently, they had a  a ‘White House BBQ’ to mark the 200th anniversary of a ‘rather unfortunate event in UK/US relations.’   The embassy even had a huge White House cake to commemorate the burning. Then tweeted about it:

 

In related news, the embassy’s social media ninjas in D.C. shortly thereafter had to apologize for their tweet. It looks like some in the Twitterverse did not appreciate the joke even if it came 200 years later with cake.  Some complained that this was  bad form, some blamed David Cameron.  No, no one has thought of blaming the Queen yet.

We hope they’re not going to fire the intern. Anyone from Foggy Bottom attended the barbecue?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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USCG Karachi: Goodbye Michael Dodman, Hello Brian Heath

– Domani Spero

 

 

USCG Karachi’s Consul General Michael Dodman recently concluded his 2-year tour in Pakistan.  Here is a memorable photo of Mr. Dodman showing his dance moves at the historic Kot Diji Fort in the Khairpur District of Pakistan’s southeastern province of Sindh.

Photo via USCG Karachi/Flickr

Photo via USCG Karachi/Flickr

Brian Heath assumed charge as the U.S. Consul General in Karachi on August 20, 2014. USCG Karachi released the following official bio:
 A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Mr. Heath most recently served as the Minister-Counselor for Management Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York.
Since joining the Foreign Service in 1998, Mr. Heath’s overseas assignments have included Director of the U.S. Regional Embassy Office in Al Hillah, Iraq; Consul General at the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, Pakistan; Management Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan; General Services and Human Resources officers at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Germany; and Consular Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai (Bombay), India.
In the course of several assignments in Washington, DC, Mr. Heath has studied at the National War College; worked as a Senior Advisor in the Under Secretary of State for Management’s Office of Management Policy; and served as a Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Administration. Mr. Heath is the recipient of multiple Department of State Superior and Meritorious honor awards.
Mr. Heath graduated from Fordham University with a Bachelor’s degree in political economics, earned a law degree from Rutgers University, and received his Master’s degree in national security studies from the National War College. He is a member of the New Jersey and New York State bars.

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Tweet of the Day: Ambassador to Ottawa Bruce Heyman Takes the ALS #IceBucketChallenge

– Domani Spero

 

 

Paul Cellucci was the U.S. ambassador to Canada from April 17, 2001 – March 18, 2005.

What is ALS?  “Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.”

If you are able to help, click here.

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Tweet of the Day: “Thanks for showing me your gun. I like this one.”

– Domani Spero

 

There are currently about three dozens U.S. ambassadors who are active on Twitter. One of them is our ambassador to Tripoli, Deborah K. Jones. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Ambassador Jones was nominated by President Obama to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Libya in March 2013.  She tweets under the handle @SafiraDeborah. Below is one memorable exchange:

 

Boom shakalaka!

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US Embassy Ghana’s Errant Tweet Sparks Social Media Rumpus, Demo on July 25

– Domani Spero

 

 

Close to 300 Ghanians have now waded in on the US Embassy Accra’s FB page where there appears to be a competition between those who were offended (“It’s shameful to meddle in our domestic politics.”) and those who applauded the errant tweet.  One FB commenter writes, “I was very happy when I saw your reply to the president… Ghanaians support what you mistakenly posted on Twitter.” Another one added, “Why are [you] apologising? That question was legitimate and pls ask him again.”

SpyGhana.com reports that senior Ghanaian government officials including the National Youth Co-ordinator, Ras Mubarak and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hannah SerwaTetteh have reportedly demanded “an unqualified apology” from the Embassy. It also reports that on July 25, “hundreds of Ghanaians will stage a peaceful protest march on behalf of their government against the American Embassy in the country for launching an attack on a social media post by President John DramaniMahama.”

Apparently, some in the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) are now even calling for sanctions against Ambassador Gene A. Cretz and the embassy staff over that spectacular, albeit errant tweet containing 73 explosive characters:

“@JDMahama and what sacrifices are you making? Don’t tell me that pay cut.”

According to SpyGhana.com, the response was in reference to a much criticized decision by the Dramani administration of slashing the President and his ministers’ salaries by 10% to demonstrate their sacrifices as the country faces economic hardships while ignoring “other huge unconventional sources of funds.”

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Now This — A WH Petition to Remove Amb to Thailand Kristie Kenney For Twitter Selfies

– Domani Spero

On May 24, 2014, somebody named T. D. from Garden Grove, CA created a White House petition asking the Obama Administration to remove Ambassador Kristie Kenney from her post in Thailand. Below is the purported justification for the petition:

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-02

Our ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, but career ambassadors typically serve three years at their foreign posts. Sometimes, they’re extended for another year.  Ambassador Kenney has been in Bangkok since December 2010.  She is due for a reassignment not because of a petition but simply because that’s how the Foreign Service works.

We do not know Ambassador Kenney personally but we have followed her tenure in this blog and this seems not only unfair but steams from misunderstanding of an ambassador’s role.  Career ambassadors in particular are not rogue operators.  They do not originate an administration’s policy, they do not act on whims, they implement and defend the policy of the administration of the day and follow the instructions from the State Department. And when they can no longer do that, they quit as Ambassador Robert Ford did.

It looks like the petitioners were especially incensed by Ambassador Kenney’s  “never-ending Twitter selfies.” Are we proposing recalling our various ambassadors for conducting selfie diplomacy?  The thing is — ambassadors have marching orders for public engagement in social media. Some are more active and have better reach than others. @KristineKenney, one of the early adopters of Twitter among chiefs of mission currently has over 50K followers.  When Bush 43’s Karen Hughes talked about “a rapid response unit, ” Twitter was at its infancy.  Today, you have a chief of mission responding to rumors as quickly as you can say boo!

 

 

We looked at the ambassador’s timeline on Twitter, just because.  The recent selfies  had to do with  cotton and bagels, which may seem petty and all except that this is cotton USA and the bagels were from a partly US-owned business during American Restaurant Week in Bangkok.  We should note that economic diplomacy is the buzzword in Foggy Bottom — this includes not only in attracting direct private investment to the United States but also in helping to expand foreign markets for U.S. businesses.  In fact, State is proud to tout that it generates $150 billion in trade and even has a map that shows how the work of the Department benefits each U.S. State, and all for about 1% of the Federal budget.

So how can we fault her for these?

Photo via Instagram

Photo via Instagram

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-02

 

In some places, commercial promotion becomes the main priority for chiefs of mission (see US Embassy Abu Dhabi: A+ for Commercial Promotion, “Below Average Scores on Every Leadership Category”).  And while this photo below is not a selfie but obtained via Flickr, note that we even promote U.S  beef in Africa.

U.S. Beef with Ambassador to Senegal Lewis Lukens

U.S. Beef with Ambassador to Senegal Lewis Lukens

 

The US Mission in Bangkok has about 10 social media platforms including Ambassador Kenney’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Not sure what is its total reach like, but here’s a shoutout to its American Citizens Services @ACSBKK tweeting security updates, curfew reminders, as well as IRS, voting, and other relevant  and timely information to overseas Americans. No, we do not expect ACS anywhere to live-tweet a coup, good gracious!

 

 

We’re sure that our folks overseas, like most of us would probably like some quiet time to read a book or have a private dinner with family and friends. Instead — they’re promoting U.S. businesses because that’s part of the job.  Oh yeah, how would you like to be that guy promoting beef?

Whether the signature threshold in the WH petition is reached or not, Ambassador Kenney is expected to rotate out of Bangkok in the near future. We, however, imagine that the WH may opt to keep her at post for the full fourth year, precisely because of the petition. Thailand is a country of over 66 million people. Still, we do not think the WH would like to see a perceived precedence that a petition could unseat a president’s personal representative by way of a petition. But should this petition reach 100,000 signatures in 30 days, it is assured an official response from the Obama Administration.

Note that thousands of people petitioned the White House to “secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.” It got an official response but sorry, we’re not gonna build a Death Star.

 

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Bureaucratic Pique: When an ambassador suggested an exhaustive anatomical examination

– Domani Spero

 

American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. The author, David A. Langbart is a senior archivist in the Textual Archives Services Division at the National Archives.  He specializes in the records of the Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies.  We have previously excerpted his work here and here in 2013 and most recently this year on the women in the Foreign Service. Excerpt from his piece, Bureaucratic Pique:

An essential aspect of the U.S. foreign policy program, especially since the 1930s, is the use of cultural representatives abroad.  Having major musicians perform overseas under the auspices of the U.S. government is a major component of the cultural program.  Planning for such events did not always proceed smoothly.  In June 1974, the attempt to arrange for one such event led to a unique bureaucratic response, if not the specific performance itself.

In late June 1974, the U.S. embassy in the Philippines informed the Department of State of the impending inauguration of a new folk art theater, part of a cultural complex on Manila Bay.  The embassy reported that while the Philippine Government had invited ministers of culture from a number of friendly countries, and the embassy expected several “significant” attendees, the U.S. had not received such an invitation because it had no cabinet level equivalent.

The embassy further reported that the noted pianist Van Cliburn had agreed to perform concerts on July 3 and 4, just a matter of days away.  In order to give Cliburn an official imprimatur, the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs requested that the U.S. designate the performer as a “special cultural representative” or similar title.  The ambassador, William Sullivan, noting that Cliburn was a “local favorite,” endorsed the idea, writing that “This strikes me as an easy and painless gesture for the U.S. Government to make in order to earn a useful return of Philippine appreciation.”  Given the timing, however, he noted that the issue needed to be resolved quickly. 1 

And because nothing is ever resolved quickly in a bureaucracy, stuff happens.  Ambassador Sullivan would have been spectacular on Twitter!

Screen Shot 2014-04-27

Read the whole thing here.

 

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