State Dept Restores Blog, But All’s Not Well – Whatareyougoingtodoaboutit?

When I left to run errands around noon yesterday, Jen’s blog, The Dinoia Family has been restored in the blog roll of careers.state.gov.

By the time I was back online briefly late afternoon, there’s this note from  Jeffrey Levine, the outgoing Director of Recruitment, Examination and Employment(HR/REE).  Mr. Levine is also President Obama’s nominee to be the next Ambassador to Estonia.

To our Bloggers:
As you can see, we have re-linked to Jen Dinoia’s blog and sincerely regret any offense we caused. We appreciate all your efforts to share your personal Foreign Service experiences (writ large) and are pleased to offer them a wider audience. We will certainly try to be more sensitive in future decisions regarding placements. Thanks again for your efforts and your service.
– Jeff Levine, Director of Recruitment, Examination and Employment

WaPo has already picked up this blog restoration story, and has updated its article with Mr. Levine’s note and a quote from the State Dept’s spokesman Mark Toner:

Earlier, in a statement to The Post, State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner said the blog “has been restored” on the State Department’s recruitment page. “It had been taken down as part of a periodic effort by a contractor to review and freshen the blog links on the site.”

But the statement was at odds with what Dinoia was told in an e-mail early this week by a recruiting and marketing consultant for the agency when she discovered her blog had been removed from the State Department blogroll.

So this tempest should be done already, yes? I think – folks of a certain pay grade over at Foggy Bottom are betting that if Nipplegate, to borrow the term from another blogger, can be the FS bloggers’ quick win, then it will go swiftly away by the next news cycle.  The less than 24-hour restore time is quite amazing, but then, that’s the idea of a rapid response; so folks stop blogging about nipples already and you over there can stop snickering, too.

Hold on … not so fast, I’m trying to catch my breath here.

First, an FSO who commented in this blog politely writes, “I don’t get how “censorship” was introduces into Ms. Dinoia’s case. No one is telling her to stop talking. She was taken off a blog roll.”

And I have to agree he has a point.  It is the State Department’s blog. And like the blog roll I have in Diplopundit’s side bar, I have my bloggy reasons for selecting the links I’ve put up there.   Jen herself writes:

“No, it’s not my list.  Yes, they can update the list anytime they want.  However, they came to me.  They asked me to participate and I felt a little notice or a reasonable explanation as to why I was removed was not out of the question.”

So while “nipple” may have been the offending word, no one from the State Department actually told Jen to stop blogging about nipples, no one actually censored or prevented her from exercising her right to free speech. I should make that clear.  Will you buy that? Okay, fine, let’s not call it censorship.  They just ditched her blog, a catalog of a Foreign Service life that is so personal it would not — what’s the word? resonate. Would not resonate. More than being removed from the blog roll, I think that’s the one that was most hurtful.

FS spouses who at one time or another have heard themselves referred to as “just a spouse” were struck by online lightning. And so, the reactions were immediate and not at all surprising.

But we also know that even if we don’t call this incident an act of censorship by the State Department, the State Department has selectively censored blogs for various reasons.  They refused to call it censorship, of course, because that is such a bad word.  Censorship is something that Iran, or China or North Korea does, but not the oldest cabinet agency of the United States.  Such BS. They clubbed this one twice. Twice. Others do not need more career-aches, so will not be dragged across this blog.

And because the State Department does not do censorship, it will not tell FSOs in writing to shut down their blogs (Van Buren excepted). Adverse actions are paperless, warnings are behind closed doors, and in its wake, some folks were nudged into retirement, some assignments broken, spouses scared out of their wits on what this would do the careers of their loved ones. And the “chilling effect” is just that, chiiillllll out! One could vigorously argue that if you don’t like the free speech restrictions imposed on you, then you can find a job elsewhere. I imagine that’s a similar argument given to women who complained of discrimination not too long ago and we know how that turned out.

Here is another FSO who blogged specifically about the larger picture:

What State did with Jen’s blog – and especially the response sent to her email – may have been insensitive and ill-advised, but it wasn’t censorship. Jen’s blog will live on and delight its readers whether State links to it or not. However, that doesn’t mean censorship isn’t a problem in the FS blogging world. People DO get pressured to stop blogging by bosses or coworkers. Their jobs, their livelihoods get threatened because of their blogs. Not mine thank god, at least not yet, but it happens. Those blogs go dark, and that’s where the censorship charge starts to be more realistically applied. THAT’s where the risk is. THAT’s where the battle is. Let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill when the mountain’s already there.

And she is right, of course. In fact, that mountain is right there – it’s called Peter Van Buren. Until he wrote that critical book, he was a respectable member of the Foreign Service community.  He followed the book clearance procedure in the regs, and State broke its own rules. Instead of admitting this mistake, it went after him. Instead of addressing the content of his book, it went after him. Since he is retiring in September, what other reason is there for pursuing him in such dedicated fashion except to make him a memorable example? He is by no means, the only one, he’s just the most public one willing to put up a fight.

The ACLU says that it is easy to defend freedom of speech when the message is something that many people find reasonable. I think that’s right on target.  But also when the speaker is cuddly, likeable, not abrasive as emery board — that defense is easy.

But of course, we cannot defend freedom of speech then pick and choose which parts of speech we want to protect. But … but, he writes about the dirtiest laundry, and he seems always angry and he uses such colorful, offensive language and etc. etc… and that all may be true but isn’t the defense of freedom of speech most critical when the message is one most people find disagreeable?  In Mr. Van Buren’s case, a message that most members of the Foreign Service find disagreeable.  Still, Mr. Van Buren’s protected speech is every FSO’s protected speech.

But you say, you’re nothing like him. Or you will never be like Peter Van Buren, described in one blog as “the most recent State Department “white blood cell” looking to do to some institutional housecleaning at Foggy Bottom.” I’m sure Mr. Van Buren did not imagine himself like this 20 years ago.  How can you see what life is like 20 years down the road? It bears repeating that what the State Department is doing to Mr. Van Buren, it can easily do to anyone in the Foreign Service. As Madam le Consul used to say, repeat, rinse.

So here’s some food for thought — if we were offended that the word “nipple” caused Jen’s blog to be ditched from the official blog list, shouldn’t all of us be concerned that State requires clearances for every blog post, every tweet, every sneeze coming from Mr. Van Buren, and Mr. Van Buren alone?

To paraphrase Chomsky — if you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech even for views you don’t like.

Mr. Van Buren’s late and sudden non-adherence to a shared social code of Foreign Service life never to wash dirty laundry in public, and for crossing the boundaries of polite expression so valued in the diplomatic service makes him an FSO-non grata in most parts of the Foreign Service community.  But if the members of the community are only willing to defend the views that they like, wouldn’t they, too, be guilty of censorship by consensus?

Domani Spero

State Dept’s Blog Roll Fail: The Nipples Have Landed and They’re Not Shy

Yesterday, we blogged about this — Breaking News: State Dept Does Not/Not Like Nipples Nor Damn ACLU Letter.

We can’t find anyone willing to talk on or off the record on what went on behind the blog roll snafu over there. So, below is how we imagined it went down during the brainstorming of some unnamed characters, obviously too smart to handle (adapted from  Behind ‘Charlie’s Angels’ 2004 TV Movie):

The issue is nipples.

Nipples?

Actually breasts and nipples.  She’s writing about nipples. Nipples come with breasts.  

We’re reading nipples. We can’t put a blog with nipple blog posts in our blog roll. Too personal.

You think? We counted seven blog posts and nineteen instances in which nipples were mentioned. Also, word association? Nipples = Protrude. Not good.

We must stop nipple talk and protrusion on FS blogs. Godsakes, our readers are future diplomats!

Yeah, who cares about nipples in a Foreign Service blog, anyway?

Just to be clear, we were not hiding behind the desk eavesdropping, this is just imagination not hard at work.  But we’re wondering if something similar transpired over there, and if we can now use this incident as an example of “groupthink.

Today, WaPo picked up the story: Foreign Service spouse finds her blog no longer has a home on State Department Web site.  Here is an excerpt:

Yesterday she received an e-mail explanation from a recruiting and marketing consultant for the agency.

“Hopefully, you can understand that some topics covered in your blog are very personal in nature, e.g. nipple cozies,” the employee wrote, “and wouldn’t necessarily resonate with the majority of potential candidates who are interested in learning about the FS [Foreign Service] life overseas.”

“Through our years of recruitment experience, we found that FS prospects want to learn more about the work that’s conducted, the people and cultures with whom they will interact, the travel experiences, and the individual stories our employees have to share.”
[…]
“It really shook me to the core,” she said in an interview from her home in Annandale, where her husband, Peter, is getting ready to move to Afghanistan for a year on an unaccompanied tour.

A State Department spokesman said Wednesday night he is looking into the issue but did not have enough information yet to comment.

Read the whole thing here.

Pleaasssee! Somebody please bring this up in the Daily Press Briefing!

Because they’ve done it now.  They’ve put it in black and white — only happy talk blogs are welcome!  They’re looking for the mini-versions of State Magazine’s Happy Post of the Month and mini-versions of DipNote.

Perhaps they should hire Foreign Service spouses and pay them to blog about their happy lives overseas instead of using them as “bait” for free. Then, State at least, can improve the job opportunities of diplomatic spouses, and the spouses will be too preoccupied with happy write ups, they won’t have time to think or blog about their real lives.

Yes, you may post this suggestion to the Secretary’s Sounding Board.

As I was posting this, one of our regular readers saw that Jen’s WaPo story is now in the Drudge Report. And there it is with the N-word.

Also these:

Jezebel | U.S. State Dept. Takes Issue With ‘Nipple Cozies’

The Raw Story | State Dept. boots breast cancer survivor from blogroll over ‘nipple cozies’

Folks will be on strategery meetings for the rest of the day.

In the meantime — it turns out a lot cares about nipples and much more in the Foreign Service, most especially the bloggers.

Blog pal Kolbi of  A Daring Adventure writes Too Little and Too Much (Regarding Blogging, the ACLU, and NIPPLES). She deserves special mention; she is the only FS blogger who had been clubbed twice by the Serial Blog Killer and survived to tell about it:

Being on The Official Blog List actually painted an even bigger bulls eye on my back. And not just on my back, but on the backs of other State bloggers on The List. To date, to my knowledge, at least three State bloggers (and perhaps even up to five) on The List have since been shut down. And there were probably, oh, I don’t know, only about a dozen or so blogs on that List when it began. So, you know, not the best odds of bloggy survival.

So, basically, to recap: The pro-blogging side of State puts The Official List together and encourages bloggers to write tons and tons of State-themed blog posts, and then the anti-blogging side of State goes and… shuts those blogs down because they’re writing about State-themed stuff.

And here are some more of them —

Tuk & Tam | What the Nipple?

Wanderings of a Cheerful Stoic | Nipples, Censorship, and Other Matters

Cyberbones | Nipples! Boobs!

Spectrummy Mummy | N is also for Nipples

We Meant Well | Mrs. Clinton, you have a problem.

Noble Glomads | Don’t tell us who is relevant to us

The Wandering Drays | “Nipped” in the Blog

Mom2Nomads | Nipplegate 2012

Four Globetrotters | Nipples, Nipples, Everywhere

We Meant Well | State Department Does Not Care for Breast Cancer Talk

Whale Ears and Other Wonderings | Not FS Enough

Sadie Abroad | Nippletastic: A Rant For FS Bloggers

Well That Was Different | It’s the Little Things

dp’s Blog | I Guess I’m Not As Important As I Once Assumed

Mom2Nomads | You’re Just Not Quite FS Enough…

Life After Jerusalem | What Makes a Blog an FS Blog?

Dinoia Family | Wanted: Stories of the ‘Real’ Foreign Service

Dinoia Family | Did you know?

And we hear that somebody is now trying to organize a “kick me off your official list” movement … and if successful, there won’t be anyone for show and tell on State’s “inclusive atmosphere and collaborative environment,” except maybe …. well, one of our alert readers write with a simple enough question:

…. and yet it’s okay to blog about strip clubs and how your nickname on the consular line is Visa Molester? somehow this one is still linked to the official blog roll. go figure.

Oh dear!  There are official standards employed here, but obviously it’s hard to figure out.

Domani Spero