US Foreign Service Censorship And Other Matters

The topic du jour in the FS blogosphere is nipples, or the lack thereof on the official State blogroll. It seems some bureaucrat went through and pruned the official blog list recently, and one of the blogs removed belonged to Jen Dinoia: trailing spouse, wife, mother, breast cancer survivor. When she emailed to ask why, she was told that too much of the blog was “personal in nature, e.g. nipple cozies,” and not necessarily FS-related. The blogosphere cried foul, saying Jen’s blog is too an FS story, and a compelling and well-told one that potential officers would enjoy. The Washington Postpicked up the story and it spread around from there until State succumbed to the inevitable and put a link to Jen’s blog back up. “State Department restores Foreign Service spouse’s blog to its Web site after censoring,” trumpets the Post.

I read Jen’s blog. I like Jen’s blog. But I think this whole thing is a little bit overblown. There is a word for what State is doing in putting up an official blogroll, and that word is ADVERTISING. State is selling a product – the FS lifestyle – and they choose the blogs on their list based on how well those blogs sell it. This is an entirely sensible marketing strategy. When you get that email from State asking if they can link to your site, they are asking if they can use you as free advertising, as a recruiting tool for future FSOs. I got one of those emails, and I said yes. I had to think about it for a few days, to decide if I wanted to shill for The Man. But I like my job and my life, and I decided this was a product I was willing to push.  I’m apparently still good advertising, since there isn’t a hell of a lot to do in Conakry but work and blog about it. But if and when I decide that the time has come to talk of other things and I stop being good advertising, they can dump me. There are plenty of FS blogs I don’t read and I don’t link to because I’m not really interested in pictures of their kids and such. That doesn’t make them any less “real FSOs.” Not being on the State list doesn’t mean that your experience isn’t a real and valid FS life; you just didn’t get cast for the commercial.

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.