Maybe I should drink less (or maybe drink more, I’ll try it both ways), but the blog Diplopundit seems to say what I think more articulately than I can muster.
Writing about the recent controversy where the State Department dropped, then after protests and a critical WaPo story, quickly restored a blog from its favored list because the author discussed her own battle with breast cancer, Diplopundit draws out the obvious issue still on the table: why am I still being fired by State for my blog?
I don’t know the other blog’s author, Jen, personally, but I do read her stuff. Her topic put State into an easy position– no one can be against a breast cancer survivor’s story, and the decision to drop her was so obviously boneheaded that the easy right thing was to make amends. To its credit, the State Department did that and even threw in an apology. Instead of looking like a mean old dog, State came off looking, well, human. The nipple story will fade away, lessons learned.
No one banned Jen from the building, pulled her security clearance, chastised her for talking to the Post, put her on security watch lists, threw her out of her job or embarked on a months’ long series of personnel actions. Sadly, of course, the Department is finalizing my termination ahead of my planned retirement in September. Along the way the ACLU is involved, the Office of the Special Counsel is investigating, the Government Accountability Project is defending me and a lot of media have done stories unfavorable to the State Department’s reputation.
The harder right is me, or after I get fired, the next State Department blogger who is not evergreen. It is easy to see the correct answer in Jen’s case; in mine, well, sometimes my writing offends. Sometimes it offends because I bring up unpleasant truths like the atrocious waste and mismanagement of State’s Iraq reconstruction projects, sometimes because I call out State on it hypocritical attitudes and practices, sometimes because I use potty language and sometimes because I shock and offend to get your attention, or because something has angered me. Sometimes it just happens because people get offended easily these days.
The point is that almost everyone who reads this blog has found things to disagree with, in substance, style or commonly both. It is much harder then to step back and say “but the point is he has a right to say it.” With Jen, and meaning no disrespect, we never have to confront that tough question. She writes pleasantly about serious topics seriously. I don’t always do that. Myself, I would not burn the flag in protest, but I accept with a lump in my throat that other people must be allowed to do so. Wide boundaries to the left and the right create the middle.
Diplopundit paraphrases Chomsky in his article:
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?
People write to me all the time saying some version of “Why don’t you quit if you don’t like the rules?” or “You should know you don’t have free speech rights if you work for the government.” The latter question was answered conclusively by the ACLU, in five dense, concise pages of legal explanation adding up to yes, government employees do indeed have free speech rights.
As for rules, what State has on the books are actually not bad as a start, if they were enforced fairly, equitably and without the behind the scenes adverse actions. The rules as they exist are good at what the rules should do– no classified info, no insider info on contracts, etc– but what State wants to do is control the message, the content, of every blog, Tweet and post, and that is neither practical nor Constitutional.
As for the former question of why don’t I just quit, we hang together, or we will hang separately. Free speech is not just for what you want to hear; you don’t need rights for that. I’ll let Diplopundit respond for me:
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.
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