Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Madam, Where Are You?

I am a little late to the search, but I am joining in now. Madam le Consul of The Consul Files, where are you?

Diplopundit, one of my favorite FS blogs, first called the attention of the blogosphere that Madam le Consul was missing on October 7. At that point, she had been missing for 5 days.

It has now been 18 days.

Madam le Consul had a great blog, one written by, in her words, a "senior consular-coned officer who has served in 23 countries and Washington." Her words were always wise and her advice sound. And like me, she blogged anonymously. Though like No Double Standards at Calling a Spade a Spade, if you met me and had read this blog, you'd have to be pretty clueless not to know I was the author (that said, I recently learned that many assume I am male...a sexist assumption at best...because I blog and am a diplomat, I must be male? Really?).

There has been a surprising amount of discussion on this missing blog since October 7. Diplopundit has discussed it here and here. No Double Standards has discussed it here. Wired.com posited that the State Department was responsible for "muzzling" the Madam. And that post has been picked up and spread as only the internet can.

I don't know why, or if, the Madam was forced to stop blogging. There are clearly LOTS of Foreign Service blogs. I list more than 100 (I've been too lazy to recount) on my blogroll alone, and I add new ones regularly. All of these blogs are written by Foreign Service Officers or their spouses. All offer a slice of Foreign Service life, and I hope they, like me, use them to try to convince people to join this profession. I think blogs are a great recruiting tool.

The problem is that the department is of two minds about blogs and can't decide really where to come down. Those of us in Public Diplomacy and HR recognize that blogs are great recruiting tools and should be encouraged, even if there is a bit of risk. But I'd argue the risk is minimal. Most of us steer very clear of discussing foreign policy issues. We all know who we work for and that part of what we signed up for was to publically agree with our foreign policy, regardless of who was in the White House.

Diplomatic Security has a different take. Blogs are outlets for the bad guys to get too much info from naive FSOs. I see their point. After a DS agent discussed my blog with me, I was a bit more cautious about how I blogged. I was a first-tour JO and hadn't thought about some of the issues he brought up. After my DPO later discussed the blog with me (and in this case, on an issue I disagreed with and refused to change), I went anonymous. I had begun my blog mainly as a way to update my family and it had morphed into something more anyway. I split the blog into two, one completely private for my family and one more public (this one, obviously).

I have never again been questioned about my blog, even though I know some very high level officials know it is mine (again, not terribly anonymous...one Assistant Secretary even thanked me for the kind words I said about him here. His wife had googled his name...).

So I don't know why Madam le Consul has disappeared. Because I have had officials "discuss" my blog with me, I can see how someone, talking a rigid approach to Department policy, might have asked her to end it or alter it. But I have also had positive feedback from high ranking officials about my blog specifically and blogging in general. That, combined with the shere number of FS blogs, makes me doubt she was "officially" forced to stop.

Madam le Consul's blog, to my mind, in no way stepped over any boundary. She made me remember the parts of consular work I liked, and I imagine, made the process more comprehendable to those outside the Department trying to navigate through it. She, like me, No Double Standards, and I suspect most other FSO bloggers, blog because we love this life.

I hope we find her. I hope she comes back.

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