The State Department has a lot of budget cuts in the offing as the Trump administration downsizes it, and now there's a new item on the gone-missing list — its sense of humor.
There was no laughter emanating from the upper echelons of the State Department building on April 1, a.k.a. April Fools' Day, when the Diplopundit blog, which feasts on Foggy Bottom foibles and rumors, posted a joke directive under the headline “Leaked Cable Provides Guidance For 'America First' Cost Savings Initiatives.”
The “cable” started in a semi-serious tone, explaining cost-cutting measures suggested “to help achieve the President's agenda to urgently fund defense and homeland security.” Embassy Minsk, it said, recycles paper towels. Embassy Addis Ababa flushes the toilets less. The consulate in General Yekaterinburg turns down the thermostat, even in the dead of winter, and staffers pour buckets of icy water over their heads to acclimatize themselves.
Other tips: Sheep and goats can mow the lawn at embassies in place of gardeners. Smaller font sizes use less ink and toner, and shorter official reports need less paper.
Just 53 minutes after the gag cable went online, the chief blogger — who goes by the pseudonym Domani Spero (Tomorrow, I hope) — received an email from Mark Stroh, acting head of the State Department Press Office.
“You may or may not know that the cable posted at the link below is false, a forgery,” Stroh wrote in an email Spero eventually posted on Diplopundit. “This may be an April fool that you all have executed or one that was executed on you but either way we'd ask that you immediately take it down and note with a prominent correction that this was a forgery and not a real cable.”
Spero, who says he is not affiliated in any way with the State Department, was going about living his life and didn't see Stroh's missive for a few hours. Four hours after the first email, Stroh wrote back again with a second request for the post to be taken down “IMMEDIATELY.”
The author of Diplopundit did not reply to an emailed request for comment. But when he posted the two Stroh emails (on top of the joke cable that stays up to this day), he noted that he had posted April Fools' Day cables during the nine years he has been writing the blog. But he said he had never been asked to take them down before. “Until now,” he wrote.
“We'd love to know which very senior people from the 7th floor forgot to bring their humor machine to Foggy Bottom,” he wrote, referring to the floor on which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his closest aides work. “But congrats to the State Department's new overlords tasked with supporting the principles of a free press and free expression.
“It must be um … hard when every day feels like April Fools' Day.”
Stroh declined to comment on the emails.
But perhaps the State Department diplomats could take a lesson from their counterparts in Moscow. On April Fools' Day, the Russian Foreign Ministry posted on its Facebook page a sendup of a Russian Embassy's answering machine.
According to Tass, the recorded message could be heard in Russian and English: “You have reached the Russian Embassy. Your call is very important to us. To arrange a call from a Russian diplomat to your political opponents, press 1. To use the services of Russian hackers, press 2. To request election interference, press 3 and wait until the next election campaign. Please note that all calls are recorded for quality improvement and training purposes.”
There was no mention in the Tass report of the Kremlin complaining.