When State Department officials brought their young children to work yesterday to watch the daily press briefing, they likely expected that reporters from some of the world's most prestigious news agencies would be asking the usual complex foreign policy questions on subjects like human rights and nuclear power. But yesterday's briefing was mostly about hookers, strippers and sex acts that may or may not have been committed by department employees working overseas.
Spokesperson Victoria Nuland looked embarrassed as she answered the various questions. "What a topic to be talking about on Bring Your Kids To Work day," Nuland said. "Parents, you can explain all of this later."
Some of the reporters tried to be sensitive with their questions considering the underage audience, using code terms like "type of business" when referring to strip clubs, or "engaging in activities" as a euphemism for hiring prostitutes.
But the story in question, a widening of the Secret Service scandal in Colombia to include foreign service employees behaving badly in other countries like Brazil and El Salvador, demanded some straight talk … and answers.
Nuland at one point ended up reading straight from the Foreign Service manual. "Members of the Foreign Service are prohibited from engaging in notoriously disgraceful conduct which includes frequenting prostitutes and engaging in public or promiscuous sexual relations or engaging in sexual activity that could open the employee up to the possibility of blackmail, coercion or improper influence," she said.
When reporters pressed for specifics, particularly regarding hiring prostitutes in countries where prostitution is legal, Nuland minced no words.
"The department's view is that people who buy sex acts fuel the demand for sex trafficking, and given our policies designed to help governments prevent sex trafficking, etc., it is not in keeping with the behavior that we want to advocate and display ourselves," she told reporters.
None of the children in the room asked any questions, or looked particularly shocked. But perhaps they should have been guests at today's briefing, which consisted of questions about human rights in Syria and China, and diplomatic negotiations with Pakistan. A lot more normal, but maybe less fun.