When the State Department is confronted with a world crisis that highlights its policy double standards, is moving too fast for new policy to be formulated or otherwise catches U.S. diplomats off guard, the daily briefing goes something like this:
Reporter: What's the State Department's response to the protests in Thailand? (Spokeswoman ruffles papers as she flips through "the briefing book," which offers "guidance" - talking points - on how to respond.)
State Department spokeswoman: We're deeply concerned and we're closely monitoring the situation.
And if things get really tense (ie, Benghazi scandal, secret talks with Iran, lack of a Syria policy), then there's a terse: "I have nothing further for you on that."
It was a pretty slow news days, so the briefing got to cover a lot of ground today rather than staying focused mainly on one major breaking story. And that made room for a talking points all-star show, in which virtually every dodge was employed: "Our policy hasn't changed," "The relationship is an important one," "we're closely monitoring," "we're tracking the situation," "I don't have anything more to share with you," "different countries make different decisions," and so on.
Some variation of The Dodge was given on questions about violent demonstrations in the Ukraine, deadly political tensions in Thailand, worries about China's provocation in contested air space, the drafting of the Egyptian constitution, on U.S. diplomats' secret talks with Iran, the disintegration of the moderate rebels in Syria, whether Iran should attend Syria talks, and others.
The State Department, like every federal institution, spews jargon and euphemism when confronted with thorny policy questions. But because of some outsized personalities in the press corps, which inhabits "the bull pen" at State, this briefing gets more notice than the Pentagon's or even the White House's. Earlier this year, the whole was-it-or-wasn't-it-a-coup debate on developments in Egypt even made The Daily Show (video above).