Netflix's '​The Diplomat​' Is Diplomacy For Dummies

Keri Russell as Kate Wyler in 'The Diplomat'

The popular Netflix series The Diplomat has Keri Russell playing a woman who's really sore that she's been made American ambassador to the United Kingdom. Many Americans would pay a fortune to become America's representative to the Court of St. James's, and some do. It's a non-secret that ambassadorships in the choice capitals go for campaign contributions of around $300,000. There has been only one career foreign service officer in London since 1952.

That's the sordid real-world of American politics. But in this fiction, you wish the honor had gone to a shopping-mall developer who wanted to do the job rather than a ludicrous character who hollers vulgarities and walks barefooted through the grounds of stately Winfield House, the ambassadorial residence.

A career foreign service officer who served five times as ambassador told me, with diplomatic understatement, that he started watching the series and was "not pleased." He couldn't get past the first episode, saying, "That was enough."

And that was just as well, I told him, in that the second episode has "Ambassador Kate Wyler" sprawled on the steps outside the front entrance dressed in a short silk slip. This was apparently her sulk over being allegedly forced to participate in a fashion shoot the episode before.

The real-life diplomat also missed the part where she tells the U.K. foreign secretary, "You're kind of an a—hole." Also the scene where she and her problematic husband (who previously had the ambassador job) are rolling around the grounds in a fistfight.

Had this story been presented as a frothy Cinderella tale for saucy teen girls, it could have been easily ignored. There's some precedence for fantasies of American gals behaving like slobs in manor houses as starchy Brits quietly place formal flower arrangements on their side tables.

But the straight-faced theme here is that the heroine is a savvy war-zone expert whose steel-trap brain is being wasted doing all this ceremonial fluff. (That she didn't have to take the position is nowhere noted.)

"You know why I don't want this job?" the character spits out to an underling. "I spent a decade building a reputation in a community such that when I say something, people f—-ing listen to me."

Even the lowliest female employee would know not to prance around the formal residence in tight, distressed jeans. They probably wouldn't do it on the streets of Kabul, either.

Aside from the portrayal of the ambassador as a bad-girl 10th grader, the story suffers quite a few flaws regarding the mechanics of becoming and being an ambassador.

For starters, Wyler leaves for London without the distraction of a Senate confirmation. Thus, she is not a valid representative of the United States. (The Senate Foreign Relations Committee would have closely questioned and delayed the confirmation of so inexperienced a diplomat for an important post.)

Furthermore, diplomats do not enjoy regular, casual access to the president. They surely wouldn't be making references to "motherf—-ers" as Wyler does with "President Rayburn," who volleys them back.

Nor could any foreign service professional imagine a situation in which the spouse, whether or not possessing the distracting title of ambassador, would work at cross purposes with the chief of mission and intentionally embarrass her and the United States. That person would be immediately ejected.

I could not get beyond episode three, so embarrassing was it all to America, the foreign service, women and grown-ups. But where are the cultural troops to back me up?

The Hollywood Reporter at least had the decency to make some fun of it as a "gourmet cheeseburger." But the critic for NPR, supposedly a defender of standards, called The Diplomat a "smart" political thriller.

Et tu, NPR?

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

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Mainstream media outlets are ignoring Christian nationalism’s central role in a new conservative operation to ensure that a future Republican president implements “Schedule F,” a radical plan to eliminate job protections for federal workers who don’t share an extreme, right-wing ideology.

If successful, the effort could convert up to 20,000 career federal staff positions into political appointments, which usually top out at around 4,000, effectively gutting agencies of experts with decades of institutional knowledge. The order could theoretically expand to make hundreds of thousands of federal workers with union protections into at-will employees. That kind of “rightward move on the federal civil service is unheard of among Western democracies, and has only really reappeared as a policy goal in states with recent authoritarian backsliding, such as Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro or Viktor Orban’s Hungary,” according to GovExec.

The man behind the push to make Schedule F a fait accompli under the next Republican president is Russ Vought, a Christian nationalist and the founder of MAGA-aligned think tank the Center for Renewing America. Vought served as head of the Office of Management and Budget under former President Donald Trump, and oversaw a brief rollout of Schedule F in the final weeks of the administration.

As Media Matters has previously reported, Vought explicitly wants to draft an “army” of conservative activists with a “Biblical worldview” to staff the federal bureaucracy under the next Republican administration. Last September, Vought agreed with Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk’s suggestion that there should be “ideological purity tests” to serve in the federal workforce, a position Trump has now adopted as well.

Vought also advocated for changes to congressional rules to target individual civil servants, potentially removing their funding or firing them, further demonstrating his desire to purge career staffers who don’t share his views. He is also advising House Republicans in the ongoing debt ceiling negotiations, hoping to use the threat of default to slash funding for anti-poverty programs and add new work requirements to Medicaid.

Within the last several days, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NBC News each covered aspects of this behind-the-scenes campaign, but omitted crucial details about Vought’s extreme ideology and the stakes of this looming fight. Although all three stories provided some valuable insights into Vought’s efforts, none included hisopenembrace of Christiannationalism in their coverage.

On April 20, the Timeswrote about conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation’s efforts to create a massive database of potential applicants to staff the next Republican-led executive branch, dubbed Project 2025. Vought’s think tank is one of Heritage’s partners, and he’s mentioned although not quoted at the end of the piece. (Vought was previously vice president at Heritage Action for America, the Heritage Foundation’s advocacy arm.)

The Times’ headline and subhead significantly downplayed the ambitions animating Project 2025.

Like the subheading, the body of the story analogizes the effort to a “right-wing LinkedIn,” and focuses on the difficulties of creating a single database that could satisfy the various potential Republican primary winners.

To the Times’ credit, the story eventually lays out the stakes of Schedule F, though not until the 11th and subsequent paragraphs.

Typically, a new president is allowed to replace around 4,000 “political appointees” — a revolving layer that sits atop the federal work force. Below the political layer lies a long-term work force of more than two million, who have strong employment protections meant to make it harder for a new president of a different political party to fire them. These protections, enshrined in law, established a civil service that is supposed to be apolitical — with federal officials accumulating subject matter and institutional expertise over long careers in the service of both Republican and Democratic presidents.

Mr. Trump wants to demolish that career civil service — or what he pejoratively calls “the deep state.” He has privately told allies that if he gets back into power he plans to fire far more than the 4,000 government officials that presidents are typically allowed to replace. Mr. Trump’s lawyers already have the legal instrument in hand.

The Times then mentions Vought in its closing paragraphs, and although the piece describes him as working to “gut the federal civil service in a second Trump administration,” it omits any mention of his theocratic views.

The Washington Post, similarly, offered some valuable contributions in its recent coverage of Trump and Vought’s emerging scheme. The Post’s April 21 headline warns of Trump’s “authoritarian vision for second term,” clearly foregrounding the gravity of the situation in a way the Times’ headline failed to do.

The piece also includes criticism from good government experts on the dangers of Schedule F, though it doesn’t mention that term specifically.

Some of Trump’s proposals for overhauling the merit-based civil service would require congressional action. The result could be to undermine the ability of professional public servants to reliably deliver government services without political interference, warned Max Stier, chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit that supports federal workforce development.

“He is proposing changes that would create the world that he is objecting to,” Stier said. “It does have real-time consequences in terms of undermining public trust in our government. That’s a real problem because trust in government is a core part of our democracy.”

The article quotes Vought and mentions CRA, but, like the Times’ piece, doesn’t include mention of his Christian nationalist beliefs. Instead, readers learn about Vought’s sense of his own centrality in the larger movement.

“I guarantee the stuff we’re putting forward is not going to get thrown in the trash,” said Vought, who contributed the transition project’s chapter on exercising authority through the Executive Office of the President, akin to a playbook for a White House chief of staff. Some of Vought’s ideas have found their way into Trump’s proposals, such as a recent announcement on bringing independent agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission under White House supervision.

“There’s a glove of power needed to beat back the administrative state or deep state,” he said, “and if you’re not willing to put your hand in that glove you will fail, regardless of how much credibility you have with the base.”

The piece has much to recommend it as a big-picture overview of Trump’s goals for a second term, but readers would immensely benefit from a clearer understanding of Vought’s ideology, not just his proximity to power.

Like the Times and the Post, NBC’s coverage of this topic had some strong aspects to it. Both the headline and the subheading of NBC’s April 26 piece makes clear that this is a labor protection story in addition to a story about overseeing policy.

NBC also quotes Max Stier, the good government expert cited by the Post. But Vought is the centerpiece.

“I think Schedule F is basically doctrine now on the right,” said Russ Vought, an architect of Schedule F when he was Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget. “So I think one that sits in that position does not have an ability to not do this, not unlike any other governing philosophy” widely embraced by conservatives.

“Schedule F is getting to the point where I cannot see anyone who runs on the Republican side who doesn’t put this into play,” Vought, the president of the Center for Renewing America, a right-wing think tank, continued.

Vought’s analysis may very well be accurate, which makes it all the more important for readers to understand his overt ideology and stated goals. Instead, all of the relevant context is outsourced to Stier, and Vought’s Christian nationalism again went unmentioned.

Although Vought speaks of reining in the “woke and weaponized” bureaucracy, the reality is that his goal is to unleash the power of the federal government against his enemies. Christian nationalism is incompatible with secular, multicultural democracy, and any coverage of Schedule F needs to make that clear.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.