At a recent media briefing, a top State Department official fumbled awkwardly so as not to offend his bosses or a US ally.
There are no words. Quite literally.
That’s probably how Stuart Jones, acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, felt at a media briefing in Washington on Tuesday, May 30 as he frantically struggled to answer a question on democratic freedoms in Saudi Arabia. The question posed by Dave Clare of Agence France Presse seemed to cause the top US state department official quite some trouble. He finally managed to struggled his way to a few words…but none of them made sense in the context. They definitely did not answer the reporter’s question. Here’s the video.
Watch as Stuart Jones, a high-level acting official in the State Dept, is asked why they criticize Iranian elections but never Saudi Arabia: pic.twitter.com/RLkKGn48Z7
— Alex Emmons (@AlexanderEmmons) May 30, 2017
Talk about awkward silence.
Here’s the text from the video.
Clark: “While you were over there, the secretary criticised the conduct of the Iranian elections and Iran’s record on democracy. He did so standing next to Saudi officials. How do you characterise Saudi Arabia’s commitment to democracy? And does the administration believe that democracy is a buffer or barrier against extremism?”
Jones: “(Pauses for 18 seconds) I think what we would say is, that at this meeting, we were able to make significant progress with Saudi and GCC partners in both making a strong statement against extremism and also putting in place certain measures through this GCC mechanism where we can combat extremism. Clearly one source of extremism – one terrorism threat – is coming from Iran. And that’s coming from a part of the Iranian apparatus that is not at all responsive to its electorate.”
This isn’t even Jones’s first press conference, having been a top US diplomat to the Middle East. Naturally, Jones’ prolonged state of speechlessness did not go unnoticed by anyone present in the room or watching the video.
The Washington Examiner called the almost unending pause the “most painful 18-second news conference response you’ll see all week”, adding that one could “pinpoint the moment Tuesday afternoon when Acting Assistant Secretary of State Stuart Jones’ prayed silently for the earth to open up and swallow him whole.”
News agencies aren’t the only ones having a laugh over Jones’s inability to find words. Social media has had many laughs over the clip of the media briefing, which has gone viral. Many joked on Twitter that they thought that their video feed had frozen. And who can blame them? One person even called him the “personification of a twitter bot”. Here are some reactions on Twitter:
— 2Cents With Love💋 (@tweetkisses) May 31, 2017
It takes precisely 20 seconds for Jones to say to himself “I don’t deserve this” 20 times https://t.co/wSCYfA1FPA
— Oren Kessler (@OrenKessler) May 30, 2017
Really magnificent awkward pause in this video, like Jones was trying to will his body into another dimension. https://t.co/ePDmUl27sK
— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) May 30, 2017
I’ve seen a lot of crazy things, but this is something else. I sent it to my mom and she says she doesn’t believe it’s real https://t.co/m1GnTOsdEa
— Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid) May 30, 2017
I thought this was a snl skit looking at Stuart Jones.
— Blantron (@allenmcgowanIII) May 31, 2017
And the icing on the cake, the obvious reference to a FRIENDS episode.
— سين (@MYOS0TlS) May 30, 2017
To be honest, it’s probably not Jones’s fault. As many US news agencies pointed out, there probably was no answer to the question, which was a pointed barb at the US’s double standards over Iran and Saudi Arabia. Jones clearly wasn’t equipped or prepared to answer that question, because people don’t ask it all that often.
No wonder then, that he was hurriedly rushed away by the officials at the briefing after his awkward answer. He was probably relieved to be leaving.