Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is traveling around East Asia with only one reporter in tow, and the major media outlets are freaking out.
Journalists at major outlets first began to panic when news broke last week that Tillerson did not plan to take any of the press with him on his trip to Japan, South Korea, and China.
Bureau chiefs and editors for major media outlets such as the Associated Press, The New York Times, National Public Radio, BBC, CNN, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Voice of America, and a few others informed the Department of State that they “were deeply concerned” by Tillerson’s decision to travel overseas without them.
Now, certain outlets are upset because Tillerson is not traveling alone; he is actually traveling with a reporter from a right-wing publication who is not a member of the press pool.
Erin McPike of Independent Journal Review is in Asia with the secretary of state. New to IJR, McPike is a White House correspondent; however, she does not cover the State Department. Because she is not a member of the press pool, she likely will not be sharing information with the rest of the press corps.
“This is just an attempt to reach beyond the usual suspects, and I’m not trying to say that in a demeaning way at all,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner revealed Wednesday, adding the department’s latest move is “part of an effort to include a broader representation of U.S. media.”
The State Department Correspondents Association said it was “disappointed” by the change in procedure. Traveling abroad with a full contingent of reporters has been protocol for decades.
“After saying it was unable to accommodate press on the secretary’s plane to Asia due to space and budget constraints, the State Department offered a unilateral seat to one reporter,” the organization explained, “The State Department Correspondents’ Association is disappointed that Secretary Tillerson chose to travel this week to North Asia without a full contingent of the diplomatic press corps or even a pool reporter.”
“The State Department is the beacon of press freedom around the world. The message now, to China in particular when he gets to Beijing, is that press freedom doesn’t matter,” MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell said in response, “Up until now, secretaries of state have made it a key demand that our press corps gets into meetings … that there be access for the media.”
“A key component of foreign policy is being undercut by this,” she added.”
Steven Butler, the Asia program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, criticized Tillerson for his “complete lack of transparency.”
“Is this really the message they want to send to the public, as well as other nations? Really? They must, on some level, realize that no one is fooled by the explanations,” CNN diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski said.
“I covered State for more than nine years. What just happened is shocking — and counterproductive for US diplomacy,” Glenn Kessler, the fact checker columnist for The Washington Post, tweeted in response.
In response to Toner’s statement that the State Department wants to reach out to “new audiences,” a reporter asked, “Conservative audiences? A friendly audience?”
[dcquiz] “A new perspective,” Toner replied.
While McPike is the only reporter actually accompanying Tillerson on the plane, reporters who traveled to Asia on standard commercial flights will reportedly be provided access to the secretary of state.
“We don’t take this opportunity lightly and recognize the controversy surrounding press access for the trip,” IJR founder and chief executive Alex Skatell said in a statement.
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