The Trump Administration has had an adversarial relationship with the press, but the State Department has taken a different approach, avoidance. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has avoided interviews and questions and the State Department held its first briefing of the administration this week. In addition, when Secretary Tillerson embarks on his trip to Asia, the press will not be on the plane in a break with precedent.
The State Department has said that the reason no press will be included on the plane is because of a smaller plane size. A request for an explanation of why there was a smaller plane size was not returned by the State Department. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer explained that the smaller size by saying, “There’s an element of cost-savings at this point that the Secretary is trying to achieve.”
Seats on the plane used by the press are reimbursed by the media organizations.
Spicer denied that there was any attempt to limit press coverage saying on Friday, “This isn’t about blocking anybody.” Spicer and State Department Acting Spokesman Mark Toner both pointed out that the Department is offering support to press who travel to the events, including regular access, “logistical support,” and “filing centers.” Filing centers are areas, typically with tables and sometimes Wi-Fi, where the press can work on their stories.
“And I think going forward, the State Department is doing everything it can to – and will do everything it can to accommodate a contingent of traveling media on board the Secretary’s plane,” Toner said during Thursday’s briefing.
However, a group of Washington bureau chiefs wrote to the State Department saying they “were deeply concerned” about the lack of press space. The signatories rejected the government’s assistance for independent travel, calling it “wholly unrealistic.”
“Not only does this situation leave the public narrative of the meetings up to the Chinese foreign ministry as well as Korea’s and Japan’s, but it gives the American people no window whatsoever into the views and actions of the nation’s leaders.”
The letter was signed by representatives from the Associated Press, Fox News, the New York Times, NPR, the BBC, CNN, the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Bloomberg, the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, Voice of America, and Agence France-Presse.
Secretary Tillerson has also been press-shy himself not granting interviews or answering questions. NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Andrea Mitchell was removed from the room when she tried to question Tillerson and Ukranian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin. Tillerson was also weary of the press when he was CEO of ExxonMobil, rarely giving interviews.
The Secretary of State has historically been one of the most public faces of both the Administration and the United States after the President.
However even as the Department limits press accessibility on the plane, it is showing signs of opening up. The Department held its first press briefing under the Trump Administration on Tuesday. The Department ended up holding three press briefings that week.