Rex Tillerson defends blocking reporters from diplomatic trip to Asia – The Guardian

Rex Tillerson has defended his decision to block American reporters from his first major mission to Asia, saying: “I’m not a big media press access person. I personally don’t need it.”

Although newsrooms have for decades paid the state department for airplane seats when the top diplomat travels, the secretary of state only allowed one reporter to join him on a trip to Japan, South Korea and China.

In an interview with the reporter from the conservative Independent Journal Review, a website partly owned by a top adviser to Vice-President Mike Pence, Tillerson insisted the decision was made first for cost reasons and second for his preference to work “behind closed doors”.

“We’re not hiding from any coverage of what we’re doing,” he said, arguing that major outlets often have foreign bureaus. “They have people there. So it’s not like they can’t cover what’s happening there. The only thing that’s missing is the chance to talk more in the air.”

Tillerson said he did not “have this appetite or hunger” to speak with reporters about US diplomatic missions.

“We have some very, very complex strategic issues to make our way through with important countries around the world,” he said, “and we’re not going to get through them by just messaging through the media. We get through them in face-to-face meetings behind closed doors.”

However, the absence of regular reporting from Tillerson’s trip has created confusion on his current visit with South Korean officials. In the interview, Tillerson accused Korean officials of trying to save face by misstating what had happened.

On Friday, the Korea Herald cited government officials to report that Tillerson had “shortened diplomatic consultations and public events in Seoul” because he was feeling “fatigue”.

The Herald report said Tillerson did not attend a dinner with South Korea’s interim president, but did have dinner meetings with Japanese officials during his trip there.

Without regular US reporters around Tillerson to confirm or correct that report, it circulated widely until Tillerson personally rebutted the claims.

“They never invited us for dinner, then at the last minute they realized that optically it wasn’t playing very well in public for them, so they put out a statement that we didn’t have dinner because I was tired,” Tillerson said.

The IJR reporter asked: “Are you saying they lied about it?”

“No, it was just their explanation,” Tillerson said. “I had dinner last night.”

Tillerson did not answer a subsequent question about with whom he had dinner.

“The host country decides whether we are going to do things or not,” he said. “We didn’t decide that.”

The secretary of state said he understood that the press helps him “communicate not just to the American people, but to others in the world that are listening”. But he cited his decades of experience with oil giant ExxonMobil as evidence that he did not need to use a bully pulpit to push American objectives at home and abroad.

“I’ve been very successful diplomatically for over 25 years,” he said. “Done some really tough deals around the world with some really difficult governments. I’ve been successful because I was always able to respect their integrity and respect the fact that they have a population they have to take care of.



US ‘strategic patience’ with North Korea has ended, says Tillerson

“And the less I said about what we were trying to do in public, the easier it was for them to manage the outcome, and in the end we could be successful.”

Tillerson’s position that the US speak less about the domestic affairs of “difficult” governments appears to fit with the Trump administration’s subdued attitude toward human rights abuses.

Earlier this month, Tillerson disconcerted advocates when he declined to present the state department’s annual report on human rights. Donald Trump has refused to condemn Vladimir Putin over Russia’s violent crackdowns on dissent and the press.

The secretary of state said future permission for the press to travel would be “trip dependent”, and that he wanted to speak with the press only after “we have our thinking formulated well enough”.

“To talk about them before they are formulated isn’t useful to anyone, most importantly the people we are trying to get things done with,” he said. He would prefer to tell the public about developments “after they’ve happened”, he said.

Although the Trump administration has repeatedly attacked the press, sometimes barring reporters, it has made exemptions for some conservative outlets, even when those outlets traffic in racist or false information.

Last week a reporter for the Independent Journal Review quit in protest over a post that seemed to allege a conspiracy between Barack Obama’s vacation to Hawaii and the decision by a federal judge there against Trump’s second travel ban.

The site later added a note saying editors had “removed unnecessary speculation”, before eventually retracting the entire story.

Rex Tillerson defends blocking reporters from diplomatic trip to Asia – The Guardian}