Rex Tillerson
Secretary
of State Rex Tillerson looks at South Korean Foreign Minister Yun
Byung-Se,

REUTERS/JUNG
Yeon-Je/Pool


Rex Tillerson made his first trip to Asia this week as secretary
of state, and there’s been some confusion as the press
scrambles to keep up with him and get enough access to report
what’s going on.

Much of the coverage of the trip has focused on how little access
journalists who report on the State Department have had. Members
of the press have been very vocally complaining because only
one reporter, from the conservative Independent Journal Review,
is traveling with Tillerson.

Some reporters, like MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, have been
using commercial airlines to follow Tillerson’s travels but
have not been traveling with him.

And the Independent Journal Review reporter, Erin McPike,
initially did not file stories (or even tweet) from the
trip. (This course of action was reversed by IJR early Saturday
morning. McPike filed a spot story and started to tweet in
real-time).

Several Washington, DC, bureau chiefs from prominent news
organizations sent a letter to the State Department saying
they’re “deeply concerned” about the whole arrangement.

The lack of access has led to some confusion about
Tillerson’s status throughout the trip.

The Korea Herald reported Friday
that Tillerson didn’t have a lunch or dinner gathering scheduled
with South Korea officials and that “the US side opted not to
have a meal together, citing the secretary’s ‘fatigue.'”

The story gathered steam when The Washington Post’s Glenn
Kessler tweeted
it, writing Tillerson “cut short” his trip to South Korea.
Bloomberg foreign policy reporter Nicholas Wadhams responded,
explaining Tillerson didn’t cut his trip short and there was
never a dinner on the schedule.

In subsequent tweets, Wadhams noted
that Tillerson hadn’t left Seoul yet, and that while the
traveling press, including Bloomberg, the Associated Press,
Reuters, and NBC News, were not in a press pool, they were
staying in the same hotel as Tillerson and staff.

But there have been difficulties — Wadhams said the
traveling press “couldn’t keep up” because Tillerson flew into an
air force base that morning. Since reporters aren’t on his plane,
they’ve had to book their own travel.

“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,” MSNBC’s Mitchell
said
 recently on-air. “A key component of foreign policy
is being undercut by this.”

Moreover, the reporters who followed Tillerson to Asia
haven’t been allowed into some events. Fox News was allowed
into one meeting
in South Korea, but other reporters were
blocked. A local embassy official told reporters that it was
Tillerson’s decision.

CNN’s Jake Tapper emphasized
last week
that Tillerson not bringing press on the trip was
“insulting to any American who is looking for anything but a
state-run version of events.”

Tillerson made major news on the trip when he
said
that if North Korea elevated “the threat of their
weapons program to a level that we believe requires action,” a
military response from the US would be on the table.

President Donald Trump
followed up this statement
with a tweet saying North Korea
had been “behaving very badly” and that China had done “little to
help.” Tillerson heads to China next on his trip.

Despite the controversy over the trip, Scott Snyder, a senior
fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations,
cautioned against making any judgment on the success or failure
of the trip too soon.

“I know there’s a lot of swirl about all this and obviously the
difference in style between Tillerson and his predecessors has
brought a lot of attention,” Snyder told Business
Insider,
 “but in terms of what he’s accomplishing
it’s a little bit too early to make a judgment.”

And Trump’s tweet, which some viewed as a further escalation of
tensions, could even be a good thing for Tillerson.

“Trump knows Tillerson is out there,” Snyder said. “Tillerson is
perceived to be kind of marginalized in a way, and a few timely
tweets on issues that Tillerson is immediately working on, in a
way, it provides good news for Tillerson.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to note that
McPike filed a story early Saturday morning and started to tweet
from the trip.