Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talks about reporters assigned to cover him as if he were turning down a waiter’s offer for cheesecake after a lavish meal. Tillerson was criticized this week for not allowing reporters to travel with him on an official trip to Asia, a long-standing custom for the head of the State Department. The former CEO of ExxonMobil wouldn’t even allow a pool reporter on his plane, The Hill reported, despite pleas from the State Department Correspondents’ Association.
Tillerson—who arrived in Beijing on Saturday—did allow a reporter from the conservative Independent Journal Review. In an interview with that reporter, Trump’s secretary of state shared his insight into the role of media in covering him, and presumably other public officials. By all appearances, Tillerson seems to view members of the news media as a dispensable commodity useful—or not—to him alone.
Speaking with the Independent Journal Review about his decision to leave reporters at home, Tillerson said:
I’m not a big media press access person. I personally don’t need it. I understand it’s important to get the message of what we’re doing out, but I also think there’s only a purpose in getting the message out when there’s something to be done. And so we have a lot of work to do, and when we’re ready to talk about what we’re trying to do, I will be available to talk to people. But doing daily availability, I don’t have this appetite or hunger to be that, have a lot of things, have a lot of quotes in the paper or be more visible with the media. I view that the relationship that I want to have with the media, is the media is very important to help me communicate not just to the American people, but to others in the world that are listening. And when I have something important and useful to say, I know where everybody is and I know how to go out there and say it.
Asked by Journal reporter Erin McPike if he was concerned about the message he was sending China, which also restricts media access, Tillerson said he was simply trying to save money:
Primarily it’s [the decision not to allow reporters on the plane] driven—believe it or not, you won’t believe it—we’re trying to save money. I mean, quite frankly, we’re saving a lot of money by using this aircraft, which also flies faster, allows me to be more efficient, and we’re going to destinations that, by and large, the media outlets have significant presence already, so we’re not hiding from any coverage of what we’re doing.
Earlier this week, the State Department Correspondents’ Association put out the following statement, according to The Associated Press:
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.
Several of our members have traveled commercially to meet Secretary Tillerson on the ground in Asia. We expect that the diplomatic press corps will be afforded access to Secretary Tillerson equal to that given to the reporter on the plane.