Under scrutiny for declining to bring the diplomatic press corps on his trip to Asia this week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended his decision in an interview published Saturday, saying that he simply doesn’t make press access a priority.
“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,” Tillerson told the Independent Journal Review.
“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,” he continued. “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.”
Tillerson did not bring a crew of reporters on his trip abroad, breaking with State Department tradition. The Secretary of State only invited a reporter from the conservative outlet Independent Journal Review, and she did not file pool reports making other reporters aware of Tillerson’s activities. The press complained about the lack of access.
In a statement, the State Department Correspondents Association said that the group “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.”
Earlier in the interview, Tillerson said that he decided not to bring several reporters on the trip to save money and because it would allow him to get more work done while traveling.
“The fact that the press corps is not traveling on the plane with me, I understand that there are two aspects of that. One, there’s a convenience aspect. I get it. The other is, I guess, what I’m told is that there’s this long tradition that the Secretary spends time on the plane with the press. I don’t know that I’ll do a lot of that,” he said. “That’s not the way I tend to work. That’s not the way I tend to spend my time. I spend my time working on this airplane.”
He also argued that some media outlets with bureaus in China would still be able to cover his trip.
Asked if this will be his policy going forward, Tillerson said, “It’s gonna be trip dependent. It doesn’t mean we won’t, but we’re gonna look at every trip in terms of what my needs are.”