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Rex Tillerson, President Trump’s secretary of state, addressed the media firestorm around his decision to deny access to a traveling press pool during his recent trip to China.
In an interview with the Independent Review Journal, Tillerson said the denial sprung from a need to save money, as well as his own personal preference, rather than a conscious decision to withhold information from the press and American public.
“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. I’m just not … that’s not the way I tend to work,” Tillerson said.
He added: “I spend my time working on this airplane. The entire time we’re in the air, I’m working. Because there is a lot of work to do in the early stages. Maybe things will change and evolve in the future.”
Only one reporter, from the right-leaning Independent Review Journal, directly accompanied Tillerson on his Asia trip.
Tillerson also defended his actions by saying that many media outlets already have a substantial presence in the nations he plans to vist.
“They have bureau offices. 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,” he said. The press pool often takes time to speak to government officials one-on-one when in the air about issues they may otherwise not have the opportunity to address.
Tillerson said that whether or not he would take a traveling press pool with him would 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,” he said.
Though critics have said that being accessible to the press encourages more accountability and transparency from government officials, Tillerson feels differently. “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.”
He added that he feels his relationship with the press is that it is an important tool to help him communicate with the American public, but that if he’s in the middle of a decision-making process, he will not communicate extensively with the media.
“We can be very frank, open, and honest with one another and then we’ll go out and we’ll have something to share about that, but the truth of the matter is, all of the tactics and all of the things were going to do you will know them after they’ve happened,” he said.