politics

Conservative Outlet Gets Lone Media Seat on Tillerson’s Plane

  • State Department had earlier said there was no space for press
  • Independent Journal Review will travel with top U.S. diplomat

A reporter from the conservative-leaning Independent Journal Review got the lone press seat on top U.S. diplomat Rex Tillerson’s plane for his three-stop Asia trip, with the State Department shutting out other media from traveling with him.

The reporter, Erin McPike, accepted an offer to fly with Tillerson after discussion with her editors at IJR, which acknowledged the “controversy surrounding press access for the trip,” founder Alex Skatell said in a statement.

The State Department earlier said Tillerson, who arrives in Japan late Wednesday, wouldn’t take reporters with him because he was traveling on a small plane, drawing protests from the department’s correspondents association.

“The invitation is a testament to McPike’s tenacious, detailed brand of reporting,” Skatell said.

The former Exxon Mobil Corp. chief, who has yet to hold a media briefing in the six weeks since his Senate confirmation, bucked a tradition dating back decades in not taking a full complement of reporters on his trip, which will include stops in Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing. In past cases when press access was limited, the State Department arranged for a journalist to join and send pool reports to other news outlets.

Questioned about the decision this week, acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the agency would make “every effort in the future” to have media on Tillerson’s plane.

Read more: Relief over Tillerson at State Department replaced by unease

The State Department Correspondents Association issued a statement late Tuesday saying it was “disappointed” Tillerson chose to fly without a full contingent of correspondents or a pool reporter.

“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,” it said in the statement.

According to its website, IJR is an “audience first” news organization that looks to “challenge conventional wisdom and traditional coverage.” Skatell, who previously worked for the Republican Governors Association, founded IJR with GOP strategist Phil Musser in 2012.

Toner used a press briefing earlier this month to push back against claims Tillerson was out of touch with his building and shut out from President Donald Trump’s White House on foreign policy. He said Tillerson had focused his first weeks on building relationships at home and abroad and cautioned people to “take a deep breath” over the slow pace of hiring of top deputies, suggesting it was a normal part of any transition.

“I can also assure you that Secretary Tillerson is very engaged with the White House, is very engaged with the president, speaks to him frequently,” Toner said. “I can assure everyone that the State Department’s voice is heard loud and clear in policy discussions at the National Security Council level.”

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