Secretary of State Tillerson: I’m not a big media press access person.

Secretary of State Tillerson: I’m Not a Big Media Press Access Person

Secretary of State Tillerson: I’m Not a Big Media Press Access Person

The Slatest
Your News Companion
March 19 2017 1:52 PM

Secretary of State Tillerson: I’m Not a Big Media Press Access Person

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson looks during a press conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se in Seoul on March 17, 2017.

JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

It was already clear Secretary of State Rex Tillerson doesn’t really see the press as a priority. He has avoided public events and broke with tradition by refusing to allow journalists to join him on his first major mission to Asia. Now he has made his dislike of the media official, telling conservative outlet Independent Journal Review, the only one allowed to accompany Tillerson on his trip, that he sees journalists as mere pawns to transcribe the administration’s message. “I’m not a big media press access person,” he said. “I personally don’t need it.”

Tillerson also defended his decision by saying that not taking reporters along saves 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,” he said. Plus, Tillerson added, media outlets already have correspondents where he is traveling “so we’re not hiding from any coverage of what we’re doing.”

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The former ExxonMobil CEO said things aren’t likely to change in the future, hinting that he wants to continue operating the same way he did when he was the head of a private company. “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. I’m just not … that’s not the way I tend to work,” he said. Plus, everyone needs to remember “I’ve been very successful diplomatically for over 25 years.” And a reason for that success, he says, is because he didn’t talk to the press very much. But don’t worry, “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.”

Despite Tillerson’s dismissive comments about the importance of journalists, the failure to have reporters aboard his plane did contribute to the propagation of what he describes as a false story line. On Friday, the Korea Herald cited sources saying that Tillerson canceled evening events because he was feeling “fatigue.” He vehemently denies that was the case.

“They never invited us for dinner, then at the last minute they realized that optically it wasn’t playing very well in public for them, so they put out a statement that we didn’t have dinner because I was tired,” Tillerson said. But his denial came after the story spread quickly around the world.

Journalists quickly took to Twitter to express concern about the way the country’s chief diplomat apparently sees the role of the press.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.