Conservative news site sole media outlet on Tillerson’s trip to Asia

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson comments on visa and travel issues.

By Yeganeh Torbati

OVER THE PACIFIC OCEAN (Reuters) – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson travels to Asia this week accompanied by a single reporter, a White House correspondent for the Independent Journal Review (IJR), a founded digital news outlet in 2012 by former Republican politicians. operational.

The IJR said in a statement late Tuesday that the State Department last week offered one of its reporters, Erin McPike, a place aboard the secretary’s plane on its trip to Asia this week.

State Department officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on why IJR and McPike were chosen to travel with Tillerson.

The State Department had previously told reporters covering Tillerson’s trip to South Korea, Japan and China that he would not take the journalists on his plane and that they would have to fly commercially, breaking decades of precedent dating back to Henry. Kissinger.

Major news organizations complained, including the BBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post and Reuters.

McPike is a White House correspondent for IJR, and previously reported for CNN, Real Clear Politics, NBC News, and National Journal, according to a statement on the IJR website when he joined the site in February. He also briefly covered the 2016 election campaign for Reuters.

“We do not take this opportunity lightly and acknowledge the controversy surrounding media access for the trip,” said Alex Skatell, founder and CEO of IJR, in a statement Tuesday.

“Last week, the State Department officially offered McPike the opportunity to cover the secretary’s upcoming trip to Asia. An official explained that the delegation would fly on a smaller plane than normal and that access to the press would be limited. After an editorial consultation, McPike accepted the seat. “

So far, McPike has not produced any “joint reports” that reporters traveling with a Secretary of State often file, informing colleagues who are not with the Secretary of the statements or actions of the top US diplomat.

The State Department Correspondents Association, which represents reporters covering American diplomacy, said in a statement that it was “disappointed” that Tillerson chose to travel to Asia without a full contingent of media “or even an ordinary reporter.”

“After saying that it could not accommodate the press on the secretary’s plane to Asia due to space and budget constraints, the State Department offered a one-sided seat to a reporter,” the statement said.

“Several of our members have traveled commercially to meet Secretary Tillerson on the ground in Asia. We hope that the diplomatic press corps will have access to Secretary Tillerson equal to that given to the reporter on the plane.”

An IJR spokesperson, Matt Manda, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether McPike would submit joint reports to his colleagues or whether IJR had any comments on the SDCA statement.

For decades, secretaries of state have almost always invited the media to travel with them. In rare cases, particularly at the end of a secretary’s term, invitations have been turned down by some media, such as former secretary John Kerry’s trip to Saudi Arabia in December 2016.

Republican secretaries of state Alexander Haig, George Shultz, James Baker, and Condoleezza Rice used to take 10 or more journalists on their trips abroad, including to conflict zones like Lebanon and Central America.

Until Tuesday, just hours before Tillerson’s scheduled departure date, the State Department declined to confirm whether there would be any reporters on the Tillerson plane.

Acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday that the agency was considering “having a seat available” on its plane.

“Frankly, we have made it very clear that this is a smaller footprint everywhere, and this is the Secretary’s decision, to travel with a smaller footprint,” Toner said. “To some extent, it is a cost saving measure.”

News organizations that travel with US officials pay the US government for the cost of their air travel.

Prior to founding IJR, Skatell worked for the National Republican Senate Committee and for the Republican Governors Association, according to his LinkedIn (NYSE 🙂 profile. Another founder, Phil Musser, previously served as executive director of the Republican Governors Association and served in the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the George W. Bush administration.

The conservative-leaning outlet, which bills itself as a digitally savvy news source for millennials, has 35 million monthly readers and more than 50 reporters, according to its website. Skatell told the New York Times in 2014 that he wanted to start a site after observing a gap in reaching “a more mainstream center-right audience.”

IJR reports on a wide range of political and national news, specializing in short articles with powerful headlines. Tuesday’s trending headlines on the site included “Planned Parenthood Executive Makes Huge Humiliating Mistake By Going On Tucker Carlson’s Show” and “Democratic Congressman Warned Not Once, Not Twice, But Three Times, Then Officials So handcuffed “.

(Report by Yeganeh Torbati on a flight from San Francisco to Seoul; Additional report by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Sam Holmes)