A secretive State Department briefing restricted to all but faith-based reporters is raising questions among reporters about access and press freedoms.
On Monday evening, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a phone briefing for reporters from the religious press. Secular news agencies—including the main networks and newspapers—were not invited to participate in the call.
The State Dept is holding a special informational call today. But the State Dept press corps wasn’t invited. Being told it’s for “faith-based media only”...— Michelle Kosinski (@MichLKosinski) March 18, 2019
The State Department said it will not release the names of the attendees or transcripts from the meeting.
Despite repeated inquiries and complaints from members of the press corps who are based at the department, the State Department on Monday night said they would not be providing a transcript of the call, a list of faith-based media outlets who were allowed to participate or the criteria to be invited.
Michele Kelemen from NPR wondered why the department was being so secretive: "usually we see a transcript or at least know who was invited. Why not this time?"
Re Pompeo's faith-based media news conference yesterday, the State Dept says some of its media engagements are "targeted or designed for topic, region, or audience-specific media." True, but usually we see a transcript or at least know who was invited. Why not this time?— Michele Kelemen (@michelekelemen) March 19, 2019
In a statement provided to CNN about the call, the department argued that there was nothing inherently out of place in agency regulations about the Monday briefing.
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"Department press briefings, teleconferences on a myriad of policy issues, briefings and sprays by the Secretary of State and other officials," the department said, "are open to any interested domestic or international press."
"Other engagements are more targeted or designed for topic, region, or audience-specific media," the statement added. "This has always been the case."
According to MSNBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, however, that isn't exactly true.
"Can't recall religion being a test before for journalists," Mitchell said in a tweet.
State dept defending @SecPompeo limiting briefing today to “faith based media” saying they regularly do targeted media and “other engagements are more targeted or designed for topic, region, or audience-specific media.” Can’t recall religion being a test before for journalists— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) March 19, 2019
BuzzFeed reporter Dominic Holden asked the department exactly how targeted the event was, he said, and how narrowly defined was "faith based media." Were there Muslim reporters there, Holden wondered?
"They avoided direct questions," said Holden.
I asked State. Dept about its "faith-based media” call — which outlets were invited and how many Muslim reporters were on the call?— Dominic Holden (@dominicholden) March 18, 2019
They avoided direct questions but said some media events are "more targeted." pic.twitter.com/NtipYnmU6k