Friday, February 24, 2017

The big question

From Washington Post Newsletter (via email, Feb 24)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department building in Washington on Feb. 8. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)</p>
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department building in Washington on Feb. 8. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

The big question

While President Trump certainly isn’t afraid to mix it up with the media, his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has been near-silent in the weeks since he took office. Tillerson has endured wave of criticism in recent days for supposedly neglecting his public diplomacy duties, staying out of the media and the public eye. Reporters are also concerned by the fact that the State Department has yet hold its usual daily briefings under the new administration. So we asked Post political correspondent Anne Gearan: How difficult has it been to cover the State Department under Trump?

“It's been easy — unless you want to actually get information.

There is pretty much nothing to cover day to day, since there are no press briefings and very few appearances or announcements involving Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The daily briefing is a State Department staple going back some 50 years. It's never been on hiatus this long, and it's not clear how or when the Trump administration will reinstate it.

Tillerson has taken two short foreign trips, and on neither of them has he taken the usual complement of reporters and photographers. He's given no speeches and no interviews. The beat reporters typically cover all of that routinely, alongside trying to break news and explain important foreign policy developments.

“It's easier and more straightforward to get questions answered when the State Department is running normally, with the top offices filled and empowered spokespeople in place. That's not the case now. It's Home Alone over there. There are exactly two Senate-confirmed people on the job: Tillerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

“But breaking news is never easy no matter what administration you're covering, and in that sense not much has changed. I try to talk to as many people about as many topics as I can, in and out of the State Department. There will always be people who have an interest or agenda in talking and there will always be people whose interest is the opposite.

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