Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a news conference with the Saudi foreign minister in Riyadh on Sunday, but he left the American media behind.
State Department spokesperson R.C. Hammond said Tillerson — who was traveling with Donald Trump on his first foreign trip as president — was invited at the last minute to participate in a news conference with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir. Only foreign media were invited.
“Regrettably, there was not enough time to alert or make arrangements for U.S. media to participate. Under different circumstances, U.S. media would have been alerted,” Hammond said, in a rare admission of an error by the administration. “Steps were immediately taken to ensure a transcript could be produced and distributed to reporters. Ideally, members of the U.S. press corps should have had the option to attend the press conference and ask questions.”
Tillerson and Jubeir had taken a few questions from U.S. reporters on the trip on Saturday. Tillerson is also now expected to speak to reporters on Air Force One en route to Israel on Monday.
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said U.S. reporters “were not excluded at all” and that Tillerson had agreed to join the news conference “on the spot.”
A rushed transcript by the Daily Mail’s David Martosko was sent out to the White House pool on Sunday, transcribed from Saudi TV. The State Department later sent out an official transcript to the entire press corps.
The U.S. secretary of state has at times had a strained relationship with the reporters who cover him. The State Department has not been holding regular daily press briefings, as previous administrations did, and on his first trip to Asia, Tillerson did not take any pool reporters, instead cherry-picking a White House reporter from the conservative-leaning viral news site Independent Journal Review for an exclusive interview.
The reporter did not act as a pool reporter, sharing material with other news outlets, but did publish the transcript of her interview, along with a longer feature piece on Tillerson. In that interview, Tillerson was less than enthusiastic about media access and said the status of pool reporters would be “trip dependent.” On his next trip, Tillerson allowed two reporters acting as a pool to accompany him.