Press tantrums on travel slots – does Tillerson need this?
Get a load of this headline hissy fit:
Journalists outraged by Tillerson's plan to travel without press
Tapper: Tillerson traveling without press ‘insulting’
Bureau chiefs ‘deeply concerned’ that Rex Tillerson is ditching the press on Asia trip
Seething U.S. Journalists Angered About Taking Commercial Flights To Cover Secretary Tillerson in Asia…
Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump will regret shunning the press - it leaves others to fill in the gaps
Talk about a flung spoon from the high chair of press privilege. There's been particular fury that Tillerson has chosen a reporter from the Independent Journal Review, a smaller publication of supposedly conservative bent, to travel with him. Don't be so sure about that, press.
As someone who was on these things during the Bush era, let me offer a few pointers on what we are talking about here.
The official traveling press pool accompanies the secretary of state on official trips to places abroad. A group of reporters – as few as four or five or as many as a couple dozen – get onto the Air Force One-like plane to sit in their own section while the secretary takes his own quarters. Payment for the trip ranges from $6,000 for a short trip to $20,000 or so for a longer one, and media must pay their own flight costs to Washington as well as hotel and food for their destinations abroad, with everyone staying in one hotel. The State Department does get reimbursement for its role in putting these packages together, but make no mistake: State does a lot of work to shuttle the press around to ensure they have many events and people to interview. It's all put in front of the reporters as the entourage travels – so there are some major resources taken up for the press's benefit.
While somewhat canned events (no one is permitted to wander around on his own), they are good opportunities for the press to mix it up with foreign as well as domestic officials, since the traveling party setup breaks up some of the suffocating formalism of official Washington. Reporters take selfies with the secretary and speculate with each other about how the secretary handles this or that demand amid all the other demands. During the flight, the secretary comes to the back section with the press for a few minutes and takes questions, and everyone writes or types the answers down.
All the same, the press is no stranger to baby-like behavior while on these things. When I was on one, there were arguments over which questions would get asked during the pool time – reporters had to put their heads together and agree on which questions to ask at the press briefing – putting competitive rivals in the rather anti-trust case situation of collusion even as they held different commercial interests. Some wanted to talk about the Mideast when the topic was free trade. Don't even think about the ideological differences of some, either. There were hissy fits over officials not getting word to reporters about this or that event, and silly little pecking order issues over who was the doyen of the press corps so as to determine airplane seat positions. And I even saw one ask for the secretary's choice of salad to be served at mealtime instead of the prepared sandwiches.
It's a great experience for the press, especially riding in those motorcades that gum up traffic for everyone else, but not anything that can't be accomplished by asking reporters to fly commercial and then meet the secretary at the destination.
What's with those guys having the fits they are having? The headlines have come out like toddlers flinging spoons. One can imagine a serious CEO-type like Tillerson saying to himself that he doesn't need this.