ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the release of a report by the National Petroleum Council on oil drilling in the Arctic, on March 27, 2015, in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Evan Vucci/AP

Tillerson: ‘I’m not a big media press access person’

About a month ago, Politico reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was concerned about public perceptions surrounding his work. The more people – inside the United States and around the world – believed the former ExxonMobil CEO was out of the loop when it came to the White House’s major foreign policy decisions, the harder it would be for him to do his job.

To that end, the report said Tillerson “asked his aides to find ways to improve his media profile.”

A month later, either Tillerson’s priorities have changed or someone has changed his priorities for him. Slate explained:
It was already clear Secretary of State Rex Tillerson doesn’t really see the press as a priority. He has avoided public events and broke with tradition by refusing to allow journalists to join him on his first major mission to Asia. Now he has made his dislike of the media official, telling conservative outlet Independent Journal Review, the only one allowed to accompany Tillerson on his trip, that he sees journalists as mere pawns to transcribe the administration’s message.

“I’m not a big media press access person,” he said. “I personally don’t need it.”
Of course, in his capacity as the nation’s chief diplomat, Tillerson’s needs aren’t nearly as important as our needs. He now helps speak for 326 million Americans, not the stock holders of an oil giant.

Traditionally, secretaries of state have seen interaction with journalists as an integral part of the job. Tillerson – who, like Trump, had literally zero experience in public service before joining the administration’s cabinet – doesn’t seem to care.

It’s a posture that doesn’t do anyone, including Tillerson, any favors. Last week, for example, South Korean media outlets reported that Tillerson skipped an important meeting because he was sleepy. The secretary of state insisted soon after that those reports were false. What’s the truth? I have no idea, though if there were American reporters traveling with Tillerson, I do know he would’ve found it vastly easier to get his side of the story out more efficiently.

All of this comes as part of Tillerson’s first foreign trip, which doesn’t appear to have gone especially well. The State Department is being marginalized and ignored in ways without modern precedent; having a rookie secretary of state acting like an amateur won’t help matters.