State Department bars press corps from Pompeo briefing, won't release list of attendees

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 3/19/2019, 10:24 a.m.
The State Department on Monday said it would not be distributing a transcript or list of attendees from a briefing ...
The State Department on March 18, 2019, said it would not be distributing a transcript or list of attendees from a briefing call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held that evening -- a call from which the department's press corps was excluded and only "faith-based media" allowed. Full credit: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

By Michelle Kosinski and Jennifer Hansler, CNN

(CNN) -- The State Department on Monday said it would not be distributing a transcript or list of attendees from a briefing call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held that evening -- a call from which the department's press corps was excluded and only "faith-based media" allowed.

The afternoon phone briefing was to discuss "international religious freedom" with the secretary -- who rarely participates in such calls -- ahead of his trip to the Middle East. One member of the State Department press corps was invited, only to be un-invited after RSVPing. That reporter was told that the call was for "faith-based media only."

CNN also RSVP'd to organizers, asking to be included, but received no reply.

Despite repeated inquires 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.

Officials would not answer questions about whether a range of faiths was included.

A reporter with EWTN Global Catholic Television told CNN they were not originally invited but had asked the State Department if they could take part and were allowed.

Pompeo did take part in an on-the-record briefing with the traveling press en route to the Middle East.

The State Department told the press traveling with Pompeo that the department does not release transcripts for print roundtables. However, they typically release transcripts for all of the secretary's public press engagements.

Former State Department spokesperson John Kirby, who is a CNN Global Affairs analyst, said "it is typical practice that any on the record interview in which a Cabinet official participates is transcribed and published at the earliest appropriate opportunity."

"These officials are public servants. What they say — in its entirety — is inherently of public interest. It's inappropriate and irresponsible not to observe that obligation," he told CNN.

Kirby said he has "certainly seen times when particular journalists or columnists have been targeted for inclusion on given topics." However, "to exclude beat reporters from something as universally relevant as religious freedom in the Middle East strikes me as not only self-defeating but incredibly small-minded," he said.

"It's perfectly fine to ensure faith-based media have a seat at such a table. But it's PR malpractice to cut off access to the broader press corps. I wish I could say I expected more from this crowd," Kirby said.

A State Department spokesperson said in a statement that some press engagements -- "Department press briefings, teleconferences on a myriad of policy issues, briefings and sprays by the Secretary of State and other officials— are open to any interested domestic or international press."

"Other engagements are more targeted or designed for topic, region, or audience-specific media. This has always been the case," they said.