According to former Obama State Department flack (and former Time magazine editor) Richard Stengel, when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refuses to answer shouted questions from hostile liberal NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, America’s top diplomat “empowers” authoritarian regimes around the world.
On Mitchell’s 12 p.m. ET MSNBC show on Friday, Stengel wailed: “And when people see that our own Secretary of State doesn’t bring journalists with him, that he doesn’t take questions, that he’s not transparent, what that does is it empowers these autocratic countries to not take questions themselves....it implicitly empowers these autocratic regimes.” Mitchell replied: “I agree with you completely.”
At the top of the show, Mitchell played a clip of herself yelling questions at Tillerson during a N.A.T.O. meeting in Brussels: “What would you like to see N.A.T.O. do on ISIS, Mr. Secretary?! Would you possibly take a few questions, sir?!”
She later teed up Stengel to denounce the Trump cabinet official: “...he left here without taking questions. He continues to avoid, you know, media interactions....What about the public diplomacy aspects of the job, which you know so well, that was part of your mandate?”
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It has become a favorite pastime of Mitchell’s to hurl questions at Tillerson during photo-ops with world leaders and other public appearances in order to get footage of him not responding. She then goes on television and breathlessly accuses the Secretary of avoiding the press. All of it done in an effort to portray herself as the heroic journalist taking on the stonewalling Trump administration.
While it’s certainly fair for journalists to request more access to government officials and want their questions answered, it’s completely irresponsible to accuse those officials of somehow aiding brutal dictators when they chose not to engage with journalists in a particular instance.
Here are excerpts from Mitchell’s March 31 MSNBC show:
12:01 PM ET
ANDREA MITCHELL: And Presidential Envoy. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson here at N.A.T.O. headquarters, calling on N.A.T.O. to do more against terrorism.
REX TILLERSON: We want to discuss how we can build on N.A.T.O.’s already important involvement in the fight to defeat ISIS and other counterterrorism actions that N.A.T.O. can provide that ultimately bring stability to the Middle East. So I'm delighted to be here and it's good to see all of you.
MITCHELL: What would you like to see N.A.T.O. do on ISIS, Mr. Secretary?! Would you possibly take a few questions, sir?!
12:37 PM ET
ANDREA MITCHELL: And Rick Stengel, he [Secretary of State Rex Tillerson] left here without taking questions. He continues to avoid, you know, media interactions. He did have a news conference in Turkey yesterday. What about the public diplomacy aspects of the job, which you know so well, that was part of your mandate?
RICK STENGEL [FMR. U.S. UNDER SECY. OF STATE]: Yes, I think it’s unfortunate, Andrea. When you’re the Secretary of State, you are, in effect, the ambassador for American foreign policy around the world. You are the representative of that. You’re the articulator of that.
And when people see that our own Secretary of State doesn’t bring journalists with him, that he doesn’t take questions, that he’s not transparent, what that does is it empowers these autocratic countries to not take questions themselves. And to not, you know, be transparent. He just came from Turkey, where Turkey imprisons more journalist than any other country in the world, and he only brought two American journalists and didn’t take questions. What that does is it implicitly empowers these autocratic regimes.
MITCHELL: And I agree with you completely. He did take two questions at a news conference, I understand, but he certainly did not bring in the press corps as previous secretaries going back to Harry Kissinger all have. And that’s a very important symbol as well.