| OVER THE PACIFIC OCEAN, March 15
OVER THE PACIFIC OCEAN, March 15 U.S. Secretary
of State Rex Tillerson is traveling to Asia this week
accompanied by only one reporter, a White House correspondent
from the Independent Journal Review (IJR), a digital news outlet
founded in 2012 by former Republican political operatives.
The IJR said in a statement late Tuesday the State
Department last week offered one of its reporters, Erin McPike,
a place aboard the Secretary's aircraft on his trip this week to
State Department officials did not immediately respond to
requests for comment on why IJR and McPike were chosen to travel
The State Department had previously told reporters covering
Tillerson’s trip to South Korea, Japan, and China that he would
not be taking reporters on his plane and that they would have to
fly commercially, breaking with decades of precedent stretching
back to Henry Kissinger.
Major news organizations complained, among them the BBC,
CNN, New York Times, Washington Post and Reuters.
McPike is a White House correspondent for IJR, and
previously reported for CNN, Real Clear Politics, NBC News, and
National Journal, according to a statement on IJR’s website when
she joined the site in February. She also briefly covered the
2016 election campaign for Reuters.
"We don't take this opportunity lightly and recognize the
controversy surrounding press access for the trip," Alex
Skatell, IJR's founder and chief executive, said in a statement
"Last week, the State Department officially offered McPike
an opportunity to cover the secretary's upcoming trip to Asia.
An official explained that the delegation would be flying on a
smaller plane than normal and that press access would be
limited. After editorial consultation, McPike accepted the
For decades, secretaries of state have nearly always invited
media to travel with them. In rare cases, particularly late in a
secretary's tenure, some outlets have declined the invitations,
such as for former Secretary John Kerry's December 2016 trip to
Republican secretaries of state Alexander Haig, George
Shultz, James Baker, and Condoleezza Rice routinely took 10 or
more journalists on their overseas trips, even to conflict zones
such as Lebanon and Central America.
Up through Tuesday, just hours before Tillerson was
scheduled to leave, the State Department declined to confirm
whether there would be any reporters on Tillerson’s plane.
Acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a phone
briefing with reporters on Tuesday that the agency was
considering "having a seat available" on his plane.
"We've been very clear, frankly, that this is a smaller
footprint all around, and this is the Secretary's decision, to
travel with a smaller footprint," Toner said. "To some degree,
it's a cost-saving measure."
News organizations that travel with U.S. officials pay the
U.S. government for the cost of their air travel.
Before founding IJR, Skatell worked for the National
Republican Senatorial Committee and for the Republican Governors
Association, according to his LinkedIn profile. Another founder,
Phil Musser, previously served as executive director of the
Republican Governors Association and served in the Department of
Housing and Urban Development during the George W. Bush
The conservative-leaning outlet, which bills itself as a
digitally savvy news source for millennials, has 35 million
monthly readers and more than 50 reporters, according to its
website. Skatell told the New York Times in 2014 that he wanted
to start a site after observing a gap in reaching "a more
mainstream center-right audience."
IJR reports on a wide range of political and national news,
specializing in short items with punchy headlines. Trending
Tuesday headlines on the site included "Planned Parenthood
Executive Makes Bigtime Humiliating Mistake of Going on Tucker
Carlson's Show" and "Dem. Congressman Warned Not Once, Not
Twice, But Three Times — Then Officers Put Him in Handcuffs."
(Reportng by Yeganeh Torbati on a flight from San Francisco to
Seoul; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington;
Editing by Sam Holmes)