Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently held a briefing call that only “faith-based media” were permitted to attend, according to CNN, and the State Department indicated it will not make public a transcript or list of attendees.
Pompeo held the call ahead of his trip to the Middle East, with the discussion centering on “international religious freedom.” While one member of the department’s press corp initially received an invitation to the call, CNN said it was later revoked then the individual RSVP’d.
The reporter was told that the call was for “faith-based media only.” When CNN attempted to RSVP for the call, the network received no reply.
The State Department received numerous inquiries and complaints over the issue but 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” — nor did they answer questions regarding the range of faiths included.
CNN noted that Religion News Service attended to call, according to an article on its website, even though it “is not a faith-based media organization, but rather a secular news service that covers religion, spirituality and ethics,” per its own description.
The article said, "While it was not clear which outlets were part of the call, questions were asked by Religion News Service, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Algemeiner, World Magazine and The Leaven, the newspaper of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. America Magazine also participated in the call.”
According to CNN Global Affairs analyst John Kirby, who is a former State Department spokesperson, the handling of the briefing call was not standard practice, saying typically “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," Kirby told CNN.
He added that although particular journalists or columnists might be targeted for a specific topic on occasion, "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.”
"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.