Washington (CNN)The State Department defended its record on openness to the press Wednesday, announcing that it would restart daily press briefings and possibly give reporters outside of Washington access to the news conferences via remote video capabilities.
The agency issued a statement after a CNN story Tuesday reporting that the department’s daily televised briefing hadn’t taken place since January 19 and that information typically available about officials’ trips, phone calls and meetings has slowed since the inauguration of the Trump administration.
“The Department of State continues to provide members of the media a full suite of services,” acting spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement. “The Department has answered 174 questions from reporters in the United States and around the globe in the past 24 hours alone.”
The State Department is responsible for explaining US foreign policy to the country and the world, and is the only agency outside of the White House that traditionally speaks publicly every day through a televised news conference.
Beyond communicating to US taxpayers how the government is representing their interests overseas, that daily briefing and public outreach by the department serves to put the global community — both friends and enemies — on notice about American priorities and interests.
Since Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took the helm February 2, there has been little in the way of communication about Foggy Bottom’s priorities, schedules or policies. Current and former State Department staffers and observers have said that might be a function of Tillerson getting settled into a new and enormously challenging job.
They also point to the possibility that the White House may be seeking to take the lead on foreign policy. And they flag a nuts-and-bolts problem: Many leadership positions at State remain unfilled, leaving staff without direction.
As a former ExxonMobil CEO, Tillerson himself comes from a corporate culture that isn’t particularly open to the press.
And a careful silence might seem safer for now, one former State Department official suggested, given that the administration’s foreign policy has included many mixed messages, with President Donald Trump publicly establishing positions that other Cabinet members have publicly rejected.
While Trump has questioned NATO and floated the idea of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials have reaffirmed the US commitment to NATO, while US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has said the US remains committed to a two-state solution.
The State Department on Wednesday said that regular press briefings conducted by a spokesperson will resume but did not provide details on when that might happen. It added that “the department is also exploring the possibility of opening the briefing to reporters outside of Washington, DC via remote video capabilities.”
That practice has recently begun at the White House and some media watchers have described it as a way for the spokesman to avoid answering questions from regular White House press that the administration has criticized.