One member of “regular media” was invited then disinvited.

On March 18, the U.S. State Department announced a conference call to the media with Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State on the subject of international religious freedom. However, only “faith-based media” institutions were invited to attend. The only reporter from a secular or “regular” media house was first invited and then disinvited. Pompeo is scheduled to visit the Mideast later this week.

Michelle Kosinski, a CNN senior diplomatic correspondent, first reported the faith-centric restriction. She came to know when one member of the press corps was invited and then disinvited as the media house did not meet the criteria of being “faith-based.” The New York Post was informed by the U.S. State Department about the event not being open to all reporters and expressed regret about any accompanying confusion.

When other reporters asked the State Department about this matter, a representative of the Department said that such occurrences are commonplace. Furthering the confusion of the press brigade, the spokesperson declined to confirm as to whether the call happened and who the attendees were. No official replies were uttered about the subjects of discussion either. A statement given to an inquiring media house stated that the State Department regularly engages in a wide spectrum of media activities. A few of such activities are open to any reporter affiliated with any domestic or international media companies. It then went on to inform the reader other engagements could be audience-specific or targeted towards a specific topic or region.

For most reporters who do the Washington beat, such an explanation makes no sense. It is true that briefings are frequently targeted towards journalists known for covering specific subjects. However, insisting on reporters from being “faith-based media” is a different ball game altogether. Andrea Mitchell, an NBC reporter who was stopped from attending the call, said she was hard-pressed to remember any other instance where religion was used to test journalists. Kosinski said all reporters covering Secretary of State Pompeo would be keen to have information concerning religious freedom via a conference call before the government functionary flies to the Mideast. It was puzzling, she said, to restrict it to a few scribes. Some reporters slammed the Department’s move, stating it as a violation of the First Amendment and pointed out that such an arrangement also breaks the separation wall between church and state.

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