|Henry Kissinger looking very excited next to Jill St. John|
Did the practice of holding mid-air press briefings during SecState official visits begin with Henry Kissinger? I can't recall any earlier SecState being the kind of media star that Kissinger became, to his obvious great enjoyment. Or later Secretaries, either. Powell and Rice, for instance. I don't recall them having press retinues. Certainly they both valued their private lives, and kept them separate from their public lives. Kissinger, of course, went the other way, and made his public life the basis of his celebrated private life, at least for quite a few years back in the 70s.
Silent Rex is a return to the all-business model. In his one and only press interview during his current trip to East Asia he explained why he feels no need to bring a gaggle of reporters along. His reasons boil down to a rejection of Washington DC's invented tradition of mid-air press briefings, the presence of overseas press bureaus in his destination countries, and a preference for working rather than schmoozing with reporters while he travels.
Transcript: Independent Journal Review's Sit-Down Interview with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson:
EM: Are you concerned about the message that you might be sending China by not taking a traveling press pool with you into China, which restricts press access. There’s obviously been a lot of uproar over press access to you, especially on this trip. Will you ever do this again?
RT: This what? You mean this … where I don’t take —
RT: Look, it’s driven by a couple of things. Primarily it’s driven — believe it or not, you won’t believe it — we’re trying to save money. I mean, quite frankly, we’re saving a lot of money by using this aircraft, which also flies faster, allows me to be more efficient, and we’re going to destinations that, by and large, the media outlets have significant presence already, so we’re not hiding from any coverage of what we’re doing. The fact that the press corps is not traveling on the plane with me, I understand that there are two aspects of that. One, there’s a convenience aspect. I get it. The other is, I guess, what I’m told is that there’s this long tradition that the Secretary spends time on the plane with the press. I don’t know that I’ll do a lot of that. I’m just not … that’s not the way I tend to work. That’s not the way I tend to spend my time. I spend my time working on this airplane. The entire time we’re in the air, I’m working. Because there is a lot of work to do in the early stages. Maybe things will change and evolve in the future. But I hope people don’t misunderstand ... there’s nothing else behind it than those simple objectives.
EM: I have heard the cost savings issue, but there has been such an uproar. Does that bother you or do you take their message, especially, like I said, going into China and the restriction of the press there?
RT: Well, as I understand it, most major news outlets have presence in China. They have bureau offices. They have people there. So it’s not like they can’t cover what’s happening there. The only thing that’s missing is the chance to talk more in the air.
EM: Well, that’s —
T: There’s not going to be anything, in terms of access, visibility is what we’re doing, there isn’t any other, that I can see, there’s nothing else to it.
EM: Right so your answer is you don’t intend to change this model for your next trip.
I think we may safely assume he will not change this model of restrained enthusiasm for the press corps.
By the way, in fairness to the middle-aged Henry Kissinger of the '70s, he was not the only one to be impressed by Jill St. John, who, evidently, enjoyed the political-celebrity lifestyle back then. Kissinger was not made of stone.
P.S. - As I type this, Jill St. John is being interviewed on Turner Movie Classics. What a long career! Especially for an actress who was in only one or two movies, and no memorable ones. She might outlast Kissinger, who himself is still getting around in his 93rd year.