It was a darn comedy hour in Foggy Bottom on Monday. The A/S for EAP David Stilwell had a press briefing on Chinese propaganda and the free press. When asked a question about Bolton’s book and whether allies in the region have been in touch, the State Department spox asked that the line be muted. A short while later, the spox called on Nick Wadhams of Bloomberg who asked A/S Stilwell “to comment on the message you think it sends to foreign journalists and other people who would be listening to this call that you guys are not willing to take questions on the John Bolton book when you’re also talking about a message of ensuring freedom of the press in the United States?”
A reasonable and necessary question on the free press.
The State Department spokesperson later blasted the Bloomberg reporter for what she considered a “pretty offensive question” and claimed that they “take as many questions as we can.” and “have proven to be available 24/7 to all of you and we will always answer them.” That my friends we can tell you from experience is laughable; we still have unanswered questions waiting under mysterious cobwebs. And we’re definitely not the only ones to let out a guffaw upon hearing that remark.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Finally, as Secretary Pompeo has said, we’re not just comparing apples to apples. The U.S. system guarantees press freedom while China subordinates the press to the Communist Party. We are formally recognizing that fact in today’s action. That’s – concludes the formal comments. I’ll be happy to take your questions.
MS ORTAGUS: Thanks. Next up in the queue, David Brunnstrom, Reuters.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you very much for doing this. I was wondering, slightly changing the subject to former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s book —
MS ORTAGUS: Hey, David, David, that’s not what this call’s about. If you would like to ask about our new policy action today, we’re more than happy to take the question. If not, I can move on in the queue.
QUESTION: Well, I just wanted to ask whether any allies in the region have been in touch with —
MS ORTAGUS: David —
QUESTION: — the assistant secretary on this issue for clarification.
MS ORTAGUS: Thank you, David. Okay. AT&T, we can mute that line. We’ll now go to Will Mauldin, Wall Street Journal.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Thanks, Will. Nick Wadhams, Bloomberg.
QUESTION: Hi, I have two questions. The first question is: Can you – I think you answered this previously. What are the specific numbers when you talk about each of the news organizations CCTV, CNS, People’s Daily, and Global Times?
And Dave, can I also get you to comment on the message you think it sends to foreign journalists and other people who would be listening to this call that you guys are not willing to take questions on the John Bolton book when you’re also talking about a message of ensuring freedom of the press in the United States? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Hey, that’s pretty easy. This one is focused on a guy from the East Asia Pacific bureau who could speak with great fluency to the topic at hand. If you were to ask me the other, is – my answer would be a deflecting “I really don’t know.” I got to tell you, I am not checking that story. I am too busy working this particular issue, so – so I – again, I would rethink that approach to how we’re handling this. You can ask anybody, especially those who are related to this, but for the subject at hand today in the short seven minutes we have left, I would like to talk about the subject at hand.
So you asked about numbers. We don’t know. That’s part of what this is going to identify is that these folks, we have allowed them to come into the country as journalists. Now acknowledging the fact that they are not, we know what companies they work for. They will then have to identify themselves as work – that they do work for these organizations. And then from that, we will have a better accounting for who they are, who is on their personnel rosters, and what real estate holdings they have. So it’s pretty straightforward.
It’s – as I said before, this is housekeeping, right? We’re just cleaning up some broken glass and stuff that we hadn’t really paid a lot of attention to in the past.
MS ORTAGUS: Thanks. We’re already over time, so that’s going to have to be our last question of the day. We will have a statement out around 3 o’clock, and that’s when our embargo will be lifted. However, before I end the call, I do think it’s – I’m going to have to address what I consider a pretty offensive question by Nick Wadhams.
We strive every day to give all of you multiple briefings a day. The Secretary goes to the podium once a week and we take as many questions as we can. We try to be very quick over email in responding to what all of you need. And so if there’s any question about any books by any officials or anything you may have, we’re – have proven to be available 24/7 to all of you and we will always answer them. We like to focus these policy briefings on the policy, but any insinuation that we haven’t made ourselves available or responsive to your questions – Nick’s insinuation is offensive and I just would like to go on the record that that’s totally inaccurate.
HA! HA! HA! There, she said it on the record, and media folks covering the Foggiest Bottom are dying with laughter.
“She argued the State Department's press office is highly responsive.” Hahahahahhahaaaaaaa omg I’m dying https://t.co/CAmmSN99Ni
— Yeganeh Torbati (@yjtorbati) June 22, 2020
A/S David Stilwell: “Secretary of State Pompeo has made clear that mature, responsible countries understand that a free press is essential, which is while I’m talking to you all.”
ON THE SAME CALL, A REPORTERS LINE WAS MUTED WHEN HE TRIED TO ASK A Q RELATED TO THE BOLTON BOOK. https://t.co/EMADsM1f8k
— Christina Ruffini (@EenaRuffini) June 22, 2020
The State Department’s top spokeswoman today muted the line of a reporter asking about John Bolton’s book during a briefing highlighting the importance of a free presshttps://t.co/LB38zU7IJ0
— POLITICO (@politico) June 22, 2020