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No One on the Public Podium for American Diplomacy


Acting spokesman Mark Toner tells VOA the State Department will continue to be responsive to media queries and requests, but will not hold an on-camera daily press briefing the week of Feb. 6-10.

The State Department plans no daily briefings this week, an unprecedented situation that has been the status quo since the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

Acting spokesman Mark Toner told VOA the State Department will continue to be responsive to media queries and requests, but will not hold an on-camera daily press briefing the week of February 6-10. He said officials "look to resume daily press briefings at the soonest possible time.”

The last time there was a daily briefing at the State Department was on January 19 when spokesman John Kirby, a political appointee and retired Navy admiral, made his final appearance at the lectern.

Career foreign service officers in the press office, since then, have continued to be responsive to correspondents’ requests for comment via e-mail or in person. But the lack of daily briefings this many days into a new administration is deemed unprecedented by veteran reporters and others.

The State Department’s briefing “is America’s most important daily platform for discussing world affairs. If we don’t take to the podium our voice is often absent in important global debates,” said former U.S. diplomat Brett Bruen, the president of the Global Situation Room strategic communications firm.

“Other nations continue to churn out media briefings for broadcast. Adversaries such as ISIS are producing video content daily. America needs to be on camera contesting that space. Without it our influence is diminished and our policies put in peril,” Bruen, also a former director of global engagement at the White House, told VOA.

The White House is conducting daily on-camera briefings on weekdays, with spokesman Sean Spicer presiding. But the majority of the interactions with correspondents there, and now from around the country via Skype, focus on domestic issues.

The State Department briefings center on international crises and are a daily deep dive into diplomacy, with frequent incisive questioning to elucidate arcane matters of administration policy. The spokesperson at the State Department lectern usually does not hesitate to engage in rapid back-and-forth and extensive exchanges with reporters.

While the front-row wire service reporters kick it off asking about major current events abroad, typically following brief “readouts” from the spokesperson, time is also allotted to foreign correspondents, including those from countries with unfriendly policies towards the United States. Scribes from special interest publications and web sites, such as those representing the interests of the Kurds or the Palestinians, are also frequent questioners.

These exchanges in the press briefing room and live-streamed via the state.gov website are what are now on hiatus while the new administration formulates its foreign policy.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was not confirmed by the U.S. Senate until last Wednesday and made his official debut at the Truman Federal Building the following day.

The top layer of appointed deputies remains vacant. No one has yet been nominated for the two most critical deputy secretary of state posts, as well as the under secretaries. In the top echelon of appointees, only the ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, the former governor of the state of South Carolina, is on the job.

A successor to Kirby, as the top spokesperson, also has not been named.

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