State Department only allows 'faith-based media' on secret call

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The State Department refuses to say who was on the call or what was discussed.

The State Department instituted a religious litmus test for reporters who wanted to participate in a Monday press call with Secretary Mike Pompeo.

The department adamantly refused to allow reporters not affiliated with "faith-based media" to participate in the secret press call, and are now refusing to share what was discussed.

The State Department claims that the Monday evening call was about international religious freedom, prompted by Pompeo's upcoming travel to the Middle East. But rather than invite both beat reporters (who regularly cover the State Department) and faith-based outlets, the department intentionally excluded anyone who did not meet their religious litmus test.

The department went so far as to rescind an invitation accidentally emailed to a non-faith-based reporter from the New York Post. The exclusions were first reported by CNN.

NBC's Andrea Mitchel said that she "can't recall religion being a test before for journalists." Mitchell also said that Cabinet secretaries usually provide transcripts for all on-the-record interviews, but the State Department is refusing to do so in this case. They won't even provide a list of who participated and what, if any, criteria were used to determine whether a reporter was religious enough to be invited.

Reporters from CNN tried to RSVP for the call but were ignored. However, a EWTN Global Catholic Television reporter who was not originally invited to participate told CNN they were allowed to join the call after they reached out to the State Department.

In a statement to HuffPost, the State Department defended their decision to exclude reporters based on religion. "The Department regularly engages in a broad array of media activities. Some of those engagements .... are open to any interested domestic or international press," the statement said. "Other engagements are more targeted or designed for topic, region, or audience-specific media. This has always been the case."

The secrecy and lack of transparency did not sit well with former State Department spokesperson John Kirby.

"These officials are public servants," Kirby told CNN. "What they say — in its entirety — is inherently of public interest. It's inappropriate and irresponsible not to observe that obligation."

He added that "to exclude beat reporters from something as universally relevant as religious freedom in the Middle East strikes me as not only self-defeating but incredibly small-minded."

For years, Trump has regularly attacked the media as the "enemy of the people." Now his administration is picking and choosing who gets access to top officials, and they are using a religious litmus test to do it.

That's not only unfair. It's downright un-American.

Published with permission of The American Independent.