January 17, 2020

Update 3/9/20: CREW received one final email in response to our request, which show a State Department employee responding to news coverage of the call saying “This is NOT a good look for the US.”

CREW obtained records of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s March 18, 2019 “faith-based media” briefing, released in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The records include a transcript of the call and reveal the exclusive list of media outlets that were allowed to participate. The call touched upon the topic of “Islamic radicalism,” yet it did not include any Islam-focused outlets. 

The briefing was controversial because certain reporters were barred from the call and even disinvited after RSVPing, despite the fact that the purpose of the call was ostensibly to fill in reporters in advance of Secretary Pompeo’s diplomatic trip to the Middle East. It appears that even more reporters than originally known were excluded from the call after RSVP-ing. Several were told they were invited in “error.” Publications that were sent invitations but later excluded from the call include the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, CNN, NBC, AFP, Reuters, and Bloomberg. 

At the time, State Department officials refused to answer questions about whether a range of religions were included. It appears that they were not, and that in fact, only journalists from Christian and Jewish outlets were allowed to participate. The records also confirm that a representative from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was set to participate in the call as late as the morning of March 18, but was apparently disinvited by 4:15 that afternoon, when the call took place.

Even State Department officials appear to have been baffled by the exclusivity of the briefing, calling it “strange,” “highly unusual” and even saying “I’ll keep scratching my head.” One staffer said that blowback from reporters and the public was the State Department Bureau of Public Affairs’s “mess to handle.”

Read the documents from the State Department here.