The number of American journalists allowed to witness the one-on-one meeting between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore on Tuesday was limited to seven — a smaller group than would usually be present for such a summit, and one that excluded representatives from the major wire services.
The size appeared designed to match the number of North Korean “journalists” present, according to a press pool, and led to tension between U.S. media and White House officials on the ground in Singapore.
Under normal circumstances, the American pool at this type of event would consist of about a dozen representatives from print, radio and TV, including reporters from The Associated Press, Bloomberg and Reuters. After being excluded earlier, reporters from those wire services were added for coverage of the expanded bilateral meeting that followed Trump’s and Kim’s first meeting, though the pool size remained tight.
“We have worked very hard to provide access to the media at this event and continually expanded coverage throughout the morning,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told POLITICO in an email.
Representatives from the White House Correspondents’ Association, The AP, Reuters and Bloomberg did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Media access at high-level meetings between leaders is usually negotiated far in advance. But a week before the summit, Sanders told POLITICO that the White House was still working out the details. That uncertainty appeared to carry over to the summit itself, where a “tight pool” was designated to witness Trump’s and Kim’s initial meeting. North Korea has nothing like a free press, so it is unclear in exactly what function the North Korean “reporters” were serving.
When the U.S. president meets with leaders of countries with dimmer views of free speech, the American role is typically to push for more access. For instance, President Barack Obama was knocked in 2009 when he met with President Hu Jintao of China but failed to take questions alongside him. Obama was praised in 2014, though, when he insisted on an open news conference alongside Hu’s successor, President Xi Jinping. Trump was similarly criticized on his trip to China last fall when he did not take questions with Xi.
In Trump’s and Kim’s meeting on Tuesday, reporters were allowed access for just a few minutes at the beginning. An American reporter asked Trump how he was feeling, followed by a North Korean reporter asking a question to Kim. The media was then ushered out of the room.