State Department Gets New Spokesperson From ‘Fox and Friends’
Out with the old, in with the president’s favorite cable programming.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s unusually quiet spokesperson has a new voice.
On Monday, the State Department announced that Heather Nauert will take over as spokesperson, replacing acting spokesperson Mark Toner, a career foreign service officer who served in postings across the world including Senegal, Poland, and Belgium.
Nauert comes to the State Department after 15 years as a television anchor and correspondent, most recently at Fox News, where she covered breaking news on the, according to the official State Dept. release, “top-rated morning cable news show, ‘Fox and Friends.’”
The State Department’s public diplomacy, including relations with the press, has come under plenty of scrutiny in the Trump administration. Tillerson prefers to run the department like he did ExxonMobil, shunning reporters and limiting transparency. In a break with tradition, Tillerson decided not to have reporters accompany him on overseas trips.
The department has also been slow to embrace the daily press briefing — an important symbol of transparency in U.S. foreign policy that began under Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in the 1950’s — cancelling it for weeks at a time, and holding briefings only occasionally. The daily briefings are important not just for reporters, but for audiences around the world. Foreign leaders use the briefings to figure out U.S. foreign policy, as do many U.S. diplomats stationed overseas.
Toner, a career holdover from former President Barack Obama’s administration, was sometimes seen as the lone voice publicly defending human rights in an administration that’s shunned such foreign policy priorities. Toner issued statements on topics as varied as reports of detentions and deaths of gay men in Chechnya; the referendum in Turkey that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe condemned and over which Trump congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; and speaking out against the law in Hungary that would clamp down on academic freedom by effectively closing Central European University. The State Department did not immediately respond to request for comment on what’s next for Toner.
Nauert has covered terror attacks in Orlando and San Bernardino, the 2008 financial crisis, and genocide in Darfur. She also tweeted in support of Ivanka Trump’s clothing line after Nordstrom dropped the brand, criticizing Nordstrom for “caving to liberal pressure,” though those tweets appear to have since been deleted.
Still standing, however, are some of her musings on international relations. On Feb. 10 she complained about Iranians protesting Trump’s election. “After the billions the US sent to #iran we get this…,” Nauert posted, apparently referring to Iran’s ability to access its own previously frozen funds as part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
She also hailed Trump as a “new sheriff in town” on Russia after his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, censured Russian aggression in Ukraine. “Well if Donald Trump does fight back, how is that not a new sheriff in town? You’re talking about consistency, it’d be totally different that what President Obama did and how he reacted,” Nauert said.
From now on, Nauert’s take on international affairs is going to be for a bigger — and more critical — audience.
Photo credit: Monica Schipper/Getty Images
Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin