Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lambasted a reporter with NPR last week and said the news media had become “unhinged” after he was asked questions about Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
Toward the end of the nine-minute interview, NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly asked Pompeo if he owed Yovanovitch an apology for not defending her in the face of a robust smear campaign launched by various allies of President Donald Trump, which ended in her abrupt removal in April 2019. When Kelly pressed Pompeo to point to an instance in which he had stood up for Yovanovitch, Pompeo abruptly ended the interview.
But minutes later, when Kelly agreed to leave her recorder and followed an aide to Pompeo’s private living room, he reportedly went on a profanity-laced tirade, questioning her knowledge of Ukraine and the American public’s interest in the Eastern European nation, which has become the epicenter of Trump’s ongoing Senate impeachment trial.
The next day, after Kelly had shared details of the previous evening’s incident on “All Things Considered,” the radio show she co-hosts, Pompeo issued an official statement, alleging that Kelly had lied to him in promising to restrict the interview to Iran, and in agreeing to keep their post-interview conversation off the record.
“It is shameful that this reporter chose to violate the basic rules of journalism and decency,” Pompeo said. “This is another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this Administration. It is no wonder that the American people distrust many in the media when they so consistently demonstrate their agenda and their absence of integrity.”
Pompeo also implied that when he asked Kelly to identify Ukraine on a blank map, she erroneously pointed to Bangladesh, the South Asian country which is more than 3,600 miles away. Kelly denied both assertions and later provided The Washington Post with emails between herself and Pompeo’s aide, which showed that Pompeo’s office had agreed to the interview without any preconditions.
When the aide, Katie Martin, asked Kelly if she would agree to “stick to Iran as the topic as opposed to jumping around,” Kelly responded, “I am indeed just back from Tehran and plan to start there. Also Ukraine. And who knows what the news gods will serve up overnight. I never agree to take anything off the table.”
Martin then replied: “Totally understand you want to ask other topics but just hoping…we can stick to that topic for a healthy portion of the interview…Wouldn’t want to spend the interview on questions he’s answered many times for the last several months.”
The controversy was not over, as NPR appeared to face further retaliation from the State Department on Monday when a different NPR reporter was barred from the press pool traveling with Pompeo to Europe and Central Asia. The removal of the journalist prompted the State Department Correspondents’ Association to push back on the decision.
“The State Department Correspondents’ Association protests the decision to remove NPR correspondent Michele Keleman from Secretary Pompeo’s plane on his upcoming trip to Europe and Central Asia,” said Shaun Tandon, an AFP reporter who serves as the association’s president.
“The removal of Michele, who was in rotation as the radio pool reporter, comes days after Secretary Pompeo harshly criticized the work of an NPR host. We can only conclude that the State Department is retaliating against National Public Radio as a result of this exchange,” Tandon continued.
NPR was also defended by the White House Correspondents’ Association, whose president, ABC Chief White House Correspondent Jon Karl said: “The State Department’s apparent attempt to take punitive action against a news outlet for its reporting is outrageous and contrary to American values.”
On Tuesday, NPR asked the State Department in a letter for an explanation for the decision to remove Keleman from the press pool. A response has not yet been received and NPR said it plans to continue pushing for answers until they emerge.