State Department retaliates against NPR after Pompeo meltdown

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The State Department's attacks on the press are part of a larger trend within the Trump administration.

The State Department banned an NPR reporter from traveling with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on an upcoming international trip, in apparent retaliation for a different NPR reporter asking Pompeo tough questions about Ukraine.

On Monday, the State Department announced that NPR's Michele Kelemen would not travel with Pompeo on a trip to Europe, despite her previous plans to do so, according to NBC News. The State Department Correspondents' Association said the action was a form of retaliation against NPR.

"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," Shaun Tandon, president of the SDCA, said in a statement. "We can only conclude that the State Department is retaliating against National Public Radio as a result of this exchange."

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An NPR spokesperson told NBC News that the State Department did not give Kelemen a reason for kicking her off the trip.

On Friday, Pompeo reacted poorly when a different NPR reporter, Mary Louise Kelly, asked him questions about Ukraine. Kelly questioned Pompeo as to why he made no apparent effort to defend former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch when Yovanovitch was being pushed out of her post. When Pompeo denied the allegation, Kelly cited Pompeo's former senior adviser Michael McKinley, who testified under oath to Congress that he resigned in part because Pompeo refused to stand up for State Department diplomats.

After the interview concluded, Pompeo angrily ranted at Kelly, using foul language and questioning Kelly's intelligence. At one point, according to Kelly, Pompeo told an aide to bring a blank world map into the room and demanded Kelly correctly identify Ukraine, which Kelly did.

Following the exchange, the content of which Kelly reported out, Pompeo attacked Kelly's integrity. Pompeo claimed he never agreed to speak about Ukraine in the first place, though Kelly has emails showing she told Pompeo's aide she would be asking about Ukraine. He also claimed his rant against Kelly was off the record, but Kelly said she never agreed for the conversation to be off the record. In a statement, Pompeo accused Kelly of being part of an "unhinged" and anti-Trump media.

Trump's impeachment revolves around allegations he withheld military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure the government to open politically motivated investigations — and reporters have long been frustrated with the State Department for stonewalling on the topic of Ukraine throughout Congress' impeachment investigation.

According to an October 2019 Politico story, reporters accused the State Department of ignoring their questions about Ukraine. Media requests about Ukraine "kind of disappear into the ether," one reporter told Politico. Another accused the State Department of being "basically on lockdown."

The action taken against NPR is not the first time the State Department has retaliated against reporters.

In 2019, Jessikka Aro, a Finnish investigative journalist, was set to receive the State Department's "Women of Courage" award for her work exposing Russian propaganda efforts. But the State Department rescinded the award invitation after department officials uncovered social media posts from Aro that were critical of Trump, Foreign Policy reported.

"Mike Pompeo has been uniquely hostile to the media, effectively, since he took over as Secretary of State," Garrett Graff, a reporter for WIRED Magazine, told CNN on Saturday. "He most seems to bristle — he gets angriest and most condescending — in interviews with female journalists," Graff added.

Pompeo's attitude toward the media reflects a broader hostility toward the press by the Trump administration as a whole. Trump himself regularly refers to the media as "the enemy of the people," even after journalists for U.S. publications have been murdered here in America and around the world.

Since Trump took power, the White House has repeatedly tried to deny press credentials to reporters who have been critical of the administration. In 2018, the White House attempted to revoke the credentials of CNN's Jim Acosta. In 2019, the White House took away credentials from Playboy's Brian Karem.

In both instances, the federal court overruled the White House decision.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.