January 29, 2020
The Honorable Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C St NW
Washington, D.C., 20520
Sent via email
Dear Secretary Pompeo,
We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom organization, write to express our concern regarding your treatment of two National Public Radio reporters, and your characterization of the media as “unhinged.”
The State Department plays a central role in communicating U.S. values and promoting democracy and human rights around the world. As secretary, your words and actions have global impact.
CPJ research shows that press freedom is under attack around the world. The number of journalists imprisoned globally remains near record highs, and journalists are regularly harassed, and sometimes even murdered, simply for doing their jobs.
Increasingly embattled independent media outlets around the world look to the United States for support. In November, CPJ arranged a meeting between a group of courageous journalists and Vice President Mike Pence. The journalists, who hail from Brazil, India, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Nicaragua, told the vice president that they were deeply concerned that the polarizing rhetoric around fake news used by President Donald Trump was being emulated by political leaders in their own countries to justify sweeping crackdowns on the media. The journalists told Vice President Pence that they need the United States to be a defender of press freedom and an ally in their efforts to report the news.
Your treatment of NPR reporters Mary Louise Kelly and Michele Kelemen make it more difficult for the U.S. to play this critical role. As America’s chief diplomat, you should be defending essential values, like respect for press freedom, and standing up for the rights of journalists under threat. When you demean members of the press, it empowers leaders in repressive states who censor the news and stifle the free flow of information.
In your November 2019 speech on human freedom, you said that “successful societies in the world are indeed free societies.” For a society to be free, journalists must be allowed to do their jobs without fear of reprisal from government officials. In the same November speech, you said that you “would put America’s exceptional track record up against anyone, anywhere, any time.”
Rather than disparaging journalists who seek to hold power to account, we urge you to use your office to defend the crucial role of journalism in a democracy, and push for better conditions for journalists around the world.
As a gesture of good will, we urge you to publicly explain your actions and make clear that the U.S. government champions independent media organizations, and will stand up for journalists who dare to ask critical questions of government officials.
Committee to Protect Journalists