Washington, D.C., January 28, 2020 — The U.S. State Department should allow reporters from National Public Radio to cover the department freely and without harassment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On January 24, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo berated NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly following an interview, according to a report from the broadcaster. The next day, the State Department issued a statement on its website, signed by Pompeo, which accused Kelly of lying and referred to the country’s media as “unhinged.”
Pompeo’s comments came after Kelly asked questions about U.S.-Ukrainian relations during an interview, according to NPR’s report.
Yesterday, the department barred Michele Kelemen, an NPR correspondent, from traveling aboard Pompeo’s plane as a radio pool reporter on an upcoming trip to Europe and Central Asia, according to news reports. NPR said it was not given a reason for Keleman’s exclusion, according to those reports.
“A public announcement under the seal of the Department of State carries great weight and should be used to defend press freedom, not berate or belittle a reporter for diligently doing her job. The treatment of NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly and the exclusion of Michele Keleman from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s plane are disturbing. At the very least, they and NPR are owed an explanation,” said CPJ’s Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney, in New York.
“Furthermore, as increasingly embattled independent media outlets around the world look to the United States for support, referring to U.S. media organizations as ‘unhinged’ casts doubt that the U.S. can be counted on to stand up for critical media,” Mahoney said.
In a statement circulated on social media, the State Department Correspondents’ Association, an organization of journalists who cover the department, said it “can only conclude that the State Department is retaliating against National Public Radio” as a result of the exchange between Pompeo and Kelly.
Today, President Donald Trump praised Pompeo’s handling of the situation, saying, “That reporter couldn’t have done too good a job on you yesterday. I think you did a good job on her, actually,” according to news reports.
CPJ called and emailed the State Department for comment, and emailed the White House, but did not receive an immediate response from either office.