A Finnish investigative journalist spoke out Sunday against the Trump administration for pulling her “International Women of Courage” award after she snapped back on Twitter to President Donald Trump’s tweet attacking the media.
“I still stand by what I said and what I tweeted,” Jessikka Aro said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” “I think that President Trump’s attacks against the media are disgraceful.” Yanking her award was contrary to the “whole idea” of honoring courage, she said.
Aro was to be given the award last month to honor a series of investigative articles about how the Kremlin’s social media propaganda machine is impacting international societies and elections. She was one of the first individuals outside Russia — even before the U.S. presidential election — to identify the Internet Research Agency as a Kremlin troll farm funded by a crony of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Her work quickly made her a target of the same vicious Russian trolls.
Aro said she was “just so happy” to learn that she had won the award. She was particularly pleased for the recognition because her work had “cost me so much” as the target of coordinated online hate attacks. (Watch her interview above.)
Aro communicated with the State Department and the U.S. embassy over months about the presentation ceremony, her visa, other travel arrangements and her itinerary, according to documents viewed by CNN. Then, just two weeks before she was to head to the U.S. for her award presentation in Washington, the honor was suddenly rescinded. The State Department chalked it up to a mysterious “regrettable error.” Officials never offered Aro any further explanation.
But just days earlier, officials had asked for her social media accounts. Aro also responded to a Feb. 17 tweet by Trump attacking the media as the “enemy of the people.” Aro shot back: “The Kremlin doesn’t need any troll factories as long as it has YOU trolling on behalf of it!”
The award was withdrawn Feb. 22. Her response to Trump and other tweets critical of the president triggered the decision to rescind the honor, sources told Foreign Policy magazine.
It’s not known who made the decision. The awards were presented last month by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Aro said she was “horrified” to learn the reason for the cancellation of her honor.
She told Foreign Policy last month: “I use Twitter to exchange ideas and share information freely. I find the idea of U.S. government officials stalking my Twitter and politicizing my perfectly normal expressions of opinion deeply disturbing.”
Aro’s communication with the State Department has been obtained by Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They’ve called for an investigation by the State Department’s inspector general.
“If the department rescinded the award because of statements made by a journalist, exercising her right to freedom of speech, it would mean that the department is using political fealty to the president as an eligibility criteria for receiving a government award designed to highlight courage,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the committee’s ranking Democrat.