NPR's Mary Louise Kelly Defends Press Freedom After Mike Pompeo Interview

The "All Things Considered" co-host says the secretary of state's personal attack on her is "not the point."

NPR journalist Mary Louise Kelly wants to make sure “the substance” of her contentious interview with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo doesn’t get lost in the coverage of him attacking her.

“There is a reason that freedom of the press is enshrined in the Constitution,” the “All Things Considered” co-host wrote in a New York Times op-ed published Wednesday. “There is a reason it matters that people in positions of power — people charged with steering the foreign policy of entire nations — be held to account. The stakes are too high for their impulses and decisions not to be examined in as thoughtful and rigorous an interview as is possible.” 

Kelly pointed out that during her interview with Pompeo on Friday, he didn’t provide specific answers to her questions.

“Journalists don’t sit down with senior government officials in the service of scoring political points,” she wrote. “We do it in the service of asking tough questions, on behalf of our fellow citizens. And then sharing the answers — or lack thereof — with the world.”

Pompeo abruptly ended the interview with Kelly after dodging her questions about the removal of the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

According to Kelly, Pompeo berated her after the interview. He accused her of lying about the parameters of the interview, used a string of expletives and challenged her to point out Ukraine on a map, she said.

On Saturday, Pompeo issued a statement that didn’t deny the exchange and escalated his attack on Kelly, apparently claiming the veteran national security reporter — who has a master’s degree in European studies from Cambridge — pointed to Bangladesh.

Pompeo followed up on that statement Wednesday and attempted to defend his conduct by couching it in his displeasure with NPR’s 2015 reporting on the Iran nuclear deal.

NPR accepted $100,000 in funding that year from the Ploughshares Fund, an advocacy group that promotes nuclear arms control and supported the Iran deal. An internal review found the funding didn’t influence NPR’s reporting on the deal.

Pompeo told The Associated Press at the time he’d repeatedly sought an NPR interview to push back on the Iran deal and was denied. NPR says it has no record of these requests but did give airtime to 21 other congressional voices who opposed the deal.

In apparent retaliation, the State Department excluded NPR reporter Michele Kelemen from the core group of reporters covering Pompeo’s trip to Europe and Central Asia this week.

A spokesperson for the State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday on Kelly’s op-ed.

Pompeo, in his furious response to the interview, claimed Kelly “is another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this Administration.” His language echoed similar anti-press rhetoric from his boss.

Trump, who routinely attacks reporters and the press, on Tuesday praised Pompeo’s performance.

Ryan Grenoble contributed reporting.