Home/Daniel Larison/Pompeo’s War on the Truth Continues

Pompeo’s War on the Truth Continues

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in a press conference with U.S. President Donald J. Trump during the NATO Foreign Ministerial in Brussels on July 12, 2018. (State Department photo/ Public Domain)

Mike Pompeo keeps lying about his meltdown and his petty retaliation against NPR from last week. Aigerim Toleukhanova, a Kazakh journalist, pressed him on this issue in an interview during his recent trip there:

QUESTION: Okay, let’s turn to the question about rights and press freedom. Last year RFE-RL journalists were physically attacked while doing their jobs, multiple times, and authorities have made no progress to try to find those responsible. Before you departed to this trip you had a confrontational interview with a National Public Radio reporter, and after that trip your department removed another NPR reporter from the press pool. Did you retaliate against NPR? What kind of message does it send to countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus, whose governments routinely suppress press freedom?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I didn’t have a confrontational interview with an NPR reporter any more than I have confrontational interviews all the time. In America that’s the greatness of our nation: Reporters like yourself get to ask me any question and all questions. We take hundreds and hundreds of questions. We talk openly. We express our view; they ask their questions. That’s how we proceed in America. And with respect to who travels with me, I always bring a big press contingent, but we ask for certain sets of behaviors, and that’s simply telling the truth and being honest. And when they’ll do that, they get to participate, and if they don’t, it’s just not appropriate – frankly, it’s not fair to the rest of the journalists who are participating alongside of them.

It is good that Pompeo has to keep answering questions about his obnoxious behavior, and I hope journalists here in the U.S. won’t let the matter drop. As usual, Pompeo refuses to tell the truth about what happened and what he did. The fact is that Pompeo blew up at Mary Louise Kelly, an NPR reporter, because she embarrassed him with a legitimate question about his failure to defend State Department officials, and then he tried to smear her by accusing her of lying to him when his meltdown became public knowledge. Then he penalized the news organization that Kelly works for by barring another one of their reporters from the press pool for his overseas trip. The question about retaliation is a fair one, and it is typical that Pompeo can’t respond to it without telling more lies about all of it. He even has the gall to present himself as a defender of honesty and journalistic ethics in the process.

The second question that Toleukhanova asks is an important one. When a U.S. Secretary of State throws around baseless accusations of dishonesty against journalists because one of them has irritated him with an embarrassing question, he is showing other governments that this administration won’t care if they attack journalists in their countries using the same mendacious tactics. Toleukhanova wasn’t satisfied with his nonsense answer, and she pressed him again on this point:

QUESTION: But what kind of message will it send?

SECRETARY POMPEO: It sends a message – it’s a perfect message. It’s a perfect message about press freedoms. They’re free to ask questions. There were – there’s a reporter from that very business who was at a press conference just yesterday. It’s wide open in America. I love it. I hope the rest of the world will follow our press freedoms and the great things we do in the United States.

In true Trumpian fashion, Pompeo turns his appalling behavior on its head and declares that he is sending a “perfect message” about press freedom. He wants to intimidate journalists and discourage them from asking him questions that expose his failures as Secretary of State. That isn’t going to work, but it does send a message to other governments that Pompeo has no problem with this kind of behavior. No doubt Pompeo is just catering to the president’s hostility to the press for his own selfish reasons, but it will have the effect of encouraging other governments to harass and penalize journalists for doing their jobs on the assumption that doing this doesn’t bother the current administration.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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