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NPR Protests State Department Decision To Bar Reporter From Pompeo Trip To Ukraine


We're going to talk now about a story that involves our own colleagues here at NPR. The State Department has denied diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen permission to fly with the secretary of state tomorrow on an official trip that includes Ukraine. NPR is protesting that decision. This follows an interview Friday between my co-host Mary Louise Kelly and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the secretary was unhappy with. This morning, President Trump praised Pompeo for the way he handled the interview.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That reporter couldn't have done too good a job on you yesterday.


TRUMP: Think you did a good job on her, actually.

SHAPIRO: Here to talk about this series of events between the administration and NPR is media correspondent David Folkenflik.

Good to have you here in the studio.


SHAPIRO: First, tell us what has happened involving NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen, who was not directly involved in this interview between Mary Louise and Pompeo on Friday.

FOLKENFLIK: No, although I understand she was present for that interview. Michele is diplomatic correspondent. She covers the State Department. She was intending to head with the secretary and some of his aides, along with a cohort of other reporters, on a trip to begin tomorrow. He was flying to the U.K. and then Kyiv and then several other countries - Belarus, Kazakhstan and others - to cover him. And she was told on Sunday by a relatively junior State Department aide that she would no longer be allowed a seat. She wouldn't be allowed to travel for that.

SHAPIRO: And today, NPR has written a letter to the State Department about its treatment of Michele Kelemen. What does that letter say?

FOLKENFLIK: Right. That letter is to both Secretary Pompeo and his acting chief legal adviser Marik String. The letter notes that she was credentialed to provide a pool - that is, to be the radio reporter in lieu of other radio networks to help provide audio and reporting from the events - and that there was no explanation really given for what happened.

So they - NPR has asked the State Department for a series of policies and procedures that they used to determine why somebody would be removed or allowed to go and on what grounds Michele was discharged. In addition, it has asked the State Department to reverse that decision, saying that, you know, this is part of what we cover. And indeed, John Lansing, in distributing not very long ago this afternoon...

SHAPIRO: John Lansing, NPR CEO.

FOLKENFLIK: Yes, forgive me. Lansing, in distributing that to staff, said today the stakes were more than just a question of if Michele can go on a single trip. He says there are serious issues at stake. Access to those in power is fundamental to our ability to do our jobs. That is bigger than NPR. It is about the role of journalism in America.

SHAPIRO: So while the State Department has not explicitly said that their decision is connected to the interview that took place on Friday, many people have inferred that it is, and NPR is asking the State Department to explain. Remind us what those events were on Friday that began this whole series of events.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the interview led, as Mary Louise had signaled to the State Department aides to the secretary - it had led with questions about Iran, and some of them were tough. And he didn't - as the interview progressed, it was clear that he was increasingly uncomfortable. She then turned to Ukraine and asked questions. And he made clear he didn't want to ask anything at all. This is, after all, one of the key questions in the moment - didn't want to ask anything at all.

And then let's hear what Mary Louise said to you, actually, on this program that day in characterizing what happened after he cut the interview short.



I was taken to the secretary's private living room where he was waiting and where he shouted at me for about the same amount of time as the interview itself had lasted. He was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine. He asked, do you think Americans care about Ukraine? He used the F-word in that sentence and many others. He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map. I said yes. He called out for his aides to bring him a map of the world with no writing, no countries marked. I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away. He said, people will hear about this. And then he turned and said he had things to do. And I thanked him again for his time and left.

FOLKENFLIK: The secretary then, without any grounds for it, without citing any facts, nonetheless released a statement on letterhead of the department the very next day on Saturday calling her a liar on two grounds, although, again, I want to point out, with any - without any substantiating evidence.

SHAPIRO: And in fact, there are emails that contradict Pompeo's claims in that statement. Just briefly, David, put this in a larger context for us with the administration's relationship with journalists over time.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, let's do it two ways, one of which is this is very Trumpian. The idea is you're uncomfortable with a question; you turn it on the interviewer. You make it about the journalist, and you personalize it. The second thing is the sensitivity to Ukraine itself for Secretary Pompeo, for the administration. Right now, the president is undergoing a Senate trial in the well of the Senate over his fate over the very question of how he handled Ukraine.

SHAPIRO: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.