- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2020

The association of journalists from news organizations that report on the State Department says it believes the department is “retaliating” against National Public Radio — days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sharply criticized an NPR host following a contentious exchange with the outlet.

In a statement Monday evening, the State Department Correspondents’ Association said the department has denied NPR reporter Michele Kelemen — who was not directly involved in the interview at issue — a seat on Mr. Pompeo’s plane for an upcoming trip to Europe and Central Asia.

“We can only conclude that the State Department is retaliating against National Public Radio,” the association said, adding that Ms. Kelemen had been scheduled as part of the association’s pool reporter rotation to have a seat on the secretary of state’s plane and that the association “protests the decision to remove” her.

The statement requested the State Department reconsider and allow Ms. Kelemen to be on Mr. Pompeo’s plane.

The State Department declined to comment on the request.

NPR, meanwhile, said in its own statement Monday night only that “Michele Kelemen was informed that she would not be traveling. She was not given a reason.”

The development comes after NPR and Mr. Pompeo made international headlines over the weekend with conflicting accounts of what occurred leading up to and after an interview that NPR host Mary Louise Kelly conducted with the secretary of state on Friday.

In the interview — audio of which can be found on NPR’s website — Mr. Pompeo responded testily when Ms. Kelly asked about Ukraine and, specifically, whether he owed an apology to Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, whose ouster has figured in President Trump’s impeachment.

Ms. Kelly has said that after the interview, which was cut short by a Pompeo aide, she was taken to the secretary of state’s private living room at State Department headquarters, where he proceeded to shout at her “for about the same amount of time as the interview itself,” cursing repeatedly.

Mr. Pompeo lashed out over the account on Saturday, claiming in his own statement that Ms. Kelly had “lied” to him, first about what the interview was going to focus on and then later that the post-interview discussion between the two would be “off the record.”

“It is shameful that this reporter chose to violate the basic rules of journalism and decency,” the secretary of state said in the statement. “This is another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this Administration. It is no wonder that the American people distrust many in the media when they so consistently demonstrate their agenda and their absence of integrity.”

NPR has defended Ms. Kelly and reported that the State Department aide who brought her into Mr. Pompeo’s private living room following their interview did not say the ensuing conversation would be off-the-record.

In its statement Monday, the State Department Correspondents’ Association noted that Mr. Pompeo had “harshly criticized the work of an NPR host,” before deciding apparently to block Ms. Kelly’s colleague, Ms. Kelemen, from traveling on the secretary’s plane.

The statement noted that Ms. Kelemen “is a consummate professional who has covered the State Department for nearly two decades.”

The association, of which The Washington Times is a member, also noted that “the journalists who cover the State Department are dedicated to informing the public and holding this and every administration accountable by asking questions about the issues of the day.”

“The State Department press corps has a long tradition of accompanying secretaries of state on their travels and we find it unacceptable to punish an individual member of our association,” the association said in its statement, attributed to current association president Shaun Tandon of Agence France-Presse.

The statement went on to say: “The State Department has courageously defended journalists around the world through statements under its seal. The State Department’s professional ethos commits employees to ‘serve with unfailing professionalism in both my demeanor and my actions, even in the face of adversity.’ We are committed to do our part to preserve a respectful, professional relationship with the institution we cover.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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