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State Department bans NPR reporter from traveling with Pompeo after testy interview

State’s one-sided feud with NPR is the latest in the president’s war on the press.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump during a cabinet meeting last October.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

In apparent retaliation for a reporter asking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a question he didn’t like, the State Department has banned NPR from traveling with the secretary during his upcoming trip to Europe.

The episode illustrates how touchy the Trump administration is to any coverage that isn’t Fox News-style fawning, and is the latest escalation in its one-sided feud with NPR — which has actually gone out of its way to cover Trump fairly.

The State Department Correspondents’ Association responded to the move with a statement saying it “protests the decision to remove NPR correspondent Michele Kelemen from Secretary Pompeo’s plane on his upcoming trip to Europe and Central Asia ... we can only conclude that the State Department is retaliating against NPR.”

Kelemen was reportedly scheduled to serve as the pool radio reporter for Pompeo’s trip, which will take him to Britain and Ukraine.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment; it hasn’t commented to other reporters who have reached out about the situation either. An NPR spokesperson told Vox in a statement that “Michele Kelemen was informed that she would not be traveling. She was not given a reason.”

News that the State Department has banned NPR comes two days after President Trump posted a tweet suggesting he’d like to see it go the way of the dinosaur.

In reality, only 1 percent of NPR’s funding comes from tax dollars, and Trump has already tried to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in each of his budget proposals.

During a White House event on Tuesday, Trump praised Pompeo’s handling of the situation with NPR, saying “That reporter couldn’t have done too good a job on you ... I think you did a good job on her actually.”

Pompeo and company are doling out remarkably harsh punishment in retaliation for a reasonable question

The backstory of NPR’s banishment began last Friday, when veteran correspondent and All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly conducted an interview with Pompeo that went off the rails when she asked him a question about whether he thinks he owes an apology to former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Yovanovitch was ousted last year from her role as part of the Trump administration’s shadow Ukraine diplomacy, bringing an end to her 33-year-long career as a foreign service officer. Even though it has become abundantly clear in the months since that Trump didn’t have good reasons to remove her (though the president is allowed to remove any ambassador for any reason), Pompeo hasn’t offered her any public support.

Instead of answering the question, Pompeo lashed out — something he’s in the habit of doing when reporters ask him questions he doesn’t like.

After repeatedly refusing to answer Kelly’s question at the end of the interview, Pompeo summoned Kelly into his private living room, where Kelly says he profanely berated her and insulted her intelligence by demanding she point to the location of Ukraine on an unmarked map.

Pompeo then followed that up with a statement in which he accused Kelly of lying about the terms of their interview — something Kelly denies — and suggested she was unable to locate Ukraine on a map, writing, “It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine.” (Kelly has a master’s degree in European studies, so Pompeo’s claim is dubious at best.)

So, to recap, Pompeo bullied a reporter and publicly insulted her intelligence, and the State Department has now banned another reporter from her outlet from traveling with him. And Pompeo’s boss weighed in to say he’d like to see the reporter’s outlet go away entirely.

The whole episode is a stark illustration of the severe backlash facing any media outlet’s attempt to critically cover the Trump administration and maintain access to top officials.

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.

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