Washington — NPR is demanding answers from the State Department after one of its reporters was dropped from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's five-country trip through Europe and Central Asia in the wake of a contentious exchange he had with NPR host Mary Louise Kelly.
John Lansing, NPR's president and CEO, and Nancy Barnes, its senior vice president of news and editorial director, sent the State Department a letter Tuesday asking Pompeo to confirm whether diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen was removed from the trip and whether she or any other NPR reporters will be excluded from future official trips with the secretary.
The NPR leaders also want the State Department to explain its justification dropping Kelemen from the trip and reverse the move.
Kelemen was designated by the State Department Correspondents' Association in early January to serve as the radio pool reporter during Pompeo's swing through Europe and Central Asia, documenting and disseminating information to other radio reporters not traveling with the secretary. She also received information about the trip from the State Department's press office.
"By this letter, we are providing you an opportunity both to explain and reverse any decision to remove Ms. Kelemen as the radio pool reporter for the trip," Lansing and Barnes wrote to Pompeo and Marik String, a department legal adviser. "If we do not receive a satisfactory response from you justifying this decision before tomorrow, when the trip is scheduled to depart, we, like the SDCA, will have no choice but to conclude that Ms. Kelemen was removed from the trip in retaliation for the content of NPR's reporting."
The State Department's move to deny Kelemen a seat on Pompeo's plane came after NPR aired an interview between Kelly and Pompeo on Friday, during which he objected to questions Kelly asked about Ukraine and former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who was abruptly recalled from her post in Kiev last year.
Kelly, co-host of NPR's "All Things Considered," said that after Pompeo ended the interview, she was called into his private living room at the State Department where he shouted and swore at her, and demanded she locate Ukraine on an unlabeled map.
On Saturday, Pompeo released a statement accusing Kelly of lying and said her decision to share the details of their interaction was "shameful."
It was after the State Department published its statement that Kelemen received word from the agency that she had been removed from Pompeo's trip.
The decision prompted criticism from the State Department Correspondents' Association and the White House Correspondents' Association, both of which defended Kelemen and NPR and said it was evident the move was retaliatory.
"The State Department's apparent attempt to take punitive action against a news outlet for its reporting is outrageous and contrary to American values," the White House Correspondents' Association said in a statement.
Pompeo departed Washington on Wednesday morning for the trip to the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and will return February 4.