A journalist who covered Vice President Pence's visit to the Mayo Clinic this week says Pence's office punished him after revealing that visitors were told to wear masks on the trip — a rule the vice president government's own guidance.Pence faced criticism for forgoing a mask during the visit, which violated Mayo Clinic policy and the
Steve Herman, the White House bureau chief for Voice of America, told The Washington Post that Pence's staff banned him from traveling on Air Force Two after Herman's reporting contradicted Pence's narrative about the mask policy.
The Mayo Clinic has a policy requiring visitors to wear masks to help contain the spread of coronavirus. After photos showed Pence was the only person without a mask during his tour of the Minnesota clinic on Tuesday, his wife Karen Pence told Fox News the vice president wasn't aware of the policy until after his visit.
But Herman reported otherwise, writing on Twitter that all who traveled with Pence "were notified by the office of @VP the day before the trip that wearing of masks was required by the @MayoClinic and to prepare accordingly." Herman covered the trip as a pool reporter.
Herman said the tweet enraged Pence's staff, who said he had violated off-the-record terms for a planning memo sent before the visit — which said masks are required for everyone traveling with the vice president. But Herman's tweet came two days after the trip had already happened.
Herman said in a statement to The Washington Post, "My tweet speaks for itself. We always have and will strictly adhere to keeping off the record any White House communications to reporters for planning purposes involving logistics that have security implications prior to events...All White House pool reporters, including myself and my VOA colleagues, take this very seriously." He declined further comment to CBS News. (Herman has previously contributed reporting from Tokyo to CBS News.)
Herman said he learned about the punishment through the White House Correspondents' Association, which did not immediately comment to CBS News. Pence's office declined to comment.
The Mayo Clinic said in a now-deleted tweet that it told Pence about the mask policy before his visit. The clinic said in a later statement that it had told Pence's office but not the vice president himself.
The CDC has recommended that all Americans wear face masks in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain - a suggestion President Trump said he will not follow.
Voice of America is a news organization that is funded by the U.S. government, but editorially independent. Mr. Trump has often criticized VOA's coverage, and the White House in April even issued a statement accusing the outlet of promoting Chinese "propaganda" through its coronavirus coverage.
VOA said in a statement to CBS News that it "adheres to the highest journalist standards" and that its charter requires it to "be accurate, objective, and comprehensive" in its coverage of the U.S. government.
A Wall Street Journal reporter who also covered Pence's trip, and tweeted that "we were all told the day before we had to wear a mask if we entered the clinic," did not receive the same reaction from Pence's office, according to the Post.
Two days after visiting the Mayo Clinic, Pence wore a mask during a tour to a General Motors plant in Indiana that is now making ventilators.