Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has a track record of outbursts and outright hostility toward members of the news media.
His treatment of NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly is just the latest in a pattern that has alarmed press advocates.
Historically, the State Department has promoted the values of a free press all around the world. Pompeo hurls put-downs instead.
“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,” Kelly said on NPR Friday night.
Other reporters have experienced similar eruptions in the past.
One veteran on the beat told CNN of being “chewed out” by Pompeo in response to the person’s news coverage of the State Department. Pompeo profanely accused the reporter of “hating Donald Trump” and toeing the Democratic party line.
Because of these spats, Pompeo has acquired a reputation for being thin-skinned and focused on pleasing President Trump.
He was perturbed during Friday’s NPR interview because Kelly asked about the Ukraine scandal.
He repeatedly said that he agreed to come on Kelly’s show, “All Things Considered,” to “talk about Iran,” not Ukraine. Kelly said she confirmed with Pompeo’s staff “that I would talk about Iran and Ukraine.”
After Kelly asked several other pertinent questions, a State Department aide stopped the interview; then, after Pompeo left the room, the aide brought her to the secretary’s private quarters and unleashed a profanity-laced tirade. The exchange was not recorded.
“He was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine,” Kelly explained on “All Things Considered.” “He asked, do you think Americans care about Ukraine? He used the F-word in that sentence and many others.”
Kelly, who has a master’s degree in European studies, said Pompeo questioned her intelligence, asking if she could find Ukraine on a map.
“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,” she said.
A trail of frustration
Reporters across Washington, DC, expressed shock about how Kelly was treated. But some were not surprised – for they’ve been on the receiving end in the past.
“Mike Pompeo has been uniquely hostile to the media, effectively, since he took over as Secretary of State, in line with many other trump officials,” reporter Garrett Graff, who profiled Pompeo for WIRED Magazine, said on CNN’s “New Day.”
“He most seems to bristle – he gets angriest and most condescending – in interviews with female journalists,” Graff said.
He cited several examples, including Pompeo’s October 2019 exchange with Nancy Amons, an interviewer from a TV station in Nashville.
Pompeo accused Amons of “working at least in part for the Democratic National Committee.”
He criticized PBS “NewsHour” anchor Judy Woodruff the same way. When Woodruff accurately noted that “there’s been no proof of any misdoing on the part of Vice President Biden,” Pompeo said, “If you keep on repeating that line, it’s as if you’re working for the DNC.”
David Sanger, a national security correspondent for The New York Times, said in a Times Q&A on Friday that he wasn’t surprised by Pompeo’s most recent confrontation.
“Mr. Pompeo is known for a bombastic, contentious style,” Sanger said. “He can be thin-skinned. He’s had a contentious relationship with a number of reporters, pushing back at their questions.”
Speaking on CNN, legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers pointed out that Democrats are pressing for Pompeo to testify in the ongoing Senate impeachment trial.
Citing Pompeo’s combustibility while being questioned, Rodgers said, “If they manage to get him on the stand, who knows what could happen.”