What on earth was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thinking?
In chewing out National Public Radio host Mary Louise Kelly over her tough questions about Ukraine — and then responding to the story about his behavior with barely disguised hostility, the former U.S. representative from Kansas is setting a terrible example.
According to Kelly, after a tense interview, Pompeo “shouted at me for about the same amount of time as the (9-minute) interview itself had lasted. He was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine. He asked, 'Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?' He used the F-word in that sentence and many others."
He then asked the reporter to point to Ukraine on an unlabeled map, which she says she did. (Kelly has a master's degree in European studies at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.)
The next day, Pompeo accused Kelly of lying to him and making off-the-record conversations public, as well as implying she didn’t actually know where Ukraine was located. Shortly afterward, another NPR reporter was denied credentials to accompany Pompeo on an upcoming overseas trip.
None of this is OK. Neither is President Trump’s jesting remark to Pompeo that “You did a good job on her.”
As one of our Kansan of the Year honorees this year, Pompeo was recognized for his role as American’s top diplomat. His treatment of Kelly — and this entire situation — is anything but diplomatic. He’s simply not living up to his title or the State Department’s best traditions.
Reporters ask tough, probing questions. In his role, Pompeo should be expected to hear such questions about Ukraine: Our relationship with that country is at the center of the biggest political story in the country. It would be journalistic malpractice not to press him on the issue and not to dig deeper about the treatment of Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
Journalists from Kansas news organizations would do the same, and rightfully so.
Perhaps Pompeo was having a bad day. It happens to all of us. But that doesn’t explain his decision to double down the next day and the remarkably petty move of denying credentials to another NPR reporter. Those are the actions of a man afraid to be questioned, determined to appear strong.
We believe that Mike Pompeo is better than this. Perhaps when tempers have cooled, he can meet again for a proper, tough interview with Kelly. He can let her know that he appreciates the important role that journalists play in holding those in power to account.
He can show, in other words, that he’s worthy of being named one of our Kansans of the Year.