The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is demanding the State Department reinstate a National Public Radio (NPR) reporter who was barred from traveling with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on an upcoming trip abroad.
Sen. Robert Menendez’s call comes a day after reports emerged that the department was blocking NPR from covering the secretary’s trip to Europe and Central Asia in retaliation for a contentious interview the secretary had with another reporter from the news outlet last week.
“Punishing a credible U.S. news outlet by kicking their reporter off of the Secretary’s plane is something we would expect from an authoritarian dictator,” said the New Jersey Democrat in a statement Tuesday.
Just one day prior, the State Department Correspondents’ Association said the department denied NPR reporter Michele Kelemen a seat on Mr. Pompeo’s plane for the trip.
The reporter was not directly involved in the disputed interview in which NPR host Mary Louise Kelly claimed she was ridiculed and shouted at by the secretary in his private office at department headquarters after an interview last week in which he had resisted her questions about the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
Over the weekend, Mr. Pompeo defended himself against the claims and alleged the journalist “lied” to him about the topic of the interview, and “chose to violate the basic rules of journalism and decency.”
Mr. Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate panel, hit back at the latest escalation and said “it is completely unacceptable for the chief diplomat of the United States to imitate President Trump’s penchant for treating the press like the enemy.”
He called on his congressional colleagues to “defend the First Amendment and call upon the Secretary of State to reinstate NPR’s participation in his upcoming travels.”
“We have a responsibility to stand up for the fundamental right of free expression and free press,” he said.
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