Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that he’s long had a contentious relationship with National Public Radio on issues relating to Iran and that his recent interview that ended in controversy with NPR host Mary Louise Kelly actually began as an attempt both by himself and the news outlet to mend fences.
While the contentious interview last Friday — and specifically Ms. Kelly’s claim that the secretary of state shouted obscenities at her afterwards — have made international headlines in recent days, Mr. Pompeo suggested the incident can be tied to years-old frustrations.
“There’s a lot of history with NPR and Mike Pompeo and Iran. It goes back to 2015, 2015 where NPR lied,” Mr. Pompeo, who referred to himself in the third person, told reporters traveling with him Wednesday at the start of a 6-day overseas trip.
He went on to highlight his role as a former Republican congressman who sharply criticized NPR for once accepting grant money from a left-leaning organization to fund the news outlet’s coverage of U.S. policy toward Iran — coverage that came as the Obama administration was seeking to generate positive media reporting on its 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
“[NPR] took money from Ploughshares,” Mr. Pompeo said Wednesday. “They were part of the Ben Rhodes echo chamber, and they ultimately had to go on air and say, ‘Yep, it’s true, we took money from Ploughshares and didn’t disclose it’ — after enormous pressure from Congressman Pompeo.”
NPR published a lengthy article in 2016 explaining its actions, acknowledging that it had engaged in a “perceived conflict” and “in some ways a real conflict” of interest. The article noted how a New York Times Magazine profile of Mr. Rhodes — Mr. Obama’s former deputy national security advisor — from earlier that year had revealed how the Obama administration had sought to “use outside groups like Ploughshares” to generate positive coverage of the Iran deal.
The 2016 NPR article also confronted a claim that then-Rep. Pompeo had made to The Associated Press that the news outlet refused to interview him because it was unwilling to give fair coverage to his outspoken opposition to the nuclear deal.
“NPR confirms [Mr. Pompeo] was booked for an August  interview and then that interview was canceled, because there were too many other interviews scheduled,” the article said. “That does not mean NPR was featuring only voices in favor of the deal.”
Mr. Pompeo said he had hoped to overcome that history when he agreed recently to an interview with Ms. Kelly.
“I took a leap of faith with Mary Louise and invited her to the State Department back in December,” the secretary of state told reporters traveling with him. “We had a great conversation. She asked me if I’d give her the favor of granting her an interview. I said, ‘Sure, there’s a lot of history to fix. Let’s talk about Iran.’ She agreed that we would talk about Iran. Then we set up an interview.”
“I hope she finds peace,” Mr. Pompeo added, suggesting he holds to the position he laid out in a statement Saturday in which he accused Ms. Kelly of lying to him about what the focus of the interview would be, and that a post-interview discussion between the two would be off-the-record.
Ms. Kelly has disputed the secretary of state’s characterization of what happened.
In Friday’s interview — audio of which can be found on NPR’s website — Mr. Pompeo responded testily when Ms. Kelly asked about Ukraine and, specifically, whether he owed an apology to Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, whose ouster has figured in President Trump’s impeachment.
Ms. Kelly has said that after the interview, which was cut short by a Pompeo aide, she was taken, without her tape recorder, to the secretary of state’s private living room at State Department headquarters, where he proceeded to shout at her “for about the same amount of time as the interview itself.”
NPR has defended Ms. Kelly and reported that the State Department aide who brought her into Mr. Pompeo’s private living room following their interview did not say the ensuing conversation would be off-the-record.
The incident took a new turn Monday, when the association of journalists from news organizations that report on the State Department said it believed the department was “retaliating” against NPR by baring another of its reporters from traveling on Mr. Pompeo’s plane to cover his current overseas trip.
The State Department Correspondents’ Association, of which The Washington Times is a member, said in a statement that the department had denied NPR reporter Michele Kelemen a seat on Mr. Pompeo’s plane, despite her having been previously scheduled to travel on the plane.
When asked by other reporters who were on the plane Wednesday whether he will talk to NPR again, Mr. Pompeo responded:
“I’m sure I will. I’m sure I will. It’s a — there’s lots of important things. I hope that they’ll do that in a way that’s objective. This is a state-funded entity. I hope that they’ll be objective.”
He added that anyone can go and listen to the recorded part of Ms. Kelly’s interview with him and “judge for yourself whether you think that was a straight, down-the-middle interview or not, looking to really talk about the facts that the American people care about and the things they really value.”
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