Tuesday, January 28, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He cheered on abuse of reporters.

Last Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had an interview with National Public Radio's Mary Louise Kelly that didn't go well for him. Pompeo had hoped to talk about Iran, but Kelly asked about his support of State Department personnel in light of what the Trump administration—and Trump's private associates—had done to the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. 

After the interview concluded, Pompeo summoned Kelly to a private room and berated her. He cursed at her and asked her, "Do you really think Americans care about Ukraine?" He also demanded that she identify Ukraine on an unmarked map. Kelly, who has a master's degree in European studies from Cambridge, did so. She then reported on the encounter, prompting Pompeo to lash out again, calling her a liar and saying she'd broken a promise not to ask about Ukraine. (Kelly provided proof that she had made no such promise.)

Pompeo also released a statement in which he insinuated—but wouldn't say directly—that Kelly pointed to Bangladesh, an Asian country thousands of miles from Ukraine, on his surprise map quiz. He then barred another NPR reporter, Michele Kelemen, from participating in the press pool for an upcoming overseas trip.

Trump, who has a long history himself of losing his temper when challenged by women, singled Pompeo out for praise today at a White House event this morning. "Very impressive, Mike," he said, adding that Pompeo "did a good job on her."

As a prominent critic of the administration noted afterwards, Trump would have been unlikely to pass Pompeo's test. He has gotten incredibly basic facts about wrong even since taking office: putting Ireland in the United Kingdom, accusing Baltic leaders to their faces of war crimes committed by countries in the Balkans, and telling the prime minister of India that that country does not share a border with China. (It does, it's several thousand miles long, and it's a hugely important factor in the relationship between the two countries.)

So what?

  • Attacking the free press for doing its job is what authoritarians do.
  • Presidents who tolerate cowardly and vindictive appointees are responsible for their actions.