Mike Pompeo criticized for allowing only "faith-based media" on State Department call

Trump's secretary of state is under scrutiny for not releasing a transcript or attendees list from a briefing call

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published March 21, 2019 12:31PM (EDT)

Mike Pompeo (Getty/Kevin Hagen)
Mike Pompeo (Getty/Kevin Hagen)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is raising eyebrows after refusing to release the transcript or list of attendees for a briefing call in which only representative of "faith-based media" were able to attend.

The call in question was an afternoon phone briefing on the subject of "international religious freedom," according to CNN. It was a briefing from which traditional media outlets were notably excluded; a member of the State Department press corps who had initially been invited was spontaneously un-invited, with the explanation being that only members of "faith-based media" outlets were going to participate.

CNN reported that it had also RSPV'd to organizers of the call but received no reply. Religion News Service, meanwhile, ran a piece discussing their own involvement in the Pompeo press call controversy.

"The briefing caused controversy after a member of the State Department press corps reportedly was invited to take part in the call and then disinvited after being told the call was limited to 'faith-based media,'" Emily McFarlan Miller wrote.

"While it was not clear which outlets were part of the call, questions were asked by Religion News Service, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Algemeiner, World Magazine and The Leaven, the newspaper of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. America Magazine also participated in the call. Participants were not told that the call was limited to faith-based media."

She added, parenthetically, that "Religion News Service is not a faith-based media organization, but rather a secular news service that covers religion, spirituality and ethics."

Concerns have been raised in the past about Pompeo's far right-wing evangelical Christian beliefs, with Vox reporting last year that "Pompeo’s specific brand of evangelical Christianity, with its insistence on seeing Muslim-Christian relations as an apocalyptic holy war, makes him an unnerving choice for such a senior foreign policy position." The publication also noted that "during his tenure as CIA director, and before that as a member of the House of Representatives, Pompeo has consistently used language that casts the war on terrorism as a cosmic divine battle of good and evil. He’s referred to Islamic terrorists as destined to 'continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior is truly the only solution for our world.'"

Pompeo has experienced difficulty in the past working with news outlets, including a network like Fox News which has normally been more sympathetic to conservatives in general and President Donald Trump's administration specifically. In December "Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade challenged Pompeo when he claimed that "America has an important ally in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" by pointing out that both the intelligence community and many members of Congress, including a large number of Republicans, believe Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"When you looked him in the eye and he denied it, did you believe him?" Kilmeade asked. Pompeo avoided the question and responded that "the kingdom of Saudi Arabia decides who is running the country. I think this is what the president said yesterday. We are working closely with the kingdom to make sure that America is protected. That’s our interest there."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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