Our media at work

In this weekend’s Review section of the Wall Street Journal Barton Swaim reviews “candidate memoirs” by Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, and Ron DeSantis. It is a graceful and perceptive review.

Pompeo’s Never Give an Inch stands out. However, Swaim seems to chide Pompeo for “devot[ing] so much attention to rehearsing the lies, exaggerations and incompetence of his critics in the news media.” Let us consider this anecdote that Swaim lifts from the book:

In one memorable instance, NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly asked to interview the secretary on the subject of Iran, and he agreed, but all her questions had to do with the president’s dismissal of Marie Yovanovitch as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. An enraged Mr. Pompeo invited Ms. Kelly back to his office, and when she insisted that (in his words) “the ‘Ukraine story’ was the most important news facing the American people,” the secretary presented her with a world map displaying borders but not the names of countries. “I asked her to identify Ukraine,” he recalls. “She put a pen mark on Bangladesh.” Mr. Pompeo acknowledges it was a “mistake” to take things so far, but his inclusion of the story in his memoir, and his use of the reporter’s name, suggests he is proud of it.

Swaim to the contrary notwithstanding, I don’t think it is possible to pursue the point of media stupidity and bad faith to excess. I think Pompeo should be proud of his treatment of Kelly. She could have learned something from it.

Pompeo’s anecdote reminded me of a passage in the memoir of another former Secretary of State. I’m thinking of Henry Kissinger in White House Years (writing about his service as Nixon’s national security advisor, 1969-1972). At pages 293-295 Kissinger reviews the editorial positions of the New York Times on negotiations to end the Vietnam War. Kissinger concludes the passage (emphasis in original): “This evolution of editorial opinion was not unique. It was, instead, a vivid example of how our critics could rarely be satisfied for long, even by the adoption of their proposals.” Pompeo’s memoir illustrates that the press has deteriorated considerably since Kissinger wrote of events in 1969 and published his memoir in 1979.

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