Media Outlet Funded by Pro-Iran Deal ‘Echo Chamber’ Group Silenced Top Deal Critic

NPR told reporters it had never been contacted by critics

Mike Pompeo
Mike Pompeo / AP
May 23, 2016

A prominent media outlet that received money from a White House-backed group of Iran deal advocates refused interviews with a top congressional critic of last summer’s nuclear agreement, deepening accusations that the Obama administration and its allies suppressed voices opposing the deal, according to conversations with sources and a series of emails viewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

The publicly funded National Public Radio declined interviews with Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), a leading critic of the Iran nuclear deal. NPR had received funding from the liberal Ploughshares Fund, which has been exposed as being a core part of a White House-backed campaign to push lobbyists, policy analysts, and journalists in favor of the deal.

When asked by reporters last week about refusing the interviews, NPR suggested that Pompeo’s office had never reached out to the station. However, multiple emails viewed by the Free Beacon demonstrate that Pompeo’s office had been in two separate talks with NPR producers about scheduling an interview.

These developments threaten to entangle NPR in a growing scandal over the White House’s coordinated efforts to mislead Congress and the American people about the contents of the nuclear accord.

The Ploughshares Fund, which coordinated with the White House to sell the deal, gave NPR hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Free Beacon initially disclosed in 2012. Ploughshares also gave high dollar donations to a range of other media outlets and organizations.

Top White House official Ben Rhodes said in a recent interview that he created a pro-Iran "echo chamber" with "outside groups like Ploughshares" at the center of the spin operation.

Rhodes’ operation, which was staffed by other top officials in the White House National Security Council, ignited a media firestorm and has led to congressional investigations, including calls for President Barack Obama to fire Rhodes.

Emails viewed by the Free Beacon show that NPR—which received $100,000 from Ploughshares in 2015 and has been taking money from the group since at least 2012—cancelled a 2015 interview with Pompeo while featuring others, including Iran deal supporters.

NPR told the Associated Press last week that it "had no record of Pompeo's requests" for an interview. However, the Free Beacon has viewed two separate email conversations between NPR producers and Pompeo’s office.

NPR said Monday when reached by the Free Beacon that it had in fact been in contact with Pompeo's office.

"The pieces are coming together on President Obama’s machinations in selling the Iran deal. As Obama administration officials admit to misrepresenting reality on the deal, it is clear that the American people have been played," Pompeo, a member of the House intelligence committee, told the Free Beacon on Monday. "Specifically, recent statements and financial documents raise serious concerns about the integrity of the Ploughshares Fund, NPR, which is partly tax-payer funded, and the entire nuclear deal debate."

"Unfortunately," Pompeo said, "instead of coming clean, groups like NPR continue to distort facts. For example, NPR told the AP that it had ‘no record’ of my multiple interview requests, though it had actually cancelled on me, as it now admits. This comes on top of refusing or ignoring my multiple requests to be on their programs. It is important that the American people continue to look into this questionable relationship."

An NPR producer contacted Pompeo’s office on Aug. 4, 2015, to schedule an interview with the lawmaker, according to an email viewed by the Free Beacon.

"We'd like to do this but not live tomorrow morning. Can we schedule a tape time for tomorrow morning or Thursday to air in Friday's show? This will give us more time to figure out better audio options as well," NPR producer Kenya Young wrote to Pompeo’s office, according to a copy of the email.

"Let’s aim for Thursday morning at 10am Eastern," Young wrote later in the day. "I’ll assign a producer in the morning who will get in touch with you, confirm a time, and set up an engineer to tape sync the interview in Kansas. Thanks for reaching out. You’ll hear from someone on my team in the morning."

NPR decided to nix the interview the following morning.

Vince Pearson, a producer with NPR’s Morning Edition, informed Pompeo’s office on Aug. 5, 2015, that the interview was now off the table.

"I’m writing to say that we will have to pass on the interview with Congressman Pompeo," Pearson wrote. "The show managers have decided that there are already too many interviews in the works this week and that we don’t have the resources to take this one on. Perhaps there will be another opportunity."

The producer could not say why NPR had featured Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), a backer of the deal, for multiple interviews about the agreement.

NPR Morning Edition producer Kitty Eisele later declined a Sept. 7, 2015, offer to have Pompeo appear on the program, according to subsequent correspondence viewed by the Free Beacon.

"Morning Edition is a bit full on Iran at the moment. I’m glad to be in touch and hope you’ll check back with us for future conversations," Eisele wrote to Pompeo’s office.

A NPR spokesman told the Free Beacon on Monday that it had in fact been in contact with Pompeo’s office, despite earlier statements to the AP.

"Rep. Pompeo was booked to discuss the Iran deal in August 2015, but the interview did not take place," the spokesman said. "In the past year, other prominent Republican officials have appeared on our newsmagazines to discuss the Iran deal or were the focus of related stories about economic sanctions." This includes Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), John McCain (R., Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte, (R., N.H.), and Ron Johnson (R., Wis.).

"Ploughshares cannot in any way influence how we cover stories or who we interview," the spokesman maintained. "As with all support NPR receives, we have a rigorous editorial firewall process in place to ensure our coverage is independent and is not influenced by funders or special interests."

Ploughshares has boasted of its efforts to back the nuclear deal, posting a video and lengthy article describing "How we won."

NPR did not respond to follow up questions asking why it initially told the AP that it had no contact with Pompeo's office.