Molly Olmstead, Slate
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday released a statement excoriating an NPR reporter who claimed that Pompeo shouted and swore at her after a recent interview. In his statement, which came with an official State Department seal, he did not deny his outburst but instead suggested that the reporter had confused Ukraine and Bangladesh on a map.
Recently, there have been a number of irresponsible and salacious reports in the media regarding the perfect, professional, and above all secret conversation I had with NPR reporter Hildy Johnson yesterday, after our contentious interview about the grand opening of my new fast-casual restaurant concept, Dunderbeck’s Sausageteria. While headlines like “Reporter Speaks Out After Bizarre, Unsettling Ordeal,” “Horsemeat Hotel: Inside the Kitchen of Horrors,” or “Is It Even Legal to Force a Reporter to Escape From a So-Called ‘Labyrinth of Terror’ in the First Place? Alan Dershowitz Says Yes” may draw “clicks,” this kind of agenda-driven fake news only increases the public’s distrust of the media, and also of sausage meat. It is shameful that this reporter chose to violate the basic rules of journalism and dignity by accurately reporting the undignified way I routinely behave toward journalists when I think I won’t face any consequences. I’d like to take this opportunity to clear the air, or at least muddy the waters.
Johnson lied to me twice. Her first lie came last month, in setting up our interview. I agreed to meet with Johnson to discuss one matter and one matter only: whether or not the newly opened Dunderbeck’s Sausageteria at Sixth and Main is Greater Albany’s go-to spot for delicious sausages, sausage sandwiches, sausage sandwich sausages, and our signature sausage sandwich sausage sandwich, the Double Dunderhead. (It is!) As any good journalist knows, the public doesn’t want to know how the sausage is made—they simply want to know if Albany has a new source for healthy, fast-casual meals that please moms, dads, and kids alike. (It does!) While it is true that Johnson never agreed to these terms because I never proposed them, I mistakenly thought that a news organization like NPR would observe basic journalistic ethics and only ask me questions I wanted to answer. You can imagine my surprise—to say nothing of my incandescent, sputtering, misogynistic fury—when Ms. Johnson asked me to explain a stack of suspicious invoices from local stables, dog tracks, and morgues. It is no wonder that the American people distrust many in the media when they so clearly demonstrate their agenda and their absence of integrity.
Johnson’s second lie came when I assumed for no apparent reason that our post-interview “conversation”—more of a harangue, really—would be off the record. While it is true that she never actually said we were off the record, any ethical reporter would have warned me that my actions might result in press coverage that made me look like an asshole before I began acting like an asshole. But Johnson didn’t do anything but stare at me in disbelief in the split second between the moment I pressed the button that opened the trap door beneath her feet and the moment she went tumbling down the slide into The Clarification Room. That counts as lying in my book, and I wrote the book on lying. I naturally thought Ms. Johnson would be grateful for the opportunity to hear my unfiltered views at extremely high volume (primarily my views about whether or not I thought she was good at her job) before she published anything I might regret later. Johnson was given unprecedented and unasked-for access to any number of Dunderbeck trade secrets hidden away in the warren of abandoned sewer lines beneath our corporate headquarters, from the Carnival of Pain to the Wheel of Betrayal, and just because she was the first reporter in 37 years to make her way back to the surface alive does not free her from her professional obligation to observe a confidentiality agreement she never agreed to. I trusted Ms. Johnson to refrain from mentioning the personal, mandatory, off-the-record surprise tour I generously gave her of the Dunderbeck Labyrinth of Terror. Clearly, my trust was misplaced.
Although it would be beneath the dignity of my position as the proprietor of a fast-casual sausage restaurant concept to engage in detail with the outrageous allegations found in Ms. Johnson’s reporting, much less identify any specific facts she misstated or request any corrections, I would like to encourage reporters from friendlier, more objective outlets to investigate Ms. Johnson’s claim that at one point she was forced to watch a two-hour-long puppet show titled Here Are Just a Few of the Horrible Things That Could Potentially Happen to Reporters Who Write Unflattering Things About Dunderbeck’s Sausageteria. Is it really plausible, as Johnson writes, that “all of the characters in this pathetic Punch-and-Judy show—the Grand Inquisitor, the Lord Confessor, Jigsaw, the Humble Gravedigger—were obviously (and incompetently) voiced by Dessem himself.” Does Johnson expect the American people to believe that a man who once took a theater class at one of the leading high schools in Knoxville, Tennessee, would be capable of “incompetently” performing a role? Ms. Johnson’s facts simply don’t add up, although, again, I will not be disputing any of the facts in particular.
If you’re keeping score, Ms. Johnson told two lies, while I only told one (about her telling two lies), so it’s not hard to see who has the moral high ground here. But the strongest evidence that Ms. Johnson misled me about the nature of our interview is the fact that I screamed insults at her for hours like a preschool bully throwing a tantrum. Obviously, I would never have treated a reporter that way if I thought it was possible that anyone else would ever find out about it. After all, I’m a professional.
It is worth noting that embalming fluid is NOT poisonous.