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U.S. Cancels Journalist’s Award Over Her Criticism of Trump (1 Viewer)

Sinn Fein


Jessikka Aro, a Finnish investigative journalist, has faced down death threats and harassment over her work exposing Russia’s propaganda machine long before the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. In January, the U.S. State Department took notice, telling Aro she would be honored with the prestigious International Women of Courage Award, to be presented in Washington by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Weeks later, the State Department rescinded the award offer. A State Department spokesperson said it was due to a “regrettable error,” but Aro and U.S. officials familiar with the internal deliberations tell a different story. They say the department revoked her award after U.S. officials went through Aro’s social media posts and found she had also frequently criticized President Donald Trump.

“It created a ####storm of getting her unceremoniously kicked off the list,” said one U.S. diplomatic source familiar with the internal deliberations. “I think it was absolutely the wrong decision on so many levels,” the source said. The decision “had nothing to do with her work.”

The State Department spokesperson said in an email that Aro was “incorrectly notified” that she had been chosen for the award and that it was a mistake that resulted from “a lack of coordination in communications with candidates and our embassies.”

“We regret this error. We admire Ms. Aro’s achievements as a journalist, which were the basis of U.S. Embassy Helsinki’s nomination,” the spokesperson said.

Aro received a formal invitation to the award ceremony not from the embassy but from the State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol on Feb. 12.

There is no indication that the decision to revoke the award came from the secretary of state or the White House. Officials who spoke to FP have suggested the decision came from lower-level State Department officials wary of the optics of Pompeo granting an award to an outspoken critic of the Trump administration. The department spokesperson did not respond to questions on who made the decision or why.

To U.S. officials who spoke to FP, the incident underscores how skittish some officials—career and political alike—have become over government dealings with vocal critics of a notoriously thin-skinned president. The Trump administration has barred the hiring of prominent Republican foreign-policy experts who publicly denounced the president during the 2016 election season, including some who have since walked back their criticisms. As another example, Trump himself last year revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, who regularly castigates the president on Twitter, and threatened to follow suit with other former national security officials who did the same.

In the minds of some diplomats, this has created an atmosphere where lower-level officials self-censor dealings with critics of the administration abroad, even without senior officials weighing in.

Aro said the decision to cancel her award and corresponding trip to the United States caught her completely by surprise.

“[When] I was informed about the withdrawal out of the blue, I felt appalled and shocked,” Aro told FP. “The reality in which political decisions or presidential pettiness directs top U.S. diplomats’ choices over whose human rights work is mentioned in the public sphere and whose is not is a really scary reality.”


The Trump administration rescinded an award recognizing the work of a journalist from Finland last year after discovering she had criticized President Trump in social media posts, then gave a false explanation for withdrawing the honor, according to a report by the State Department’s internal watchdog.

The report tracks how the discovery of the journalist’s remarks worried senior U.S. officials and prompted a decision to withdraw the honor to avoid a possible public relations debacle.

The report’s release is likely to worsen tensions between the department’s leadership and the inspector general’s office, which has undergone several shake-ups following the firing of Inspector General Steve Linick in the spring at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“The Inspector General’s report is another somber example of how fear and partisanship have permeated our nation’s foreign policy and diplomacy under the Trump administration,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who along with seven other senators requested the investigation.

According to the report, the journalist, Jessikka Aro, was selected for the State Department’s International Women of Courage Awards for her reporting on Russian propaganda activities dating back to 2014. Aro endured death threats and cyber attacks for her work, which helped expose Russian troll factories.

After she was informed of her selection and offered flight options, State Department interns discovered her Facebook and Twitter posts, including one from September 2018 in which she noted that “Trump constantly labels journalists as ‘enemy’ and ‘fake news,’” said the report. In another tweet she noted that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet in Helsinki where “Finnish people can protest them both. Sweet.”

According to meeting notes obtained by the IG, senior U.S. officials argued that Aro’s invitation should be withdrawn, including the acting director of the Office of Global Women’s Issues. The director’s concerns included the possibility that the “media could highlight the tweets and Facebook posts during the ceremony,” which could cause “potential embarrassment to the Department, particularly given the involvement of the Secretary and the First Lady [Melania Trump].”

After the State Department withdrew Aro’s invitation and the story became public in a report by Foreign Policy, the department’s press office told reporters that Aro had been “incorrectly notified” that “she’d been selected as a finalist. This was an error. This was a mistake.”

The department also told Congress that Aro “ultimately was not selected to receive the award, due to the highly competitive selection of candidates.”

But the IG ultimately found that the decision to give her the award was not a mistake and was included in a memo approved by Pompeo.

It also noted that the decision to withdraw the award was due to the discovery of the social media posts despite public claims otherwise. “Every person OIG interviewed in connection with this matter acknowledged” that had her social media posts not been flagged, “Ms. Aro would have received the IWOC Award,” the report said.

Critics of the department’s handling say the actions of U.S. officials contradicted the spirit of the “Courage” awards, which since 2007 have honored women who “have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice,” according to the State Department’s website.

“Secretary Pompeo should have honored a courageous journalist willing to stand up to Kremlin propaganda. Instead, his department sought to stifle dissent to avoid upsetting a president who, day after day, tries to take pages out of Putin’s playbook,” Menendez said. “The State Department owes Ms. Aro an apology.”

In response to the report, the State Department Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues said her office share’s the IG’s concerns and has implemented a “robust examination of office policies and procedures to ensure consistency, transparency, and accountability.”

if this is true then it's an absolutely despicable thing for the White House to do. Trump's sensitivity to criticism and resultant pettiness is ridiculously unbecoming for the office he holds.

if this is true then it's an absolutely despicable thing for the White House to do. Trump's sensitivity to criticism and resultant pettiness is ridiculously unbecoming for the office he holds.
The worst part is that it wasn't even Trump or Pompeo that pulled the plug but some other (likely political appointees) rescinded the award because they feared the potential repercussions (read: reprisals) from those higher up in the admin.

These people are weak.


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