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NPR opera host under fire for “Occupy DC” role

Lisa Simeone

This just in from the This is NPR blog.

We recently learned of World of Opera host Lisa Simeone’s participation in an Occupy DC group. World of Opera is produced by WDAV, a music and arts station based in Davidson, North Carolina. The program is distributed by NPR. Lisa is not an employee of NPR or of WDAV; she is a freelancer with the station.

We’re in conversations with WDAV about how they intend to handle this. We of course take this issue very seriously.

The right wing Daily Caller is making hay over the connection, insisting that Simeone “appears to be breaking the taxpayer-subsidized network’s ethics rules by acting as a spokeswoman for Occupy DC,” and calling it a “possible ethics violation.” Earlier this month the Xinhua news service did post an article identifying her as a “spokesperson” for the group, which is loosely affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations happening around the country. But if you’ve followed these demos so far, you know that these OWS events have about as many spokespersons as they have participants.

That’s only one reason why the brouhaha seems like pretty weak tea. The Caller cites NPR rules forbidding journalists from “engag[ing] in public relations work, paid or unpaid.”

Here’s the rest of the section:

Exceptions may be made for certain volunteer nonprofit, nonpartisan activities, such as participating in the work of a church, synagogue or other institution of worship, or a charitable organization, so long as this would not conflict with the interests of NPR in reporting on activities related to that institution or organization. When in doubt, employees should consult their supervisor.

Given that Occupy Wall Street is about as non-partisan as it gets (talk to them and you’ll find out that the Democrats suck; the Republicans suck; maybe Ralph Nader and Ron Paul don’t suck but they’re not sure yet), and given that OWS is as non-profit as its gets (no money; grubby sleeping bags; donations for take-out pizza anyone?), and given that Simeone spends her on-air time talking about mostly dead composers (last shows about Wagner, Puccini, and Mozart), it’s pretty hard to see how anyone’s ethics are being harmed here.

NPR should let the nice opera lady do her thing in peace.

Update

Lisa Simeone has kept her job with World of Opera, but lost her host gig with Soundprint. All details here.


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2 Responses to NPR opera host under fire for “Occupy DC” role

  1. Paul October 20, 2011 at 4:16 am #

    Right. Thus, if a person is connected in anyway, no matter how remotely, to NPR, they are unable to participate in democracy or speak their minds? Seems draconian and slightly retro, eastern European 1960’s-ish.

  2. creinsch October 20, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    Hopefully NPR does “take this issue very seriously,” and understands that continuing to compromise their own journalistic integrity by yielding to every wild-eyed accusation of the corporate right will end up costing them the little credibility they have left. In 1974 NPR’s role in the Watergate hearings gave everyone (well at least those I was around) hope to believe that it would be more than a parrot for their corporate funders AND that it would maintain editorial independence from the quasi-governmental CPB. Oh well.

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