Is NPR Part of the 1% ?

From “NPR Gets Radio Host Fired for Occupying“:

National Public Radio on Wednesday discovered that a woman named Lisa Simeone who hosted a show about opera called “World of Opera” had been participating in a nonviolent occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., organized by That same day, NPR persuaded a company for which Simeone worked to fire her, cutting her income in half and purging from the so-called public airwaves a voice that had never mentioned politics on NPR.

After reading the above article, I sent this email today to NPR (

Dear NPR:

I’m very disappointed with your shabby campaign against Lisa Simeone, not even your own employee:

Since when does NPR oppose the right of American citizens to exercise free speech?

As Lisa Simeone says …

“This sudden concern with my political activities is also surprising in light of the fact that Mara Liaason reports on politics for NPR yet appears as a commentator on FoxTV, Scott Simon hosts an NPR news show yet writes political op-eds for national newspapers, Cokie Roberts reports on politics for NPR yet accepts large speaking fees from businesses. Does NPR also send out ‘Communications Alerts’ about their activities?”

I will have trouble supporting NPR financially or otherwise in the future.


Don Pelton
Editor, “Sierra Voices” (
Grass Valley, CA 95945

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9 Responses to “Is NPR Part of the 1% ?”
  1. gregzaller says:

    I feel your frustration, but suspect there might be another side to this story, Don. NPR has to me been an important source of reliable information about the world. I would not starve a tree that bore a bad fruit, and according whom??? You also insinuate that NPR should change it’s policies based on what the “money” says. I can’t see how the truth will ever prevail with that strategy.

    I don’t have any alternate strategies at the moment. Can you suggest any?

  2. depelton says:

    Thanks, Greg. I too have appreciated and supported NPR over the years, so I agree with you about the good they have done.

    When you say, “You also insinuate that NPR should change it’s policies based on what the “money” says … ” I have no idea what you mean.

    I focused very narrowly on a very narrow point, and that is that Lisa Simeone has First Amendment rights, and that exercising them shouldn’t cost her her job.

    NPR doesn’t have to change its policies based on “what the money says,” whatever that means. It simply shouldn’t have a policy that its affiliate employees should lose their jobs when they exercise their First Amendment rights. I simply told them that I’d withhold my financial support of NPR so long as they take that position. Simple.

    If you think there is more to the story, why don’t you research it and report back here if you determine that this is not the whole story, or that this is the wrong story, or that this is an incorrect story, or that this is an incomplete story, or whatever.

    I gave NPR my reaction to what I believe is the truth. If it’s not the truth, they can reply and set me straight. They haven’t done that. What conclusion should I draw from that?

  3. gregzaller says:

    Hi Don, I was referring to your ending statement that you would have trouble supporting NPR financially in the future. The implication is that you believe they will adjust their behavior based on financial support.

    I understand your frustration and desire to have some impact but I just can’t see how voting with your wallet can work. Money should have no impact on how NPR reports or acts. We know it probably does though, as with probably the majority of organizations set up to benefit the public first while in truth it is the public second and money first. All I can figure is that we need a revolution in values where making a contribution is valued more highly than money. I am certain of this but struggle with how to bring it about. I believe the answer lies within our collective intelligence and that there is a great calling for us to figure out how to access this intelligence.

  4. depelton says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Greg. That helps me see that we are much more in accord than I realized.

    Good point about the unlikeliness that my threat to withhold financial support will sway NPR.

    On the other hand, I’m content to accept that … my withdrawal of financial support is a personal, moral, ethical and philosophical decision — much like recycling, which I do religiously — that gives me a good conscience, but about which I have no illusion of effectiveness, except insofar as it’s a mere drop in the collective ocean of other people’s similar actions.

    In other words, the personal meaning of the act is clear to me, but I accept that its effectiveness — like recycling, and voting for that matter — depends on the collective actions of others.

    Kant said (I’m paraphrasing): “Act as if your action were the rule of action for others”

  5. gregzaller says:

    Hi Don, I did look into this a little, mainly drawing from an article in the Baltimore Sun (link below).

    Not everyone agrees, but according to this article Simeone broke an ethics rule that NPR was required to enforce. NPR pledges to not permit its employees or affiliates to advocate in a story they report on. They do not make any distinction whether an affiliate that advocates is in any way involved with reporting on the topic. I can see why. In any case, that is the rule. It is a very tough rule.

    NPR would argue that their action had nothing to do with advocacy and in fact should be taken as an assurance they are neutral in all directions.–npr-simeone-opera-occupy-dc-controversy-20111023,0,4276172.story

  6. depelton says:

    Thanks, Greg, good article. It’s apparently more nuanced than I thought.

    I see, though, that Simeone interprets the NPR ethics code differently than those who tried unsuccessfully to get her fired.

    But let’s for the moment assume — for the sake of argument — that NPR has acted impeccably with regard to the application of their ethics code to Simeone.

    I would still have these questions:

    * Has NPR applied the same standard to other NPR journalists who have engaged even more overtly in political activities? The following article suggests not (although the reference to Juan Williams is now out-of-date):

    “According to its ethics code, NPR still has a Fox News problem”

    * It seems strange to me that NPR’s ethics code (even if you assume that it has been applied impeccably and consistently and without preference for any one reporter) creates a special class of persons who are punished professionally for exercising their constitutionally-guaranteed First Amendment rights.

    Thanks for continuing to pick at this, Greg.

    You may turn me around on this yet. I’m ambivalent.

  7. gregzaller says:

    I just can’t imagine that it is possible for each and every one of us to make these determinations. If this goes to court, for example, it will probably take months to sort out. The world is just too complicated for all of us to know about these things at this level. I accept that it is important to get it right. I think we need need a better system that doesn’t involve all of us.

    I do like the idea that NPR has a strict policy about it’s associates not advocating one way or the other on news issues AND not implicating NPR one way or the other. But as you point out, they might not be doing a good enough job of it.

    What do you think of the idea that the court system would be streamlined so much that if Simeone had an issue with NPR they would just go to an Oracle who would settle the matter quickly?

    Actually, to tell you the truth, I think the answer lies in fixing our value system so that we don’t need all of these rules. People would be more sensible if they were looking out for each other instead of the other way around.

  8. depelton says:


    Sorry your comments kept getting put into moderation.

    I had one of my default WordPress comment settings set wrong.

    Your comments should go right in now.


  9. Don Pelton says:

    From “NPR dodges the peril of socialist opera” (in Salon):

    “In justifying the actions, NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm said that it is a conflict of interest for a journalist associated with NPR to take a role in a political protest movement, ignoring the fact that Simeone is a freelancer and not an NPR employee, and a music host, not a journalist. Time magazine’s James Poniewozik jested: “Public radio listeners! Have you long worried that your station was undermining capitalism through its broadcasts of the Ring Cycle? Tired of having your children brainwashed by the socialistic messages of La Traviata?”


    “In 2001 NPR host Scott Simon published a piece in the Wall Street Journal supporting American military interventions in the Middle East and likening antiwar protesters to “a Halloween parade.” NPR reporter Mara Liasson doubles as a commentator for Fox television where she lambasted congressmen on a fact-finding mission in Iraq before the U.S. invasion and called on them to resign. NPR’s Cokie Roberts regularly espouses her center-right opinions in handsomely paid corporate speeches on everything from healthcare reform to the minimum wage. What rule has Simeone violated that these NPR journalists have not?


    “In fairness, NPR has many fine reporters and its hour-long program blocks allow for a more in-depth and often intelligent coverage of issues than anywhere else on radio. There are still shows like “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, where a diversity of voices can get an airing.

    “Furthermore, local community and public radio stations that carry NPR programs are often independent of the network and often broadcast a far wider and more gutsy range of voices than the Washington-produced newsmagazines. But while the fringes of the public radio world have frequently flourished, the center has shied away from controversy and silenced dissident voices.

    “The NPR of today takes few risks, producing a bland and corporatized news stream that genuflects to the powers that be, and in which the concerns of the poor, the disenfranchised and protesters of all stripes are marginalized. It is a place where some are allowed to speak freely on Fox News, but others who take up a placard and exercise their First Amendment right to protest social inequities will be thrown off the airwaves. That’s not what public radio should be.”

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