NPR Host/Occupy Protester Says She's Been Fired

AP is reporting NPR host/Occupy protest leader Lisa Simeone has been fired: "A freelance broadcaster who works for music and documentary programs has been fired from a job after NPR questioned her involvement in a Washington protest." (Update: AP reports WDAV declared it would retain Simeone as host of World of Opera: "Ms. Simeone's activities outside of this job are not in violation of any of WDAV's employee codes and have had no effect on her job performance," WDAV spokeswoman Lisa Gray said.)

Lisa Simeone said Thursday that she was fired from "Soundprint," a documentary show that is not produced by NPR, but by Soundprint Media in nearby Laurel, Maryland. "Simeone says she was fired Wednesday in a phone call during which NPR's code of ethics was read to her." Simeone is angry that her free-speech rights are being trampled, telling journalist David Swanson on the left-wing site War Is A Crime.org:

Simeone told me: "I find it puzzling that NPR objects to my exercising my rights as an American citizen -- the right to free speech, the right to peaceable assembly -- on my own time in my own life.  I'm not an NPR employee.  I'm a freelancer.  NPR doesn't pay me.  I'm also not a news reporter.  I don't cover politics.  I've never brought a whiff of my political activities into the work I've done for NPR World of Opera.  What is NPR afraid I'll do -- insert a seditious comment into a synopsis of Madame Butterfly?

"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?"

Swanson claimed to have an internal e-mail from NPR executive Dana Davis Rehm.

From:NPR Communications
Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 6:12 PM
Subject: From Dana Rehm: Communications Alert

To:       All Staff
Fr:        Dana Davis Rehm
Re:      Communications Alert

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 WDAV or NPR; 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.

As a reminder, all public comment (including social media) on this matter is being managed by NPR Communications.

All media requests should be routed through NPR Communications at 202.513.2300 or mediarelations@npr.org. We will keep you updated as needed. Thanks.

Over at Time magazine, TV critic James Poniewozik sounds just like Simeone in dismissing the ethical dimensions of the moonlighting:

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? Well, fear no more: host Lisa Simeone has been fired from the documentary show Soundprint and is having her role as host of NPR’s World of Opera investigated after it was discovered that Simeone, a freelancer, has been serving as spokeswoman for an Occupy Wall Street–related protest group.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that firing Simeone from World of Opera would be a stupid, stupid decision. I know people who work in public broadcasting, and they are to a person smart folks, so I am going to assume that they know that it would be stupid. As, probably, do the people who will ultimately make the decision.

It may also be unavoidable. As we learned with Juan Williams case and the fallout from the James O’Keefe NPR sting video in March, NPR and the larger public-radio community (Soundprint is not produced by NPR), because they rely in part on public funds, are vulnerable to politicization and practically obligated to overreact when a staff member or even freelancer comes within 200 feet of a political opinion.

NPR is "vulnerable to politicization"? Who in this case is the politicized one? As if NPR doesn't bang a liberal can on a daily basis in its newscasts? Poniewozik concluded:

My local public-radio station, WNYC, is currently in the middle of its pledge drive. If I were them, I’d publicize this story to maximize donations: You see the ridiculous things we have to do because we rely on public funding? Dig deep and give now!

Poniewozik isn't acknowledging that WNYC raise money with listeners by telling them their funding is in trouble...and then they'll take more federal subsidies. 

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis