NPR's Michele Norris, an anchor on the evening newscast All Things Considered, will temporarily step down as anchor while her husband Broderick Johnson accepts a senior position with the Obama re-election campaign. She will keep reporting what NPR calls "signature pieces" for the show (but not on politics), and plans to return as co-anchor after the 2012 elections.
Norris recused herself without an announcement in 2004 when Johnson aided Kerry's congressional outreach, but not in 2008 when he was unpaid adviser to Obama’s campaign. In a message sent on Monday morning to NPR staff, Norris said:
"I need to share some news and I wanted to make sure my NPR family heard this first. Last week, I told news management that my husband, Broderick Johnson, has just accepted a senior adviser position with the Obama Campaign. After careful consideration, we decided that Broderick's new role could make it difficult for me to continue hosting ATC. Given the nature of Broderick's position with the campaign and the impact that it will most certainly have on our family life, I will temporarily step away from my hosting duties until after the 2012 elections. I will be leaving the host chair at the end of this week, but I'm not going far. I will be wearing a different hat for a while, producing signature segments and features and working on new reporting projects. While I will of course recuse myself from all election coverage, there's still an awful lot of ground that I can till in this interim role.
"This has all happened very quickly, but working closely with NPR management, we've been able to make a plan that serves the show, honors the integrity of our news organization and is best for me professionally and personally.
"I will certainly miss hosting, but I will remain part of the ATC team and I look forward to contributing to our show and NPR in new and exciting ways."
In an Obama campaign press release on his appointment, Johnson expressed his eagerness to get started:
“I accept this opportunity to join the senior staff of the Obama-Biden 2012 campaign with great pride and a strong sense of duty. We must reelect the President in order to build an economy that rewards hard work and restores economic security for the middle class and that provides an opportunity to families working hard to rise above poverty. Our success depends upon ensuring that our economy is built to last, where we out educate and out innovate the world.”
In a 2004 article by NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin, Norris expressed reservations about stepping aside:
When I worked for ABC News or The Washington Post, Broderick was never a problem," she says of her husband. "We have separate checking accounts and we drive my car — the one without the bumper stickers — when we go to church. We are very careful to follow the rules."
In fairness to NPR, Johnson was not working for a presidential candidate while Norris worked for The Washington Post or for ABC.
But when her husband started working for Sen. Kerry, Norris told All Things Considered and NPR management about her husband's job before the campaign began. Management's decision not to let her do any political stories was acceptable to her at the time.
After all, with the media under scrutiny for the slightest sign of liberal bias, it made sense to avoid any appearance of partisanship.
But after several weeks, Norris says, many NPR co-workers and other media colleagues began asking why she was not on the air covering what she loves — politics. Non-election interviews were left to Norris, while her colleagues Melissa Block and Robert Siegel were directly involved in the campaign coverage.
"I wonder if we should have been more open with the listeners and with my co-workers at NPR about why this had happened," Norris says.
Yes, the public should have been informed.