NPR Executives Send Memos: Employees Forbidden to Rally with Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert

October 13th, 2010 2:45 PM

The Poynter Institute's Romenesko website published a memo (sent today, and leaked today) from Ellen Weiss, senior vice president for news at National Public Radio insisting to the staff that they cannot attend the liberal Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rallies on October 30.

NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers, nor should they sign petitions or otherwise lend their name to such causes, or contribute money to them. This restriction applies to the upcoming John [sic] Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies.

Glynnis McNicol at Mediaite quipped: "No word on whether NPR issued a similar memo prior to Glenn Beck's rally in August…I’m going to hazard a guess it probably wasn’t needed." Uh, yes. It could be argued NPR already gave Stewart an extremely positive promotion on Fresh Air with Terry Gross on October 4. (It was a Gross-out.) Weiss also said it would be wrong to advocate for political issues -- that "you could not" advocate, ahem, in your day job at NPR:

You must not advocate for political or other polarizing issues online. This extends to joining online groups or using social media in any form (including your Facebook page or a personal blog) to express personal views on a political or other controversial issue that you could not write for the air or post on

This policy doesn't seem to apply to polarizing online cartoons at bashing the Tea Party movement.

Weiss also explained that "NPR journalists may not serve on government boards or commissions." Obviously, that doesn't mean the spouses of NPR employees are forbidden. Weiss's husband, liberal activist Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Coalition for Reform Judaism, serves on President Obama's advisory panel for faith-based initiatives.

Twelve minutes after Weiss's memo came another from NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller underlining the no-Stewart-rally message to NPR employees outside the newsroom:

To ALL NPR staff,

Please see Ellen Weiss' note to her staff below (and in particular, the reference to the upcoming Jon Stewart rally). In addition to News, the other divisions that are required to abide by the NPR News Ethics policy are digital, programming/AIR, legal and communications.

However, no matter where you work at NPR you should be very mindful that you represent the organization and its news coverage in the eyes of your friends, neighbors and others. So please think twice about the message you may be sending about our objectivity before you attend a rally or post a bumper sticker or yard sign. We are all NPR.

There is an unwritten proviso. NPR employees should feel free to campaign, cajole, lobby, and polarize when the polarizing issue is taxpayer funding for NPR and public broadcasting in general.