Terrance Heath

Seriously, NPR?

Filed By Terrance Heath | October 23, 2011 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: CNN, Erin Burnett, Fox News, Juan Williams, Lisa Simeone, NPR, Occupy Wall Street, Soundprint

I'm a longtime fan of NPR. I've even written them a check or two, during pledge drive seasons. However, after NPR's craven instigation and firing of a producer over her support for Occupy DC, npr.jpegI'm starting to rethink that support. Maybe more liberals should do the same.

Freelance broadcaster Lisa Simeone was fired from public radio program Soundprint yesterday after NPR took issue with her role as a spokesperson for the Occupy DC protests, despite the fact that she is not officially employed by the organization.

Simeone's conflict with NPR was first reported by Roll Call and eventually ended up on Fox News before she was officially fired, evoking another infamous NPR termination. "The whole thing, right down to the firing-by-phone-after-pickup-from-Fox, has echoes of the Juan Williams debacle," wrote Politico's Keach Hagey, "and is likely to worsen public radio's political woes, even if Simeone was not

Soundprint isn't actually produced by NPR and airs on affiliate WAMU in Washington, D.C., but WAMU news director Jim Asendio said that the station shares NPR's code of ethics, which states that "NPR journalists may not engage in public relations work, paid or unpaid," excepting "certain volunteer nonprofit, nonpartisan activities, such as participating in the work of a church, synagogue, or other institution of worship, or a charitable organization."

Add to that any activity that's likely wind up the focus of a Fox New hit piece. The Juan Willams firing was bad enough. But Simeone worked on a opera program, and in no way covered politics.

Fear of Fox News has come to this. If you're a progressive whose work is in any way public, and you get targeted by them, you might as well save yourself some time, nail your own scalp to the wall, and walk yourself off the plank. Especially if you work for a supposedly progressive institution or administration.

On the other hand, if you work for corporate media you can literally be in bed with Wall Street, do a hit piece on the Occupy Wall Street protests, and still have a job. That's why CNN's Erin Burnett still has a job while Lisa Simeone does not.

CNN's newest primetime anchor Erin Burnett isn't making any friends among the Occupy Wall Street protesters. In a visit to the front lines of the movement earlier this week Burnett grilled protesters on the specifics of their outrage, many say, from a point-of-view that's not befitting of a network that's often boasted of its objective journalism. However, Burnett's combative tone in her "Seriously" segment on Tuesday night-on top of a deleted tweet by business reporter Alison Kosik in which she makes fun of the protesters-is dismaying press critics and CNN viewers alike. On top of that, journalism watchdog group FAIR says that, Burnett misreported the facts in an attempt to make the protesters look uninformed. Burnett, whose fiancée is a Citigroup executive, is now being framed as the next generation of CNN personalities that stray from the network's commitment to being the "only credible, nonpartisan voice left."

Neither CNN nor Burnett are winning supporters from fellow journalists either. Dave Weigel called Burnett's Tuesday night segment "hippie punching," and NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen tweeted, "Man, the blowback on Erin Burnett's visit to #occupywallst is like a crossover hit." Now, the press critics are weighing in, not only criticizing Burnett but an unnerving shift in CNN's approach that draws comparisons to Fox News. Eric Jackson at Forbes called her "vapid" in a sprawling take-down, and The Baltimore Sun's David Zurawik wrote off her new show OutFront completely in his Wednesday column:

Seriously? Let's see... Started out at Goldman Sachs, VP at Citigroup, did time on CNBC, Citigroup, etc. So, what's the likelihood that she'd give a fair hearing to a group of people protesting what amounts to her very own 'hood? It's not impossible for someone from Burnett's background to be fair and objective regarding Occupy Wall Street, but her turn on the OWS movement came off not only as snide and condescending, but defensive.

A Guardian piece in defense of Burnett suggests she was giving as good as she'd gotten, in a sense.

There's another factor to consider here. It might be hard to remember now that Burnett is number one enemy this week but she has not had an easy time of it on TV. Repeatedly during her time at CNBC she had to contend with condescension from her colleagues at least as ridiculous as the kind she displayed to the protesters this week and often outright on air sexism.

Oh. So she was just doing to other people what was done to her, because they were "nobodies" compared to her, and she could get away with it? (Never mind that part of what driving the OWS movement, I think, is energy that comes from a "bunch of nobodies" standing up for themslves and each other and challenging the "people who matter" with the radical idea that everyone matters -- or everyone should.)


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Welcome to the world where you and your voice are owned by your employer or anyone who resembles it.

It bothers me very deeply when people's livlihood is taken away because they say something their employer doesn't agree with, or do soemthing that 'looks bad'. You see it a lot with teachers, especially any who aren't of the church-going, celibate-nun variety. I know a few people who have to keep their BDSM involvement utterly secret, and almost never get to be social because of it, because they hold a 'public position' with a 'morality' clause and even the accusation would cost them their job.

This is just an extension of that. And this is also why, when someone is an outspoken conservative and has a position I find reprehensible, I will NOT be one of the ones calling on their employer to 'take a stand' and 'show they don't support intolerance by firing this person'. I've seen a few calls to that effect, and it is just wrong. People have to be free to have opinions, and it works on both sides of the fence.

Neither the Juan Williams thing or this are at all acceptable. Even for someone who works for a news organization, people still have to be free to have their opinions and take part in any legal activity they so choose. When someone gets up at something like this, it should be clear they speak for themselves, but they should have the right to DO so with that clarity.

Yes, it probably means a few people will be able to 'play both sides' and say one thing on the air and another off, but oh well. To an extent, you get the bad with the good. I will take the few people doing that if it means everyone else gets to be defined by more than just who they work for. Your employer does NOT own you. Or your voice. I don't care if you want to be an ultraliberal working for Faux News, or an ultraconservative at NPR. As long as you are doing your job correctly when you are being paid for it, it is none of anyone's damned business what you do when you aren't.

twinkie1cat | October 24, 2011 9:11 PM

People should definitely not have to temper their freedom of speech in order to keep their job. What a person does or is involved in, as long at it is legal should never impact one's work. My pastor was working part time at an MCC church a few years back and of course needed another job. He was a teacher. So he told the principal at the interview that he might possibly be seen in the newspaper and he wanted him to know in advance that he did work for social justice issues. In his case that was fine. However,in another case I heard about a teacher in Baton Rouge Louisiana who lost her job because she had a Pro-Choice bumper sticker.

Many of the gay people here are still very much in the closet and the most active people for gay rights tend to be either retired, on disability, or self-employed. A few extreme cases are referred to as "in the wall" (no door). We don't even have a Pride parade, although the attendance at Pridefest is up to 3500 from 250 4 years ago. A lot of the attendees seem to be high school and college students. We have it indoors, in a hotel atrium. Weather is one factor (excruciatingly hot in late June) but I think the privacy issue is sometimes another. This year the MCC church is marching in the Halloween parade as a group. That is a step. But we do have a conservative extremist as Governor---Bobby Jindal. Watch out for him in the next few years and don't trust him.

Um... I don't get the connection between what happened to this woman and Juan Williams. Williams was fired for making an extremely ignorant statement (after previously making a whole bunch of other ignorant statements). I would say it was more akin to what Don Imus said, but Williams had no pretense to making a "humorous" statement (not that what Imus said was anything other than dumb, racism) and he is supposed to be a serious commentator. This woman worked in cultural not news programming... so I would call it clear harassment and I hope NPR listeners who find out about it will withhold their donations.