“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”
—-Lisa Simeone, who was fired as host of a radio show carried by an NPR affiliate (and is likely to be fired from another NPR distributed program) for serving as a spokesperson of the Occupy Wall Street spin-off group camped out in Freedom Square in Washington, D.C. Her activities violated multiple provisions of the National Public Radio Code of Ethics.
This was a dishonest, unfair and misleading statement.
National Public Radio didn’t object to Simeone “exercising her rights,” and now that she’s no longer representing NPR as a host, I’m sure it will applaud her pluck and passion. National Public radio objected to her ignoring its Code of Ethics, which like most organization codes applies to anyone who works for, with or under the auspices of a corporate entity. It doesn’t matter whether NPR directly paid her or the producers of the programs she hosts. What matters is that she hosted content featured on NPR, and as such represented it to listeners.
The Code of Ethics is excruciatingly clear that a prime objective of NPR is to avoid any appearance of ideological bias. Agreed: it is a laughable Code in that respect, because NPR’s bias is palpable. Nevertheless, the Code specifies indications of bias or the appearance of bias that NPR says it will not tolerate. Serving in a public relations capacity for another organization is one of these. Participating in marches or rallies on issues covered by NPR is another. Simeone did both (and more), and neither asked permission nor gave NPR advance notice. This will get anyone fired, in almost any organization in America.
“What is NPR afraid I’ll do? Insert a seditious comment into a synopsis of `Madame Butterfly?'”, Simeone asked sarcastically, alluding to her (soon to end*) hosting of “World of Opera.” No, NPR is afraid that having a host who has connected herself in a high profile manner with a controversial movement involving political and ideological demands makes the network itself appear biased. That is the purpose of the restrictions in the Code. If Simeone wanted to argue that the Code shouldn’t apply to her, or was over-broad, she needed to make that argument before allowing herself to be interviewed as a spokesperson for the demonstrators, or before agreeing to host NPR programming. Their shows, their rules. There’s nothing “puzzling” about that, or unfair.
Her situation is somewhat reminiscent of Keith Olbermann’s suspension at MSNBC for violating its ethics rule against donating to political candidates for office. He had that right, of course—he just didn’t have the right to continue to work as a political pundit on MSNBC if he exercised the right. The application of the rule seemed bizarre, since Olbermann, of all people, hardly left any doubt about his political leanings. Still, he broke the rule.Ultimately, the infraction contributed to his exit. MSNBC didn’t trust him any more. That happens when someone breaks a rule and isn’t even apologetic about it. NPR doesn’t trust Simeone, either. Neither would I.
NPR, unlike MSNBC, is still under the delusion that it can convince the world, and more importantly, Congress, that it isn’t a government-funded, barely disguised shill for progressive causes, since a budget-cutting day of reckoning is likely on the horizon. After firing Juan Williams for a far less provocative statement, it could not shrug off the manifestos being offered by Simeone’s group and Simeone herself. This is a sample from a declaration under her name on the group’s website:
“It’s long past time for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to end, for U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen to end, for our worldwide torture regime to end, for Guantanamo to be closed, for political, military, and corporate criminals to be held accountable. We’re spending billions of dollars on destruction abroad and abrogation of rights at home — the only growing sector of the economy is the abusive National Security State. Meanwhile, millions of people are out of work, they’ve been thrown out of their homes, they can’t afford health care, they’re routinely vilified in national discourse, and the so-called news media is busy mouthing the majoritarian line…”
Even had she not explicitly violated the NPR Ethics Code, there are few members of the “so-called news media” that would continue to give airtime to an employee, subcontractor or freelancer who makes public statements like that. And there are few organizations as dependent on corporate philanthropy as NPR is that wouldn’t have serious problems with someone affiliated with it attacking its benefactors.
NPR isn’t the villain here for kicking Simeone off the air, despite what the Angry Left bloggers would like you to believe. Simeone broke NPR’s rules, embarrassed it, and on top of everything, bit the hand that fed her. Exercising her rights as a citizen had nothing to do with it. She didn’t treat NPR fairly or honestly, and got exactly what she deserved.
[Correction: In an earlier version of this post, I said that Simeone had appeared on television in a spokesperson capacity. This was in error; I misinterpreted a source. Simeone was interviewed by name as an informal spokesperson for the group, but did not appear on TV. I apologize for the error.]
* UPDATE (10/21): As predicted, NPR gave the originating station the choice of replacing Simeone as host or losing NPR as the distributor of the show. It chose the latter. Simeone is no longer on NPR.