Unethical Quote of the Week: Fired NPR Host Lisa Simeone

And NPR finds it puzzling that you can't read an ethics code, Lisa...

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.

9 thoughts on “Unethical Quote of the Week: Fired NPR Host Lisa Simeone

  1. I agree. Some people feel that the rules don’t apply to them, whether through an undeserved sense of entitlement, or some other psycopathy. The far Left is riddled with such unfortunate individuals.

  2. Except that Simeone wasn’t at Occupy Wall Street DC as a spokesperson. Meanwhile NPR’s big name talent are taking corporate speaking fees in politically compromising ways. This is corporate McCarthyism and completely disgraceful for NPR.

    • She appeared on TV more than once, speaking on behalf of the group. What would you call that?
      NPR did the right thing in her case: she broke more than one rule. She could have been fired for doing this without alerting NPR all by itself. Whether or not other talent is violating other rules is not germane, but NPR can hardly ban speaking in front of corporate groups when it accepts money from corporate grants itself. It’s not McCarthyism at all.

    • I am curious to see where and when she went on TV. Can you prove that? Also, she does an opera show and works as a freelancer. Is she even paid by NPR? It was my understanding she’s not which makes it all the more ridiculous that NPR is intruding into her activities (a la McCarthy).

      • She’s was a host ON THE AIR for NPR. As far as listeners are concerned, who signs her paycheck is irrelevant. McCarthy attacked individuals for mere membership in the Communist Party, and HUAC went after citizens just for having friends and family members involved. Would a member of the Army who served in a public PR capacity for the Communist Party be unjustly discharged? That’s the analogy. It’s not ridiculous at all: NPR’s has to cover the OWS phenomenon, and having on-air personalities publication identified with it compromises their objectivity. Of course it does.

        • You can’t prove that she was TV as an OWS representative because..she’s wasn’t. So you’re lying. She does an program about opera. Music. If she were a news reporter, I too would look at this differently. Who is signing her paycheck is completely relevant to who she’s responsible to. Again, as a freelancer. McCarthy also went after people who were not in the communist party only presumed to be so. Simeone was not a public PR person for Occupy Wall Street. OWS does not have public PR people.

          • I don’t have to “prove” anything. There were credible reports—I don’t have to find the original tapes; this isn’t a news service—that quoted her from local news video feeds.
            She was doing PR by speaking for the group. She didn’t have to be on their payroll, any more than she had to be on NPR’s. You don’t get the appearance requirements of trust…fine. There is plenty of material for you to learn about it on the blog.

            She is responsible to the network that broadcasts her, because she reflects on it by everything she does. The paycheck is irrelevant: she has an ethical obligations to meet NPR’s ethical requirements, reasonable or not. Stop referencing the subject matter of her shows—that doesn’t matter either. She cannot appear on NPR, representing the station, while taking a public role in a political group or serving in a PR capacity…which is what she was doing…and she’s never argued otherwise. She was, in short, irresponsible, and unfair to her employers. She deserved to be sacked, and was. NPR should have done it faster, otherwise, they are 100% correct. A government funded news service cannot use on-air talent identified with a political movement, and would be foolish to keep on the air an individual that denigrated the news media of which it is a part.

            You can cavil and rationalize and parse words all you like—it just makes you look desperate— but don’t call me a liar again. You get exactly one warning.

          • You’re right…she wasn’t on TV…I miss transcribed a source in mu notes that kept using the term “appeared.” My fault. I’ve fixed it.
            It doesn’t change a thing, you know. She was interviewed, identified by name, and referred to the demonstrators as “we,” “our” and “us.” That’s all it takes to have her on-air presence undermine PBS’s objectivity and credibility…and it violated the Code.

            Sorry I had to kick you off the site for calling me a liar after I warned you about it. I make mistakes, and I can be careless, but I do not intentionally misrepresent facts or anything else. I want to be called on errors, but as told you the first time, I will not tolerate having my integrity impugned.

  3. In public radio ethics, it’s who you are that counts
    NPR and its affiliates fire freelancers and dump a music show because of Occupy Wall Street connections. But it treated star host Scott Simon very differently when he took a controversial stand out here.
    by Eric Scigliano


    By the way, I still host World of Opera, as well as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra series (why did no crack reporters call the CSO?), as well as write for Style Magazine (ditto reporter question).

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