On Tuesday, Roll Call ran a story noting that Lisa Simeone — a radio personality who hosts the shows World of Opera and Soundprint — has been taking part in and serving as an informal spokeswoman for anti-war protests in Washington, DC known as October 2011 (which are separate from the Occupy D.C. demonstrations). The Daily Caller and Fox News soon picked up on the story, attempting to stir a controversy.
These media sources implied or incorrectly stated that Simeone worked for National Public Radio (NPR), noting that NPR has prohibitions on “engag[ing] in public relations work, paid or unpaid.” The truth is that Simeone was not an NPR employee and rather served as a host on a show that was distributed by some NPR stations.
Yet NPR reacted sharply to pressure from conservative media outlets, sending out an e-mail to its staffers noting that it was “in conversations” with radio station WDAV, which produces one of Simeone’s shows, about “how to handle this. We of course take this issue very seriously.” And late last night, the station that hosts Soundprintcaved to pressure from NPR and fired Simeone from her job hosting the show after NPR’s code of conduct was read to her.
In an interview with journalist David Swanson, Simeone noted that she wasn’t even an NPR employee and that her show did not cover politics. She also noted that a wide variety of NPR’s other employees appear as commentators on conservative media or take speaking fees for their work:
Simeone told me: “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. I’m not an NPR employee. I’m a freelancer. NPR doesn’t pay me. I’m also not a news reporter. I don’t cover politics. I’ve never brought a whiff of my political activities into the work I’ve done for NPR World of Opera. What is NPR afraid I’ll do — insert a seditious comment into a synopsis of Madame Butterfly?
“This sudden concern with my political activities is also surprising in light of the fact that Mara Liaason reports on politics for NPR yet appears as a commentator on FoxTV, Scott Simon hosts an NPR news show yet writes political op-eds for national newspapers, Cokie Roberts reports on politics for NPR yet accepts large speaking fees from businesses. Does NPR also send out ‘Communications Alerts’ about their activities?”
Last month, NPR’s ombudsman explained that the station was choosing not to cover the protests on Wall Street because it didn’t view them to be sufficiently newsworthy. Now, it appears that the station is going out of its way to pressure independent stations to fire hosts who take part in similar protests.