MEDIA WATCH: Lisa Simeone and Biased Opera Reporting... NPR's double standard on its nights at the opera

[Editor's Note: Thanks to FAIR for reminding us that when National Propaganda Radio (NPR) makes a decision on "ethics," it always tilts in favor of the far right. The latest NPR flap grew as a result of the fact that NPR has fired a freelancer who covered opera because of affiliation with the "Occupy" movement. But here is FAIR on the topic, with some historical reminders. Substance has already noted — regarding the Chicago pledge drive for WFMT — that locally NPR is mostly corporate propaganda, just like its TV sister, WTTW. At least it's nice to know other "public" broadcasting is just as hypocritical. Readers can find the Substance report on the hypocrisy and bias of WBEZ and WTTW down a few notches in this month's Substance Home Page. FAIR deserves everyone's support, just as NPR and its "public" propaganda wings do not. The link to FAIR is:].

National Public Radio's Mara Liasson (above) can't deliver right wing rants on Fox, but a freelancer who covers opera for "public" broadcasting is dumped by the spineless NPR brass for supporting "Occupy."Lisa Simeone and Biased Opera Reporting, FAIR, 10/20/2011 by Peter Hart

There's quite a controversy brewing over freelance radio host Lisa Simeone for her participation with an activist group occupying a park in Washington, D.C. It's a worth a look at how this unfolded-- especially since it appears to have cost her one of her jobs.

A report at the Roll Call website (10/18/11) noted that Simeone was acting as a spokesperson for the group, which goes by the name October 11. Roll Call wondered if this violated NPR ethics guidelines, since Simeone acts as a host on two programs that air on some NPR affiliates: the long-running documentary series Soundprint and the NPR World of Opera. (Neither show is produced by NPR; World of Opera is distributed by the network.)

Shortly after the Roll Call story appeared (and was picked up by other outlets like the conservative Daily Caller), NPR sent this internal memo, which was posted by activist David Swanson (, 10/20/11):

From: NPR Communications

Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 6:12 PM

Subject: From Dana Rehm: Communications Alert

To: All Staff

Fr: Dana Davis Rehm

Re: Communications Alert

We recently learned of World of Opera host Lisa Simeone’s participation in an Occupy DC group. World of Opera is produced by WDAV, a music and arts station based in Davidson, North Carolina. The program is distributed by NPR. Lisa is not an employee of WDAV or NPR; she is a freelancer with the station.

We're in conversations with WDAV about how they intend to handle this. We of course take this issue very seriously.

As a reminder, all public comment (including social media) on this matter is being managed by NPR Communications.

All media requests should be routed through NPR Communications at 202.513.2300 or We will keep you updated as needed. Thanks.

NPR posted the first two paragraphs of the memo as a blog item shortly thereafter. Within a few hours, Soundprint fired Simeone (AP, 10/20/11), citing NPR ethics guidelines. It is not clear why the show, which has no apparent formal connection to NPR, would make this move. AP reported that Simeone was fired "after NPR questioned her involvement in a Washington protest," though NPR claims it had "no contact with the management of the program prior to their decision" (, 10/20/11).

Simeone is not an NPR host or employee, but the network did seem to be taking some sort of active role in the decisions about her employment status.

NPR's Ethics Code forbids journalists from participating "in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers," and it also states that "NPR journalists may not engage in public relations work." The code "also applies to material provided to NPR by independent producers." But NPR there are exceptions, such as a "freelancer who primarily does arts coverage." The NPR code also states, "There may be instances in which the type of programming may not demand the application of a particular principle in this code."

WDAV, the station that produces World of Opera, decided today that Simeone could continue to host the show:

As host of World of Opera, Lisa Simeone is an independent contractor of WDAV Classical Public Radio. Ms. Simeone’s activities outside of this job are not in violation of any of WDAV's employee codes and have had no effect on her job performance at WDAV. Ms. Simeone remains the host of World of Opera.

That would seem like good news.

But NPR's handling of this is a reminder that it has never been entirely clear what kind of political positions NPR deems objectionable. News reporter Mara Liasson once denounced antiwar Democratic politicians on Fox News Channel (10/3/02): "These guys are a disgrace. Look, everybody knows it's Politics 101 that you don't go to an adversary country, an enemy country, and badmouth the United States, its policies and the president of the United States. I mean, these guys ought to, I don't know, resign."

The comments caused some controversy (NPR's ombud wrote a column on 7/20/03), but obviously Liasson was not removed from her job as a reporter. Cokie Roberts is apparently free to take political stances, given her role as an analyst.

NPR's new president Gary Knell has stated his desire to "calm the waters" and "depoliticize" the debate over public radio (FAIR Blog, 10/7/11) in response to Republican politicians' desire to cut funding for public broadcasting. Incidents like the revelation of Simeone's activism are likely to provide fodder for right-wing complaints about the "liberal bias" of NPR. One understandable response is derision. Time's James Poniewozik writes:

Public radio listeners! Have you long worried that your station was undermining capitalism through its broadcasts of the Ring Cycle? Tired of having your children brainwashed by the socialistic messages of La Traviata?

Poniewozik argues that firing Simeone "would be a stupid, stupid decision"--but that due to the politicization of the funding debate NPR is "practically obligated to overreact when a staff member or even freelancer comes within 200 feet of a political opinion."

It's beyond absurd that there's really even a controversy over whether the freelance host of an opera show should be fired for political activism. But let it be a reminder to NPR's new president: It's going to be nearly impossible to "depoliticize" this debate, given the vehemence of your right-wing critics.


October 24, 2011 at 3:44 AM

By: Rebecca Ellis

Lisa Simeone

The line between individual activities and expert connections can be a very fuzzy one. For journalists, it can be a particularly tough line to draw, just like what happened to Lisa Simeone. Recently, NPR host Lisa Simeone faced questions about political activism. We are aware that she is a freelance content provider for a pair of radio shows that are broadcast by NPR. Simeone has, for a long time, blended her passion for grassroots political activism with her talent on the radio, without anyone remonstrating. However, her involvement in the Occupy movement seems to have deemed by NPR to be a bridge too far. Now, do you think Lisa has crossed that line by acting as a representative for the Occupy D.C. activity?

February 19, 2023 at 11:36 AM

By: Rich decabo


Two things. #1 why don’t the liberals have a radio show with more than 3 listeners? Because they wouldn’t be able to discuss anything of “substance” for more than 10 minutes. #2 how dare ANYONE criticize NPR or Fox for favoring the Right when we have abc, nbc, cbs, cnn, msnbc, google, even AOL and YouTube ALL favoring the left??? Do You want a one sided system?? Then what would separate us from China or any communist country??? We are still the USA and that’s why millions flood to our country. People aren’t flooding to China. So please wake up! Especially if You have the ignorant audacity to title this site, “substance”. Talk about hypocrisy.

February 21, 2023 at 10:50 AM

By: john kugler


NPR has always been left leaning when did they become right?

oh because they are uncovering corruption so all of a sudden they need a label ...

jackson is good at creating narratives learned that from jinny sims ...

i have a new narrative

Don't Pass Go ...

Go Directly to Jail ...

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