NPR Blackballs Freelancer for Occupying DC

Lisa Simeone is one of hundreds of people I met at the October 2011 Stop the Machine occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington DC. [Media reports say she was at Occupy DC. Wrong. Different protest, different location, similar goals.]

She is beautiful, elegant, charming, and—like tens of thousands of Americans—exercising her First Amendment rights to protest the inequities of the current system. Like the protest itself, Lisa was strictly non-violent at all times.

Lisa is a freelance producer for “World of Opera,” which is recorded at a small radio station in North Carolina. “World of Opera” is distributed by NPR. Its content is apolitical. Lisa is not on staff at NPR or at the NC station.

On Wednesday NPR discovered Lisa Simeone’s attendance at Stop the Machine in DC. That same day, NPR persuaded a company for which Simeone worked to fire her. This is 1950s-style, neo-McCarthyite blackballing. Her income has been halved.

NPR staff received the following email:

From:NPR Communications
Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 6:12 PM
Subject: From Dana Rehm: Communications Alert
To: All Staff
Fr: Dana Davis Rehm [TR: Rehm is Senior Vice President for Marketing, Communications, and External Relations] Re: Communications Alert

We recently learned of World of Opera host Lisa Simeone’s participation in an Occupy DC [sic] 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 also blogged about this.

Roughly 3.5 hours after the above email was sent, Simeone was fired by a show called Soundprint for being “unethical.”

Soundprint does touch on politics and includes political viewpoint in Simeone’s ledes, but it is not an NPR program and is not distributed by NPR. It is, however, heard on public radio stations. Despite the title “NPR World of Opera,” that show is produced by WDAV, for which Simeone contracts. WDAV has not expressed any concern over Simeone’s “ethics.”

Simeone responded: “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 Fox TV, 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?”

Indeed, there are clearly two standards of conduct at NPR: one for the big corporate shills like Cokie Roberts and another for low-paid freelancers like Simeone. Which is exactly the opposite of how things ought to be: if NPR wants to buy you, to control your political speech, it ought to cough up a full-time salary and full-time benefits. One of the few advantages of freelancing is freedom to think what you like and to say what you think.

Let NPR what you think. Call them at 202-513-2300 or email them at

Pass it on.

[By way of David Swanson:]


  • alex_the_tired
    October 20, 2011 11:36 AM

    This is, of course, obscene. However, it brings up a nice teaching moment:

    Ask yourself “Why would they do this?” And you can come up with a batch of answers. But here’s the answer that satisfies all cases: They did it because they are highly confident that they can get away with it.

    Why are they so confident? Because the left acts effectively with the frequency of total solar eclipses. The overall behavior pattern of the lefty-progressives most closely matches that of a pack of mentally deficient children near the plateau of a sugar high: short attention span, almost no strategizing, fondness for shiny things.

    Example: That recent citibank fiasco where the protesters got locked inside (because an undercover cop was in on it) when they showed up en masse to close their accounts. Does anyone GENUINELY think that this accomplished ANYTHING? If anything, it weakened the movement in the following ways:

    1. An “organizer” shouting through the glass doors ordered the captives to e-mail names and birthdays. (Bad move because: all those Blackberries, iPhones, etc. can be searched when you’re arrested. Whether it’s legal or not is irrelevant; the cops will do it.)

    2. Twenty-five of your troops are now identified. (Bad move because: they can be tracked by the police via facebook and twitter and google. If I were a cop, I wouldn’t bother with the people in the park; I’d bother with the people causing problems. So the Movement has self-identified its alphas. Cut off the head, the body dies.)

    3. Twenty-five of your troops will now have some attrition. Some of these people are going to sit down, stare at the paperwork telling them they have to show up at such-and-such a date for court, and they’re going to have what John D. MacDonald called the “dead grackle” moment. They are going to realize that this isn’t some thrilling adventure. This is, quite possibly, going to fuck up their lives for the rest of their lives if they get charged with something and found guilty. (Bad move because: the goal is NOT to get arrested. The goal is not to get your head staved in. The goal is to win. You don’t win by having cops handcuff you and shove you around. You win by staying free.)

    For future reference, here’s how you annoy Citibank.

    You keep your account. That’s right. You keep your account. You leave $8.25 in it, or whatever the minimum amount is. From your $8.25 they will make, let’s say, $1 a month. Hell, let’s bump it way up and say that from your chickenfeed account, they can soak you for $20 a month. Are you REALLY going to sit there and say you can’t figure out ways to obtain $20 of “service” from them?

    Get in the teller line on lunch break. Ask for a roll of quarters. Ask the teller about safe-deposit boxes. He’ll send you to the other part of the branch, where the furniture is. Tie up that person’s time. Ask about boxes. Ask to see the boxes and the vault (claim you aren’t a print-information type, you’re a visual learner). Ask for some pamphlets. Call the service center. Don’t have your account number on you. Go through the whole verification process. Say that you lost your card and need a new one. Ask about the last four transactions. Tie up that agent. When they get to the sales pitch about traveler’s insurance or some such, play along. Ask a lot of questions. Ask for them to mail some information to you. If 5,000 people did this, the call service times at their call centers would go into orbit.

    That’s how you get Citibank’s attention. Not by getting arrested.

  • Dear NPR person who reads this.

    I am pretty much a dedicated listener to NPR and the local Mountain Lake TV stations, this for many years.

    I am nearly 80 years old.

    I have always admired your coverage of every issue, though truth be told, I find the recent over-coverage of republican and far right wing issues in the United States somewhat sticks in my craw. David Brooks as a particular example, does your coverage no credit at any time; and He hasn’t for years.

    I have excused all this in recent years because I have been sympathetic to the extreme pressure that you have been under during the Bush II years and the rabid congressional pressure to deny funding for your business efforts.

    However, even in the full realization and great sympathy that I have for your position, I cannot accept that you could have been so far off the mark with your cruel, senseless actions in orchestrating the firing of Ms. Simeone.

    Many people have been far more eloquent than I can be in criticizing your actions in her case so I will refer only to one such. The web page of Mr Ted Rall has covered the situation in a way that I fully endorse. I am sure that you have read his coverage of your actions. covers the story under the heading
    NPR Blackballs Freelancer for Occupying DC
    Posted by Ted Rall on Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 10:02 am

    I would only add that you have discredited your mission in the worst way possible and that I hope that you are served with a large law suit for enough money that your action will not be repeated.

    Further, within NPR, the people responsible for this grave injustice should have no further place running any of your business affairs or in making decisions about the personnel of NPR and their personal acts. Until these people are relieved of their responsibilities, I will withdraw even my own modest support for your stations and your mission; and I will ask my acquaintances and friends to do the same.

    I will post a copy of this on the comments on the Rall blog.

    Sincerely yours,

    Michael Fish
    Longueuil, Canada

  • Nazi Public Radio reveals itself yet again.

    There is one clever thing for which I’ll give Newty Gingrich credit: starting the congressional “defund NPR/PBS” clamor.

    Each time the clamor arises, it freezes the ever-deluded “liberals” in their tracks. As they howl for weeks for protection of their mistakenly valued network, the reich moves, unhindered, onto important issues knowing that even if the left DID save NPR/PBS, the reich would NOT lose a thing.

  • If you host a show about an art form almost exclusively enjoyed by pompus, wealthy assholes, don’t be surprised if you get canned for joining an anti-pompus, wealthy assohole protest. Seriously, who else watches or supports opera besides the so-called 1% ?

    It would be like if a NASCAR announcer participated in an anti-incest rally.

  • mccarthyism squared.

  • John From Censornati
    October 21, 2011 8:11 AM

    NPR went corporate sell-out a long time ago. I don’t have much use for it these days although I do still like “On The Media”.

  • I found out the real deal on NPR a few years back. The more indy media I read, it became clear public broadcasting was not much better than mainstream media. Sadly, it has a crapload of followers who think they’re getting the real story when in fact they’re being played for fools just like the Fox News crowd they love to denigrate.

    One commenter says he still likes On the Media. That show is as big a sell out as the rest of NPR. The male host was on a local show here in Charlotte years ago. I called in to comment on how the mainstream media doesn’t cover all sides of certain stories. He shouted me down big time and went ballistic pointing out all the stories the NYT supposedly covers regularly. Whatever. I read and see enough indy media to know he and his show are full of shit. There are certain omissions of the media they will cover and a lot that they won’t touch.

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