A public radio host was fired on Thursday after the conservative political site The Daily Caller exposed her role as a spokeswoman for "October 2011," the faction of Occupy Wall Street movement occupying Washington's Freedom Plaza.
Lisa Simeone, the host of the nationally syndicated "World of Opera" show, and former weekend host of "All Things Considered," is a freelancer working for WDAV, NPR's Davidson, N.C., affiliate, where "World of Opera" originates. She also was the host for the weekly D.C. show "Soundprint" on NPR's WAMU affiliate.
Simeone confirmed on Thursday that she had been fired from the "Soundprint" show; NPR is "in conversations" about her role as both "World of Opera" host and Occupy D.C. protester.
"We recently learned of World of Opera host Lisa Simeone's participation in an Occupy D.C. group," NPR communications SVP Dana Davis Rehm wrote in a memo to affiliates. "We're in conversations with WDAV about how they intend to handle this. We of course take this issue very seriously."
Those conversations could result in Simone's firing from that show, too. On Thursday, Rehm added: "We fully respect that the management of WDAV is solely responsible for the decision making around Lisa's participation in Occupy DC and her freelance role with WDAV's program."
On Wednesday, Simeone wrote in an email to the Baltimore Sun that she didn't understand what the fuss was all about:
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?
The concern is not entirely sudden. Last year, the radio network former political correspondent Juan Williams for confessing on Fox News's "O'Reilly Factor" that he felt apprehensive when he would see Islamic passengers in airports. Williams' ouster eventually led to the resignation of NPR chief Vivian Schiller's, and a black eye for its image. And earlier this year, conservative media prankster James O'Keefe captured an NPR fundraising executive on video making disparaging remarks about Republicans and the tea party movement to two conservative activists posing as Islamic donors. In the wake of both embarrassing episodes, NPR executives have tried to more vigilantly monitor the PR damage from its talent participating in partisan activities.
In the Simeone case, NPR insists that it doesn't matter that the host's main coverage area has virtually nothing to do with national politics or the economic scene. "A journalist is always attached to journalism," WAMU News Director Jim Asendio told Roll Call. (A representative for WAMU told The Cutline that while it carries "Soundprint," the station had nothing to do with Simeone's firing; Soundprint Media Center, the non-profit public broadcasting production center based in Laurel, Md., made the call.)
It's also true that Simeone's role at the network isn't simply limited to opera coverage. According to her bio on NPR.org, Simeone has "developed a loyal following for her unusual mix of programming--classical, folk and jazz, along with provocative reports, interviews and call-in shows on everything from anthropology and neuroscience to philosophy to media criticism."
And, as Poynter's Julie Moos noted, this is not Simeone's first stint as an activist. In 1994, Simeone helped organize demonstrations outside a Baltimore courthouse to protest violence against women.
UPDATE: WDAV, the radio station that produces "World of Opera," has released a statement saying Simeone remain as host:
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.
UPDATE #2: NPR has announced it will no longer carry "World of Opera."
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