Almost daily, I get email from friend-of-the-blog Lisa Simeone on novel ways that the national security state is eroding our liberties. But today, Lisa herself was the poster girl for the corrosion of liberty – and I read about it first on Alternet, then at War Is a Crime, not in one of Lisa’s emails. It’s typically, really, that Lisa is all about the principles while setting aside her private worries. Now, though, they’ve become a national cause celebre.
Lisa has been fired from her job as the host of the documentary program Soundprint, which is carried by NPR affliates. The reason? Her involvement in the October 2011 movement, a peaceful protest against militarism and corporate greed, which has joined forces with Occupy DC. Lisa was targeted by The Daily Caller, which accused her of conflict of ethics and possible ethics violations, suggesting she was bound by the NPR ethics code. But first, Lisa was only a freelancer, not an employee, and was evidently never warned that she could lose her job due to political activity. Moreover, Soundprint’s statement seems to have a pretty tenuous relation to reality:
Soundprint is a journalistic program and Lisa’s leadership role as a member of the steering committee and a spokesperson for the October 2011 protest activities, associated with the Occupy DC movement, conflicts with her role as the host of a documentary series. Soundprint adheres to the highest standards of journalism which include maintaining appropriate distance from marches, demonstrations and other political activity. These are standards held by many other journalism organizations, including National Public Radio.
Fine, but look at Soundprint’s current program: the tale of a deaf septuagenarian who wants to learn to fly, and a tribute to Sir Edmund Hilary. It’s obvious that Lisa couldn’t be objective about Hilary! Never mind that he died three years ago; were he still with us, he’d definitely be in the 1%! Lisa introduces the story, and I’m listening really hard for her left-wing invective. Listening … oooh, straining a bit … Wait! She just called him a “humanitarian”! Surely that has a political subtext?
Lisa’s other radio job, hosting the nationally-syndicated World of Opera program, is hanging in the balance as well, though so far it looks like its sponsoring station is resisting pressure from NPR.
Lisa points out in her interview with War Is a Crime that NPR is applying a wildly inconsistent standard, allowing some of their regular employees who actually report on current events to pontificate on Fox:
“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?”
Yep, knowing Lisa, I think Madame Butterfly is about to be Occupied. (But there likely won’t be any tents involved. Like me, Lisa enjoys, needs, appreciates, and once again NEEDS a decent bed at night. I sometimes think a good mattress is one of the top three secret clues to vitality in one’s 40s and beyond.)
But seriously: It remains a mystery how Soundprint arrived at the conclusion that Lisa’s activism collided with the NPR ethics code. NPR denies having even contacted Soundprint. And vice versa. How to explain? Might I smell a whiff of Breitbart and his ilk? The earliest smear job I found on Lisa s a piece by Neda Samnani at Roll Call, dramatically dated “October 18, midnight,” insinuating that of course Lisa committed an ethical breach, because if she’s on radio, then she must be, well, a reporter.
Ethics codes have a place in journalism, but Lisa was not exactly committing journalism. Lisa was doing cultural programming. Nor are ethics codes the be-all and end-all of media ethics. If they’re relevant to Lisa’s current work, they must equally apply to Ira Glass and Garrison Keillor at Lake Woebegone. The last time we heard about Keillor’s religious prejudices, there were consequences! ripple effects! an article in Salon … and not a blip in his contract.
So much still is shrouded in obfuscation. I am hoping Lisa will find time to fire off one of her emails, just like she does whenever she sees someone else’s rights being abrogated. I’m sure she’s pretty overwhelmed. There could also be a lawsuit brewing.
Given that we may need to wait on the facts, it’s half-past midnight (see, we can do her detractors one better – nay, 30 minutes better!). It time to rally to her cause. I just wrote the following to NPR:
I know Lisa. She’s whip-smart and highly principled. Her work is consistently thoughtful, fair, professional, and easy on the ears. I was thus dismayed to hear that Soundprint fired her for her engagement in October 2011. Despite her history of activism, she hasn’t let her personal politics bleed into her professional work.
I’m so pleased that WDAV has not yet bowed to pressure to fire Lisa, who has done nothing wrong. Please support WDAV in their loyalty to Lisa. And while you’re at it, might you ask Soundprint to reconsider their hasty decision to fire her? There’s a difference between a reporter who covers hard news and a radio host of cultural programming. Lisa’s work falls in the latter category. I respect the reasons why NPR has an ethics code (even though I also know that real media ethics are more complex than a mere set of rules). However, as a freelancer who didn’t report on hard news, Lisa should not be muzzled in her private life as a citizen in the name of “objectivity.” Doing so just makes her former employer/client appear petty and, frankly, scared of right-wing bloggers and pundits.
Bring back Lisa Simeone! [Okay, I admit to trying to play the diplomat. "Horseshit" tends not to fly as an actual argument, except from my dissertation advisor who made it work beautifully.]
You can contact NPR here. To their credit, WDAV seems to get it (way more than NPR does!), as you can read here. Thankfully, comments are running overwhelmingly in favor of Lisa. But don’t hesitate to add yours, too, if you’ve appreciated her comments here or her work elsewhere.
And also: Hugs to you, Lisa. Count me among your friends and fans who love you and will stand with you – chin up and boobs out, as a friend of mine loves to say. Brava, for your passion, commitment, principles, and love of liberty. This panic from our overlords? I read it as a sign that we’ve got them rattled.
I hope you’ll weigh in once the worst of the madness subsides. Until then, sending hugs and virtual chocolate while posting madly on Facebook about this travesty.