Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, October 23, 2011 3:24 pm

More on Lisa Simeone, “World of Opera,” NPR and WDAV


When last we spoke, Thursday evening, NPR had said that it was going to have a “conversation” about the fact that Lisa Simeone, the freelance host of “World of Opera,” her political involvement in her spare time and WDAV’s relationship with the network in supplying “World of Opera” for syndication by the network.

I emailed the general manager of WDAV, who promptly informed me that he and the college already had had their own conversation about Simeone, determined that what she did on her own time was her own business and were going ahead with business as usual.

And if things had been left to lie there, all would be well. But NPR being NPR, it ignored the First Rule of Holes: When you are in one, stop digging. Instead, it found a way to make itself look even stupider by announcing that it would stop syndicating “World of Opera” to 60 stations nationwide.

In stark contrast to that behavior, WDAV and Davidson College simply and quietly did the right thing yet again, announcing that if NPR didn’t want to distribute the show anymore, they would do it themselves. Station general manager Scott Nolan emailed me yesterday to specify that the new arrangement would take effect Nov. 11.

We’ve already established that Lisa Simeone has no formal relationship with NPR, as employee or as freelancer, which means NPR has no legal, moral or ethical justification for attempting to regulate her political involvement on her own time. Given the pontification of NPR news staffers — news staffers, not producers of opera showson Fox News and other outlets, it is difficult for anyone with half a brain to think that NPR cares about the ethics or appearance or bias of its news people in general and quite easy to believe that something altogether more sinister is at work, whether right-wing political conspiracy or simple petulance.

NPR never should have tried to make an issue of Simeone’s off-duty political involvement in the first place. And once it did, it certainly never should have expected WDAV and Davidson College to do its intellectually dishonest and journalistically unethical dirty work for it. It is difficult to understand NPR’s decision to stop distributing the program as anything other than a childish act of pique, the raving of a clueless dinosaur as it sinks into the tar pits of its own irrelevance and oblivion.

But we need to ask a question: Why is it OK with NPR for NPR employees Mara Liasson, et al., to do what they do and be paid for it, but not OK for Lisa Simeone, a freelancer, to do what she does on her own time for no money? What is the moral or ethical difference in the behaviors? Why is the NPR’s response to the differing behaviors so dissonant? And what does that dissonance tell us about NPR’s news credibility, ability to navigate ethical questions and overall common sense?

The honorable behavior of my alma mater and former employer stands in stark contrast to that of NPR. It is, yet again, a good day to be a Wildcat.

But it’s a bad day, and has been a bad decade, to be an American in need of smart, credible news and information programming produced by insightful, ethical people. Those Americans are screwed, and the Occupy movement of which Lisa Simeone has been just one small part is one big sign that a lot of Americans aren’t going to stand for it. If they Occupy enough voting booths, some things will happen on the political front, but I suspect the only thing that will change NPR will be extinction. The network certainly hasn’t demonstrated an ability to learn from experience.

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