Friday, October 21, 2011

Lisa Simeone And Activism (Updated)

Several listeners have asked VPR for more information on the stories in the news this week about the NPR-distributed World of Opera program and its host Lisa Simeone. VPR does not broadcast World of Opera because we have our own locally-produced program with Peter Fox Smith. VPR also carries opera broadcasts from the WFMT network.

Earlier this week, Lisa Simeone came under scrutiny as an organizer of the Occupy D.C. movement. Her program, produced by WDAV in North Carolina, is distributed by NPR to more than 30 radio stations across the country. Simeone was also host of the documentary program, Soundprint, which is also not part of the VPR lineup. VPR Classical does broadcast the Chicago Symphony on Thursday evenings, which is hosted by Simeone.

There have been inaccuracies in the reporting of this story. First, Simeone continues in her position as host of World of Opera, a decision made solely by WDAV. Also, NPR had no role in the decision made by the managers of Soundprint to end its relationship with Simeone as the program's host, nor did NPR have contact with the management of the program prior to their decision.

NPR maintains a strict code of ethics to maintain its integrity as a news organization. Many stations and independent producers, including VPR and the producers of Soundprint, have adopted NPR's code of ethics or adopted their own to preserve neutrality and trust in the news. To provide transparency, the codes are public and widely distributed.

The NPR code has a restriction on participating in political activities because it’s a news network and needs to remain neutral. The debate is whether the same ethics should apply to Simeone, who is a freelance host. Do all distributed programs, regardless of their content, reflect on a network’s identity? If a group of hosts were involved in political activities of one kind or another, would listeners begin to associate those politics with the network?

Update: On Friday, we learned that NPR has decided to cease distribution of World of Opera. However, the program's distribution will be handled by WDAV, the station that produces the show. On their blog, WDAV assures that listeners to the over 60 stations that broadcast World of Opera, will not experience any interruption of the program. Here are the details from the story on NPR's news blog, The Two-Way:

Dana Davis Rehm, senior vice president for communications for NPR, said the decision to change the arrangement came "from different views about the role of a program host." She said NPR believes hosts "represent NPR regardless of the type of program they host." As such, they are barred from any political activity.

Although Lisa Simeone is not an NPR employee, NPR has taken the position that hosts of any programs they produce or distribute are highly visible public figures that by default, serve as representatives of NPR. As such, these hosts cannot serve as both the voice of that program and the voice of an activist movement without jeopardizing the trust listeners put in NPR to serve as an impartial provider of news and information.

It’s an important and complicated discussion, and we welcome your thoughts and comments. To make comments directly to NPR, please call 202-513-3232, or send an email by going to


  1. Note: The following comment was originally posted at on an unrelated page. We removed the post from there and reposted it here:

    That NPR has acted as described in the following article is unconscionable. Unfortunately, it has also become NPR's prevailing pattern of action with respect to freedom of speech.

    If NPR is not forthcoming with an apology to Simeone and does not do all in its power to have Simeone reinstated as host of both Soundprint and World of Opera, I will never again renew my membership to VPR as I did just yesterday morning. I understand this was NPR's decision and not the decision of VPR; however I believe it is the responsibility of all local stations and their members to act against irrational, unjust and repressive action like that described in this article.

    Thank you,

    Geoffrey Gardner
    West Fairlee, VT

    War Is a

  2. Geoffrey Gardner, West FairleeOctober 21, 2011 at 5:21 PM

    For those interested in pursuing this issue further, the article by David Swanson, referenced and posted above, on the Lisa Simeone matter has been updated and commented on, including comment by NPR. Updates and comments can be found at:

    Geoffrey Gardner

  3. Geoffrey Gardner, West FairleeOctober 21, 2011 at 6:01 PM

    NPR has now posted an article by David Folkenflik on the Simeone affair at:

    The article clearly says NPR has not decided whether or not it will continue distribution of Simeone's World of Opera. I take it this means they're considering canceling the program.

    I am not satisfied in the least that this issue has been resolved.

    Geoffrey Gardner

  4. There is a facebook page around this subject.

    Lisa Simeone was an activist BEFORE she was hired by WDAV. Her role as an activist has never (an I believe will never) impact her role as host of "World of Opera." So NPR's decision to DROP distribution of "World of Opera" seems rather sudden, harsh and ... well it sucks.

  5. First of all, thank you Geoffrey Gardiner for his indignation. Secondly, Ms. Turnau please, we need candor in this matter. The VPR piece, in my view, dances on eggs and does not seem to complete the picture. Is NPR considering cancelling the distribution of Lisa Simeone's World Of Opera or not? This was not addressed in the VPR explanation. At this juncture I cannot determine what Ms. Simeone's status is but the suspicion that she is being targeted for exercising her free speech rights is palpable. Full disclosure: For years now, I have seen NPR's drift to the right with dismay. Starting with Scott Simon's enthusiasm for the war in Iraq (which didn't put his job in jeopardy) and refusing a request for Bernie Sanders to replace socialist Michael Harrington, after his death, in a commentary series with the statement: "We don't want Sanders ranting and raving!" (This in a phone conversation with me.) I have talked at length with Mark Vogelsang and Betty Smith about replacing NPR with DemocracyNow but was rebuffed because "it would clash with our demographics!" Meaning - our wealthy contributors would take exception. With the independence of our media at risk bought off by the likes of Murdoch and the Koch brothers (David Koch has essentially bought and paid for my beloved New York City Ballet) Vermont Public Radio has an even greater responsibility to maintain it's integrity and loudly protest any hint of suppression of free speech. As far as the above mentioned demographic,there is a risk that VPR may well be left behind by it's constituents.

  6. This was an act of pure political cowardice on NPR's part. There is no justification for getting involved in the off-the-clock political lives of arts-program hosts on affiliate networks.

    They're simply scared James O'Keefe will put on a hippie costume and get them in trouble again.

    Pure, unadulterated cowardice.

    I know VPR had nothing to do with this and I bear them no ill will, but this makes me much less likely to feel like donating. Maybe I'll just give my money directly to PRI or one of the other content producers.


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