NPR host will remain with ‘Opera’ show after becoming spokesperson for ‘Occupy DC’

Baltimore Sun | Roll Call | | Washington Post

The longtime host of "World of Opera," Lisa Simeone, will continue with the program, produced by WDAV in North Carolina, says Lisa Gray, director of marketing for the public radio station.

Questions were raised about Simeone's role with the show after it was revealed that she has become a spokesperson for the Washington, D.C.-based "Occupy Wall Street" events.

Gray says Simeone did not violate her agreement with the station, where she works as a freelancer, and she will remain as host.

However, there are "still conversations going on around the show," related to whether NPR will continue to distribute it.

Simeone, host of  "World of Opera" since 2002, does not understand why NPR is raising questions about her involvement with the "Occupy" movement. She tells the Sun's David Zurawik:

"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," Simeone wrote in an email response to questions from the Sun Wednesday night.

"I'm not an NPR employee," she continued. "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?"

Zurawik predicts Simeone's job as host will end as a result of the conflict, which was revealed by Roll Call's Neda Semnani Tuesday night, then picked up by The Daily Caller and Fox News on Wednesday. Simeone confirms she was fired Wednesday from "Soundprint," which does not air on NPR but airs on affiliates, including WAMU, based at American University in Washington. NPR says it had "no contact with the management of the program prior to their decision."

WAMU's news director told Roll Call Wednesday that it is bound by the NPR ethics code:

“A journalist is always attached to journalism,” WAMU News Director Jim Asendio said. ...

“NPR [and WAMU] journalists may not engage in public relations work, paid or unpaid,” the code of ethics declares. “Exceptions may be made for certain volunteer nonprofit, nonpartisan activities, such as participating in the work of a church, synagogue or other institution of worship, or a charitable organization, so long as this would not conflict with the interests of NPR [and WAMU] in reporting on activities related to that institution or organization.”

"World of Opera" is produced by WDAV, an NPR affiliate based at Davidson College in North Carolina. NPR spokesperson Anna Christopher told Fox News:

“We're in conversations with WDAV about how they intend to handle this ... We of course take this issue very seriously.”

In a statement emailed to me, Christopher said:

"Lisa's activities have created an issue under the program distribution agreement between NPR and WDAV. We're working with WDAV to find a mutually agreeable solution. It would be inappropriate for us to say more while this is ongoing."

On its own "This is NPR" blog, Senior VP said:

"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."

Questions about politics have dogged NPR in the last year. The public radio network's new CEO Gary Knell hopes to depoliticize its image; incidents like this clearly will not help.

This is not Simeone's first stint as an activist. In 1994, the Baltimore Sun published a story about her advocacy work. At the time, she was a longtime host on WJHU, an NPR member station based at Johns Hopkins University; she was praised then for her community involvement.

On the air, Lisa Simeone hardly comes across as some raving ideologue. Her dulcet tones, which have wafted over Baltimore's airwaves for more than a decade, have won her quite a following -- including some people who disagree strongly with her views, but appreciate her voice and her taste in music.

"She is someone blessed with a tremendous warm voice and manner and a good knowledge of classical music," says conservative talk-radio host Ron Smith of WBAL, praising her for restricting her views to her interview program. "She doesn't directly espouse her views on the air that I've ever heard. You only hear about them when you read about them."

In 2000, Simeone became weekend host of "All Things Considered." || Related: NPR memo to stations about Simeone's participation in the protests


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