Lisa Simeone, the freelance host of public radio Soundprint and World of Opera, confirmed on Thursday that she had been dismissed from Soundprint after it was discovered she had been working as a spokeswoman for Occupy D.C. Simeone has been talking to the press on behalf of the offshoot of Occupy Wall Street since early October, but the news of her involvement only reached the public radio network's headquarters this week. She remains host of World of Opera.
Roll Call broke the story on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, right-leaning sites such as the Daily Caller and Andrew Breitbart's Big Journalism had picked it up as an issue. On Wednesday night, NPR posted to its own blog that, "We're in conversations with [local affiliate] WDAV about how they intend to handle this. We of course take this issue very seriously." Simeone told The Washington Post that she was fired over the phone on Wednesday after the NPR code of ethics was read to her. The section on political activities reads: "NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers, nor should they sign petitions or otherwise lend their name to such causes, or contribute money to them."
Update 1:07 p.m.: National Public Radio spokeswoman Anna Christopher called to explain that while Simeone had been dismissed from Soundprint, which NPR does not distribute, she hadn't been dismissed from World of Opera, which NPR does distribute. An Associaetd Press story that reported the news was inaccurate, she said. "It was confusing because Lisa referenced the NPR code of ethics when she was talked to about Soundprint," Christopher said, but she stressed NPR itself hadn't taken any action against Simeone.
Update 3:01 p.m.: NPR has asked for, and deserves, further clarification on Simeone's relationship with NPR. Documentary program Soundprint, which fired Simeone, is produced by Soundprint Media Center Inc. in Washington, D.C., and is carried on NPR affiliates across the country, as well as NPR's Sirius Radio channel NPR Talk. NPR says they did not ask Soundprint to take any action against Simeone, although, as we note below, Simeone has said that she was read the NPR ethics code on political activities when she was let go. The World of Opera, is produced by the North Carolina public radio station WDAV and are distributed to NPR affiliates. Christopher said, "She is still host of World of Opera."
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?
The first example we found of Simeone giving a quote to a media outlet on Occupy D.C. came on Oct. 5, when Chinese state-run outlet Xinhua quoted her as saying, "Our main focus is that we are against corporatism and militarism." Two days later she told the Australian Broadcasting Network why protesters were occupying Freedom Plaza. "It's symbolism, the fact that it's the word 'freedom' and we think that many of us in America have lost our freedoms." She confirmed protester arrests to Washignton, D.C.'s WTOP on Oct. 11, where she was identified as an "organizer" not a spokeswoman.
Last year NPR fired Juan Williams after he made some incendiary remarks about Muslims. NPR said it fired Williams, a staffer, "because of a pattern of commentaries that violated the news organization's guidelines," according to the Post, and not for participating in an explicitly political event. Williams told Fox News host Bill O'Reilly Muslims made him nervous when he got on a plane.