The Republic of T.

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Seriously, NPR?

I’m a longtime fan of NPR. I’ve even written them a check or two, during pledge drive seasons. However, after NPR’s craven instigation the firing of a producer over her support for Occupy DC, I’m starting to rethink that support. Maybe more liberals should do the same.

Freelance broadcaster Lisa Simeone was fired from public radio program Soundprint yesterday after NPR took issue with her role as a spokesperson for the Occupy DC protests, despite the fact that she is not officially employed by the organization.

Simeone’s conflict with NPR was first reported by Roll Call and eventually ended up on Fox News before she was officially fired, evoking another infamous NPR termination. “The whole thing, right down to the firing-by-phone-after-pickup-from-Fox, has echoes of the Juan Williams debacle,” wrote Politico’s Keach Hagey, “and is likely to worsen public radio’s political woes, even if Simeone was not

Soundprint isn’t actually produced by NPR and airs on affiliate WAMU in Washington, D.C., but WAMU news director Jim Asendio said that the station shares NPR’s code of ethics, which states that “NPR journalists may not engage in public relations work, paid or unpaid,” excepting “certain volunteer nonprofit, nonpartisan activities, such as participating in the work of a church, synagogue, or other institution of worship, or a charitable organization.”

Add to that any activity that’s likely wind up the focus of a Fox New hit piece. The Juan Willams firing was bad enough. But Simeone worked on a opera program, and in no way covered politics.

Fear of Fox News has come to this. If you’re a progressive whose work is in any way public, and you get targeted by them, you might as well save yourself some time, nail your own scalp to the wall, and walk yourself off the plank. Especially if you work for a supposedly progressive institution or administration.

On the other hand, if you work for corporate media you can literally be in bed with Wall Street, do a hit piece on the Occupy Wall Street protests, and still have a job. That’s why CNN’s Erin Burnett still has a job while Lisa Simeone does not.

CNN’s newest primetime anchor Erin Burnett isn’t making any friends among the Occupy Wall Street protesters. In a visit to the front lines of the movement earlier this week Burnett grilled protesters on the specifics of their outrage, many say, from a point-of-view that’s not befitting of a network that’s often boasted of its objective journalism. However, Burnett’s combative tone in her “Seriously” segment on Tuesday night–on top of a deleted tweet by business reporter Alison Kosik in which she makes fun of the protesters–is dismaying press critics and CNN viewers alike. On top of that, journalism watchdog group FAIR says that, Burnett misreported the facts in an attempt to make the protesters look uninformed. Burnett, whose fiancée is a Citigroup executive, is now being framed as the next generation of CNN personalities that stray from the network’s commitment to being the “only credible, nonpartisan voice left.”

Neither CNN nor Burnett are winning supporters from fellow journalists either. Dave Weigel called Burnett’s Tuesday night segment “hippie punching,” and NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen tweeted, “Man, the blowback on Erin Burnett’s visit to #occupywallst is like a crossover hit.” Now, the press critics are weighing in, not only criticizing Burnett but an unnerving shift in CNN’s approach that draws comparisons to Fox News. Eric Jackson at Forbes called her “vapid” in a sprawling take-down, and The Baltimore Sun‘s David Zurawik wrote off her new show OutFront completely in his Wednesday column:

Seriously? Let’s see… Started out at Goldman Sachs, VP at Citigroup, did time on CNBC, Citigroup, etc. So, what’s the likelihood that she’d give a fair hearing to a group of people protesting what amounts to her very own ‘hood? It’s not impossible for someone from Burnett’s background to be fair and objective regarding Occupy Wall Street, but her turn on the OWS movement came off not only as snide and condescending, but defensive.

A Guardian piece in defense of Burnett suggests she was giving as good as she’d gotten, in a sense.

There’s another factor to consider here. It might be hard to remember now that Burnett is number one enemy this week but she has not had an easy time of it on TV. Repeatedly during her time at CNBC she had to contend with condescension from her colleagues at least as ridiculous as the kind she displayed to the protesters this week and often outright on air sexism.

Oh. So she was just doing to other people what was done to her, because they were “nobodies” compared to her, and she could get away with it? (Never mind that part of what driving the OWS movement, I think, is energy that comes from a “bunch of nobodies” standing up for themslves and each other and challenging the “people who matter” with the radical idea that everyone matters — or everyone should.)

Given her experience, to borrow from the Guardian piece, Burnett should have known better.

It was more fun to pretend that the OWS protestors just “don’t know what they’re protesting” and “don’t understand finance.”

Oh how I wish I’d been there when Burnett made the rounds with her TV crew. If she’d asked me, I’d have reminded her that some the people in the very buildings behind her can’t explain the financial instruments they themselves devised and worked with each day — and which brought them and the rest of the country to ruin.

Speaking of knowing better, FAIR points out where Burnett got her facts wrong in her hit piece, and even her pat summation of TARP didn’t quite ring true.

The TARP program is not, in fact, the “big issue” of the Occupy Wall Street movement; the concerns about inequality and lack of democracy go far deeper than that. When the Wall Street bailouts are discussed by protesters, the point they seem to be making about it is that banks benefited from generous bailouts that the vast majority of Americans would never enjoy. (As one popular chant puts it: “Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!”)

And the fact that the loans were repaid does not mean that they were not a subsidy to the banking industry. How much would it have cost the banks to get the money they needed to survive from private sources? The difference between those terms and what the government actually charged was a gift to the bankers–one that will never be paid back.

The assumption that society as a whole benefited from helping out the banks is debatable, though you rarely if ever see it debated in corporate media (Extra!, 10/10). As economist Dean Baker wrote (9/20/10):

We are also supposed to feel good that the vast majority of the TARP money was repaid. This is another effort to prey on the public’s ignorance. Had it not been for the bailout, most of the major center banks would have been wiped out. This would have destroyed the fortunes of their shareholders, many of their creditors, and their top executives. This would have been a massive redistribution to the rest of society–their loss is our gain.

And the Wall Street bailouts are about far more than TARP. As Bloomberg News recently reported (8/22/11), Federal Reserve lending programs to the banking industry topped $1.2 trillion.

These government policies went a long way towards protecting the interests of Wall Street giants. Working people got very little, and the unemployment and foreclosure crises continue to wreak considerable damage on the economy. This is why people are protesting.

And if Burnett didn’t before, she does now.

For what it’s worth, Lisa Simeone is still welcome at WDAV, and is still affiliated with Occupy DC, though she was never it’s spokesperson. And while the NPR report about the end of this story notes Simeone “drawing criticism for her involvement with an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protests.” My guess is NPR drew its own share of criticism.

One Comment

  1. This really is disturbing. I expect more from NPR. Actually, I used to expect more from CNN, too.

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