Well, Good for WDAV

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220px-Paul_Robeson_1942_crop.jpg

According to this update just now, the classical music public radio station WDAV, in North Carolina, will not dismiss Lisa Simeone from her role as a freelance (ie, non-employee) host of an opera (ie, non-political) program carried by NPR, just because she has also been a spokesperson for the Occupy DC movement. The reports to the contrary over the past 24 hours boded ill for all who seemed to be involved, starting with NPR -- though, who knows, their sizzle might increase the audience for the next few installments of World of Opera.

It looks bad enough that Paul Robeson (Wikipedia pic) was blacklisted as a singer for his political views -- and at least that was on accusations of being an actual Communist during the tensest Red Scare/ Cold War era. Are we really going to start pushing people out of roles like hosting an opera show, because they side in their free time with a movement that an increasing number of mainstream politicians have said they endorse?

For the moment I won't go through the whole parsing of what outside roles are and are not appropriate for mainstream media figures. (You could look 'em up in a book!) The rules are and should be different for full-time employees of NPR than for a contractor like Simeone.* And they obviously should be different for news reporters, or editors or analysts, than for opera-show hosts. Whatever version of the rules you might come up with, there is no sane version of them that should have led to a panic over Lisa Simeone's role on a music show.

So, good for whoever it was in the WDAV management with the sense to have an "oh calm down" reaction in the face of this non-scandal. And, yes, I would say the same thing if it turned out that the Car Talk guys were also spokesmen for the Tea Party, or even if Ira Glass is doing PR for Scientology. [On two minutes' reflection, bad analogy, since This American Life does so many stories that are "political" in the broadest and best sense.]
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* Or a contractor like me. I have never been an NPR employee but have done contract work for various programs over the years: in the 1980s and 1990s for Morning Edition, and now for Weekend All Things Considered. But -- to belabor the point -- I think different rules should and do apply to me than to a music-show or car-talk host, because I'm on there to talk about politics and the news.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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