Well, Good for WDAV

By James Fallows
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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/10/well-good-for-wdav/247102/