Baltimore broadcaster Lisa Simeone fired back Wednesday night after a National Public Radio spokeswoman told the Baltimore Sun that NPR was looking into her role as a spokesman for a group involved in the Occupy D.C. movement.
The public radio veteran expressed puzzlement as to why NPR "objects" to her exercising her "rights as a citizen," and she questioned why such big-name NPR correspondents and hosts as Mara Liaason, Scott Simon and Cokie Roberts are allowed to operate under what appears to be a different standard than the one being applied to her.
At issue is whether NPR feels her activities on behalf of the overtly partisan group are acceptable in light of her role as host of NPR's "World of Opera." NPR insists that it is impartial, but its politics have been much debated the last year in wake of the broadcaster firing analyst Juan Williams for remarks he made on Fox News about his feelings toward some people he perceived to be Muslims. (Read the Sun's first post on the Simeone controversy here.)
Simeone's role as a spokeswoman for October 2011, a group encamped in the nation's capital as part of the Occupy D.C. movement, was first questioned in a blog post at The Daily Caller Wednesday. (Read that here.)
"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?"
Simeone went on to say, "This sudden concern with my political activities is also surprising in light of the fact that Mara Liaason reports on politics for NPR yet appears as a commentator on FoxTV, Scott Simon hosts an NPR news show yet writes political op-eds for national newspapers, Cokie Roberts reports on politics for NPR yet accepts large speaking fees from businesses. Does NPR also send out "Communications Alerts" about their activities?"
The last sentence is a reference to directive sent out by NPR late Wednesday telling stations not to talk to the press about Simeone's situation -- to direct all inquiries to NPR press.
So far, I have been able to report this story down the middle. And I will stay there as much as I can as it plays out.
But allow me a prediction as to how it might play out. This has become a serious matter for National Public Radio and is now loaded with complicated culture-war issues and heavy-duty NPR-brand-identity baggage.
Calling out NPR on its treatment of Roberts, Simon and Liaason as Simeone did will not be taken lightly at the top of NPR.
I would not be surprised if by the end of Thursday, Simeone is no longer hosting Soundprint or World of Opera.
According to one source, Soundprint fired Simeone Wednesday night. But that has yet to be confirmed with Simeone or Soundprint.