Protest Role Does Not Cost Public Radio Host Her Job On Opera Program

Oct 20, 2011

The host of a public radio opera show that is distributed nationally by NPR will keep her job after drawing criticism for her involvement with an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Lisa Simeone, the freelance host of the show World of Opera, also has been acting as a spokeswoman for Washington, D.C., protesters affiliated with the "October 2011" group.

The decision about her role on World of Opera came after Simeone was let go as host of Soundprint — a topical documentary program that is independently produced for public radio stations. NPR plays no role in Soundprint's production or distribution.

The incident reflects the complicated nature of the public radio system and the charged political climate for NPR following the termination of the contract of former news analyst Juan Williams.

Simeone's involvement in this month's protests was first reported by the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call and further publicized by conservative outlets, including the Daily Caller.

NPR bars its employees from political activity and has said it takes questions about Simeone's involvement in the protests "very seriously."

Simeone is not employed or even paid by NPR. Instead, she is a freelancer for station WDAV. Based in the Charlotte, N.C. area, the station is owned by Davidson College and focuses on arts and cultural programming.

WDAV has decided to retain Simeone as host. "Ms. Simeone's activities outside of this job are not in violation of any of WDAV's employee codes and have had no effect on her job performance at WDAV," the station said in a statement. "Ms. Simeone remains the host of World of Opera."

The host says she is puzzled by NPR's concerns about her involvement in the protests since she is not involved in any news coverage. "I've never brought a whiff of my political activities into the work I've done for NPR World of Opera," Simeone said in an email. "What is NPR afraid I'll do — insert a seditious comment into a synopsis of Madame Butterfly?"

WDAV general manager Scott Nolan said he is working with NPR to resolve the problem, but noted his station's mission differs from that of NPR News.

NPR has not yet announced whether it will continue to distribute the program. The network has said Simeone's activities create an issue under the distribution arrangement between the station and NPR.

"We fully respect that the management of WDAV is solely responsible for the decision making around Lisa's participation in Occupy DC and her freelance role with WDAV's program," said Dana Davis Rehm, senior vice president for communications, in a statement circulated to member stations.

Rehm said NPR was not involved in the decision to fire Simeone as host at Soundprint and that Simeone's role on the documentary program was "completely unrelated" to her work on World of Opera.

"NPR had no contact with the management of the program prior to their decision," Rehm said. "We learned about it after the fact, through media reports."

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