Monday, October 31, 2011

You Have "Rights" Until You Exercise Them

In America they pound their chests over their democracy and their political "liberty" and all the "rights" their citizens have. But from my perspective all I can see is that you have the right to cut your own throat, to lose your job, and to have your children starve. Those aren't the rights that were written up in the Constitution, but those are the "rights" given to ordinary people -- but not the billionaires who can buy rights as they please -- in contemporary American society.

The response of the "free" media in the US to Occupy Wall Street makes this utterly obvious...

First, here is an Atlantic Wire story about Lisa Simeone:
With yesterday's news that Lisa Simeone was fired from her one radio gig but retained at her other, we now have word on what exactly both radio shows were thinking when they made their decision. Simeone was canned as host of Soundprint, a documentary show, after it came to light that she participated in the Occupy D.C. protests, but she's keeping her hosting duties at her other show aired on NPR, World of Opera, as the two shows are produced by different companies. Maryland-based Soundprint Media Center, which produces Soundprint but is not part of NPR, said Simeone's participation in the protest clearly violated NPR ethics code, which the company adopted for itself because "listeners don't know the difference between NPR and independent producers across the country," the AP reports. Moira Rankin, the president of Soundprint, clarifies the company's decision in the report:
In my mind, it's fine if you want to be a leader of an organized protest movement, but you can't also be in a journalistic role. You can't be the host of a journalism program and plead that you are different than the reporter who is going to come on a minute after you introduce the program.
However, World of Opera, distributed nationally by NPR, is produced by WDAV, a classical-music radio station in North Carolina, and it doesn't see any conflict of interest where Soundprint does. "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," a station spokesperson wrote in an email to the AP. Interestingly, although the national network itself "questioned" Simeone's activism, saying that its code of ethics applies to cultural radio shows like hers, NPR is emphasizing that it can't take action against someone it doesn't employ. "We are not her employer, but she is a host for a show that we distribute," an NPR spokesperson told the AP. "She's a public person who represents NPR and public radio."

For the record, Simeone defends her choice to protest 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. I'm not an NPR employee. 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?
Second, here is an Atlantic Wire story about Caitlin E. Curran:
The people who make shows for NPR stations, dinged by the perception that they're a bunch of kneejerk liberals, are proving themselves to be very, very touchy about how their employees participate with Occupy Wall Street. Today, Gawker has posted the first-hand account of Caitlin E. Curran, a Brooklyn-based former freelancer for The Takeaway, which is co-produced by NPR-member station WNYC and Public Radio International, who was fired from her public radio gig as a part-time web producer after her boss discovered she (briefly) participated in an Occupy protest.

Update 2: We've added WNYC's response below, in which the station says Curran was fired because, "When Ms. Curran made the decision to participate in the protest and make herself part of the story, she violated our editorial standards."

Update: We initially used "NPR" in the headline for this story which is incorrect because the show The Takeaway is more identified with NPR competitor PRI even though it airs alongside NPR programming. We've corrected the error, but there's also this point to make: the public radio economy contains many independent actors alongside NPR. There is the national organization, local broadcasters, independent producers and distributors all involved in programming on what listeners would consider "NPR stations." So, while NPR is not a centralized organization that controls all of public radio, the "NPR is liberal" critics are prone to paint with a broad brush. If anything, Curran's story illustrate how far the fear of looking too liberal has permeated the entire public radio ecosystem.

Curran was canned after her boss found the now-famous photo of her (right) holding a sign with paraphrased text from The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf, from his post on the Occupy movement. She chronicles what happened after that in her post:
My boyfriend, Will, and I decided to take Friedersdorf's words and use them, perhaps more literally than he intended. We printed them out, taped them to poster board, and headed to the Occupy Wall Street march in Times Square, on October 15. The plan was for Will to hold the sign, and for me to observe what happened and post reports to my personal Twitter account ... But, inevitably, Will developed sign-holding fatigue, and I took over momentarily.
That's when a photographer snapped the Occupy picture reblogged 'round the world. So she decided that all of this notoriety would make for great radio, so he pitched a segment idea on her experience on The Takeaway. But a day later, she got the boot from The Takeaway, which said she "violated every ethic of journalism," according to Curran. All this of course echoes the firing of Lisa Simeone after she was found to be working as a spokesperson for Occupy D.C. Curran, like Simeone, offered a defense of her actions on Gawker:

My thinking ran along the same lines as Simeone's. It's unclear to me how our participation, on our personal time, in a non-partisan movement warrants termination from our jobs. If the protest is so lacking, in terms of message and focus, then how can my involvement with it go against The Takeaway's ethical policies? In other words, if I'm associated with a party-less movement (and barely associated, since that was only the second time I've attended an Occupy Wall Street event), and have never exercised bias in editing The Takeaway's website, what's the harm?

Here is the full statement from WNYC spokesperson Jennifer Houlihan:
Caitlin Curran was a freelance news producer for The Takeaway, a morning news program co-produced by WNYC and Public Radio International (PRI). In that capacity she was expected to observe the general standards of journalistic practice and more specifically WNYC's editorial guidelines which require that editorial employees be free of any conflict that might compromise the work of the show overall. The Takeaway has covered the Occupy Wall Street story since its beginning through active reporting on the protests and the positive and negative responses to those events. When Ms. Curran made the decision to participate in the protest and make herself part of the story, she violated our editorial standards. At that time the program made the decision to no longer use her services as part of the production team.
It is lovely to have liberties that are purely theoretical. It is ridiculous to have rights that can only exist in your mind and never be acted upon. But that is "democracy" in America, the land of the "free", home of the "brave", where lollipops hang from the trees and the bastard billionaires dance across the landscape dressed as sugar plum fairies assuring everybody that if they get just "one more tax cut" then they will create jobs for everyone!

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