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NPR Listeners May Finally Be Protected from Opera Bias

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Kathy Willens / AP

Soprano Anna Netrebko, right, portrays Anne Boleyn shortly before her execution in Act II of the final for Gaetano Donizetti's "Anna Bolena," at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Public radio listeners! Have you long worried that your station was undermining capitalism through its broadcasts of the Ring Cycle? Tired of having your children brainwashed by the socialistic messages of La Traviata? Well, fear no more: host Lisa Simeone has been fired from the documentary show Soundprint and is having her role as host of NPR’s World of Opera investigated after it was discovered that Simeone, a freelancer, has been serving as spokeswoman for an Occupy Wall Street–related protest group.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that firing Simeone from World of Opera would be a stupid, stupid decision. I know people who work in public broadcasting, and they are to a person smart folks, so I am going to assume that they know that it would be stupid. As, probably, do the people who will ultimately make the decision.

It may also be unavoidable. As we learned with Juan Williams case and the fallout from the James O’Keefe NPR sting video in March, NPR and the larger public-radio community (Soundprint is not produced by NPR), because they rely in part on public funds, are vulnerable to politicization and practically obligated to overreact when a staff member or even freelancer comes within 200 feet of a political opinion.

In this case, Simeone’s involvement became a problem once it was reported by Roll Call Tuesday, after which it was necessary to take the political activities of an opera host “very seriously” because… well, because.

Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know my opinions on journalists expressing opinions. Any intelligent person has them; the only question is whether one hides them or not. Hiding things is not otherwise an aspiration of journalism. So as long as journalists are open about their convictions, able to do their work and able to do it fairly, I have no problem with it, ethical or otherwise.

OK, you and I can argue about whether this is the best position for, say, a political reporter. (Or the host of a documentary show.) You might argue that hiding one’s opinions is necessary to get access to sources and to be taken seriously by readers. I would say you’re wrong, but that’s another discussion. Applying the same principle to the host of an opera program is ridiculous almost to the level of satire: I could care less if a music host follows Occupy or the Tea Party or advocates giving the vote to dogs.

My local public-radio station, WNYC, is currently in the middle of its pledge drive. If I were them, I’d publicize this story to maximize donations: You see the ridiculous things we have to do because we rely on public funding? Dig deep and give now!

In the meantime, I hope that NPR will take the logical next step and agree to ban La Bohème, which is Occupy Wall Street propaganda if ever I heard it. I mean, get a job, you hippies!

[Update: It's not clear, but it is possible Simeone may remain free to foment the rise of the proletariat through arias. World of Opera producer WDAV issued a statement that it is retaining Simeone as host of the program—but also that it is still "work[ing] with NPR to find a solution to the issues surrounding” the show. It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.]

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