NPR host ‘temporarily’ steps down while husband works to re-elect Obama

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
Font Size:

National Public Radio’s Michele Norris, who co-hosts All Things Considered, is stepping down “temporarily” from her post as her husband works to re-elect President Barack Obama.

Norris’ husband, Broderick Johnson, worked for Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, and for Obama’s 2008 White House bid. Norris did not step down in 2008, but did recuse herself from political coverage in 2004.

Johnson will be a “senior adviser” for the Obama 2012 campaign, according to an internal message Norris sent her colleagues. (SEE ALSO: NPR host fired from syndicated program after doubling as ‘Occupy DC’ spokeswoman)

“After careful consideration, we  decided that Broderick’s new role could make it difficult for me to continue hosting ATC,” Norris wrote, explaining to coworkers her discussions with NPR management. “Given the nature of Broderick’s position with the campaign and the impact that it will most certainly have on our family life, I will temporarily step away from my hosting duties until after the 2012 elections.”

Apparently Norris will be continuing to produce some news content for the taxpayer-subsidized radio network — just not 2012 political coverage. “I will be leaving the host chair at the end of this week, but I’m not going far,” Norris adds in her memo to staff. “I will be wearing a different hat for a while, producing signature segments and features and working on new reporting projects. While I will of course recuse myself from all election coverage, there’s still an awful lot of ground that I can till in this interim role.”

Technically, Norris isn’t violating the taxpayer-subsidized radio network’s ethics policy, but she’s walking a fine line. Since Norris isn’t working for the president herself, but her husband is working to re-elect him, there’s some gray area that allows her to tiptoe through the ethics code.

That code requires the network’s “journalists” to disclose to management when there’s a familial conflict of interest.

“When a spouse, family member or companion of an NPR journalist is involved in political activity, the journalist should be sensitive to the fact that this could create real or apparent conflicts of interest,” it reads. “In such instances the NPR journalist should advise his or her supervisor to determine whether s/he should recuse him or herself from a certain story or certain coverage.”

NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher told The Daily Caller on Monday that “of course” Norris would be allowed back on All Things Considered in the future, even though she’s married to a high-ranking Obama campaign official.

The news comes just days after National Public Radio dismissed “World of Opera” host Lisa Simeone for representing the left-wing protest group currently “occupying” Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. Simeone had violated NPR’s ethics code by acting as a spokesperson and advocate for “October 2011,” one of two “Occupy DC” groups.

Simeone was fired from her position as host of the syndicated program “SoundPrint,” aired by Washington, D.C. NPR affiliate WAMU and other public radio stations. Simeone will continue to host “World of Opera,” her other public radio program, produced by North Carolina public radio station WDAV, but NPR will no longer syndicate that program nationally.

Simeone told Salon.com that her firing from SoundPrint, and NPR’s decision to stop syndicating World of Opera, are “overblown.”

“Everyone’s overreacting,” Simeone told Salon. “It’s like McCarthyism.”

The taxpayer-funded network’s CEO, Vivian Schiller, was forced into resignation in the spring. The House of Representatives voted to defund NPR for the first time in history, a move that foundered in the Democratic-controlled Senate. NPR also fired Ron Schiller, Vivian Schiller’s number two. The two are not related. Mr. Schiller was dismissed following his unwitting role in a sting video produced by conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe.

In the sting video, Schiller is seen saying that liberals “might be more educated” than conservatives, and describing Republicans as “anti-intellectual.”

NPR has continued to struggle politically, and for the first time in a generation its future success is in doubt. A new CEO, Gary Knell, is scheduled to begin leading the taxpayer-subsidized radio network on December 1, and has publicly advocated for resolving the public’s perception of the network’s political biases by getting back to basics.

“It’s about journalism, it’s about news,” Knell told the Associated Press after he got the job. “It’s not about promoting one political agenda or another.”

Knell’s only political donation available in public records was a $1,000 contribution to Democrat Al Gore’s 2000 bid for the White House. NPR maintains that Knell has been “bipartisan” in the public sector.

“He served as counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary and Governmental Affairs Committees,” Christopher said in an email. “In 2007, he led the ‘Task Force on Media and Childhood Obesity,’ a bi-partisan group that included advertisers, advocacy groups, and industry representatives as well as Senators Brownback and Harkin, and FCC Chair Kevin Martin.”

“Gary was appointed by the Bush Administration to serve as a member of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO,” Christopher continued. “He has made frequent appearances on Washington panels and in hearings on Capitol Hill.”

Follow Matthew on Twitter