25 August 2012

An Update from Lisa Simeone

In October, Lisa Simeone, the host of a National Public Radio program, World of Opera, found herself the object of controversy when her activities with the Occupy Wall Street movement became known. Despite the fact that Simeone was a freelancer, hosting a program in which her politics were not only irrelevant but virtually impossible to communicate — and despite the fact that her OWS activity was unpaid and conducted on her own time — conservative critics called for her dismissal. Rather than take a stand for free speech and risk reprisals in Congress, NPR capitulated, dropping World of Opera. (With Simeone as host, World of Opera is still produced by North Carolina station WDAV and distributed to individual stations.)

In solidarity with Simeone, I wrote a satirical essay here, speculating on what might have happened if Milton Cross, the legendary host of the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday afternoon radio program, had come under comparable attack. Simeone recently came across the essay, and she’s provided us with an update on her story, which I published in the “Comments” section of that essay and which, to make sure you see them, I’ll republish here, below.

Simeone’s experience reminds me of the sad case of the late David Wojnarowicz and his short film, Fire in My Belly, part of an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, entitled “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” in 2010. At the merest whisper of controversy, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, G. Wayne Clough, removed the film from the exhibit. (When “Hide/Seek” came to the Brooklyn Museum last winter, the curators restored Fire in My Belly to the exhibit.)

Clough faced some brutal criticism for a while, yet the lesson seemed clear, and surely it informed the decision making at NPR in Simeone’s case: the costs of cowardice are easier to pay than the costs of conflict with Congress. And the right-wingers have learned the lesson, too: it doesn’t take much to intimidate government entities that are ostensibly dedicated to art and free speech.

It’s almost enough to make one hope that Mitt Romney is elected and makes good on his campaign promises to cut funding for broadcasting and the arts. But if these McCarthyite tactics prove successful at NPR, the National Endowment, the Smithsonian, and PBS, who’s to say where the blacklisting and witch hunts will end?

Here’s what Lisa Simeone had to say:
I just stumbled on this and wanted to say thank you. For both the support and the laughs!

You have joined an illustrious cadre that also includes James Poniewozik of Time Magazine and Erik Wemple of the Washington Post, both of whom wrote hilarious spoofs of purported “partisan” broadcasts.

The most important element in all this — besides the fact that I was, yes, blacklisted by NPR, is that several prominent NPR reporters and hosts have actual, on-going conflicts of interest, yet nobody bats an eye, least of all NPR. Scott Simon can write his pro-war op-eds and make pro-war speeches, and it’s all okay. Etc.

Here’s the statement I issued to the press last year:

“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?

“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?

In other words, “All Animals Are Equal, But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.”

Thanks again for the shout-out.
And this follow-up:
I managed to hang onto two radio gigs (World of Opera and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra), and I still write for Style Magazine here in Charm City…. I continue to be politically active, as I have been my whole life (and as many people at NPR and Soundprint have always known about me).

In a move reminiscent of Stalinist Russia, NPR actually went so far as to purge my voice from existing NPR programs. I kid you not. Christmas, Hanukkah, etc. specials, shows that get repeated every year, where I did only the most minor interstitial stuff — they purged my voice and had somebody else re-do the narration.

You can't make this stuff up.

More’s the pity, say I!


Anonymous said...

This "all animals are equal" stuff has snowballed to the point where some of the animals are real pigs. But I just love Lisa Simeone. Bring back Lisa! We want Lisa! We want Lisa! What do we want? Lisa? When do we want Lisa? Now!

Lisa Simeone said...

Thanks, William.

As it happens, I just did a reading the other night here in Charm City about my little comic opera. More info and link to YouTube video here:


William V. Madison said...

Lisa -- I'm so glad to have heard from you, not least because it's meant hearing from so many others who are rooting for you, too. (As you can see from the anonymous comment above!)

Roberts said...

I remember being dismayed by this when I first heard it. NPR's lack of backbone will only hurt them in the future, now that conservative Congressmen have learned that NPR is easy to stampede.

While it would be nice if they could exist entirely on private funding, they'd still be at the mercy of their larger donors (although hopefully those donors would be hands-off or at least evenly balanced between conservatives and liberals).

Lisa Simeone said...

Oh, sorry the link didn't go through as HTML.

Anyway, to Anonymous, I'm still here, still hosting World of Opera and still hosting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra series. And still writing for Style Magazine and the watchdog site TSA News.

(By the way, Bill, Soundprint isn't produced by NPR and never has been. Soundprint is an independent production.)

P.S. Anyone else having a hard time with the Captcha? I have to try and try and try and try again before it tells me I've correctly reproduced the letters/symbols. Okay, I'm now on my 6th attempt, and I know it's not going to go through cause I still can't read the letters.

William V. Madison said...

Thanks, Lisa -- I've made a correction. (For better or worse, I opted for the quickest way -- by eliminating the reference to Soundbite in this essay.)

The link should work if we're willing to cut and paste.

I ALWAYS have a hard time with Captcha. It's a necessary evil, but if anybody has advice on how to use it, I hope they'll step forward.