NPR: Stay away from Colbert, Stewart rallies

An intercepted memo from the boss of National Public Radio raises some significant questions, I presume, for newsrooms across the land.

Is there any “cause” or “rally” that reporters can participate in without being in violation of an ethical guidelines.

Jim Romenesko at Poynter has the memo from NPR execs to the minions, warning them not to attend the “rallies” by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert later this month, citing this clause in their policies:


NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers, nor should they sign petitions or otherwise lend their name to such causes, or contribute money to them. This restriction applies to the upcoming John Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies.

Stewart is hosting the “rally to restore sanity” and Colbert is head of the “march to keep fear alive.”

There’s a case to be made that both amount to political rallies, but what should a reporter do who wants to take part in, say “Race for the Cure,” which might be considered a rally? (NPR reporting considers this a “cause.”) Or a vigil to show solidarity in a neighborhood in which they live, where several homicides have taken place?

Where’s the line in civic involvement? Is it actively engaging in a “partisan” event? Or is it being seen participating in a civic or partisan event?