Marriage and the NPR ethics rules

Cue the “we knew it” outrage.

Michele Norris is leaving hosting duties at National Public Radio — temporarily — because her husband is joining the national Barack Obama re-election campaign.

In a note to staff posted on the company’s Two Way blog, Norris says she’s not leaving reporting, just hosting:


I need to share some news and I wanted to make sure my NPR family heard this first. Last week, I told news management that my husband, Broderick Johnson, has just accepted a senior adviser position with the Obama Campaign. After careful consideration, we decided that Broderick’s new role could make it difficult for me to continue hosting ATC. 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. I will be leaving the host chair at the end of this week, but I’m not going far. 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.

“This has all happened very quickly, but working closely with NPR management, we’ve been able to make a plan that serves the show, honors the integrity of our news organization and is best for me professionally and personally.

“I will certainly miss hosting, but I will remain part of the ATC team and I look forward to contributing to our show and NPR in new and exciting ways.”

The should amp up the “NPR is just a bunch of liberals” cackling. And it comes days after an opera host, whose show was distributed but not owned by NPR, got into ethical hot water because she also served as a spokeswoman for Occupy protests in Washington

It also shows the tricky aspect of determining ethics where family members are concerned. Sure, there’s a fair chance that if Michele Norris married a senior adviser to Barack Obama, that Barack Obama is on her list of favorites. But, prove it. Clearly, she thought the perception of a conflict of interest was an ethical violation, but does moving to reporting duties erase that?

Norris also recused herself in 2004 when her husband worked on the Kerry campaign. But she didn’t when he volunteered on the Obama campaign in 2008.

Another NPR host, Linda Wertheimer, is married to Fred Wertheimer, the former president of Common Cause. There’s no indication that presented ethical problems for either her or the company for which she works.