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.

  • Melina S

    I’m happy to hear that she’s not leaving NPR. She’s a good host. I am pleased to hear her concerned about ethics and trying to do the right thing.

  • Jim Shapiro

    “Reality has a well known liberal bias”

    -Steven Colbert

    NPR bends over backwards in attempting to present a “balance”, regardless of the blatant bias presented by Fox, which is considered by most observers to be on the other end of the perspective spectrum.

    While “balance” is a laudable goal, I’ll opt for a close approximation to reality every time.

  • John W

    Considering that FOXNews is a revolving door for actual GOP candidates themselves, a spouse of someone working for someone running having the integrity to even consider the ethics of the situation is far and above a lot of media outlets.

    I mean, everyone seems to have been fine with Andrea Mitchell being in journalism while her husband built the house of cards called our economy, so while I admire Ms. Norris’ ethics, I guess I really don’t see the need.

  • jon

    How are all these NPR people always involved in politics, or new events?

    Closest thing to a political connection that I have (that I know of) is that I live down the street from the mayor of my suburb, and some times our dogs sniff each other on walks…

    Maybe the issue is that the media is in bed with _________ (fill in your own event here.)

  • Bob Collins

    // How are all these NPR people always involved in politics, or new events?

    I think it comes from being in Washington. Politics is almost part of the molecular component of air there.

  • http://wxrocks.wordpress.com Eric

    I guess people in the media are not real people and are not allowed to be part of the political process. Maybe politicians shouldn’t be either…

  • kennedy

    I can see where the political activities of someone in a news organization could be a conflict of interest.

    But I don’t understand how the political connections of an opera host make any difference. Is it a political conflict of interest for a network to broadcast Bristol Palin dancing?

  • Soo

    I would like just ONE example of any national media organization that does not at least lean to the right or to the left?? Journalists left on the same train the Congress did and are the two entities to benefit the most from this marriage.

  • Bob Collins

    “To the right or left” of what? Where? The middle? How do we know where the middle is? How do we decide “this” point is the middle and “that” point is to the right or to the left of that?