John Burnett John Burnett is the Southwest Correspondent on the National Desk.
Stories By

John Burnett

Allison Shelley/NPR
John Burnett at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., September 27, 2018. (photo by Allison Shelley)
Allison Shelley/NPR

John Burnett

Southwest Correspondent, National Desk

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, he won an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat, and he was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.

Though he is assigned to the National Desk, his beat has sometimes stretched around the world.

He has filed stories from more than 30 countries since joining NPR in 1986. In 2012, he spent five months in Nairobi as the East Africa Correspondent, followed by a stint during 2013 as the network's religion reporter. His special reporting projects have included working in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, as an embedded reporter with the First Marine Division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and continuing coverage of the U.S. drug war in the Americas. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.

Burnett's 2008 groundbreaking four-part series "Dirty Money"—which examined how law enforcement agencies have gotten hooked on and, in some cases, corrupted by seized drug money—won three national awards: a Scripps Howard National Journalism Award for Investigative Reporting, a Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists Award for Investigative Reporting, and an Edward R. Murrow Award for the accompanying website. His 2007 three-part series "The Forgotten War," which took a critical look at the nation's 30-year war on drugs, won a Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award for Excellence in Reporting on Drug and Alcohol Problems.

In 2006, Burnett's memoir, Uncivilized Beasts & Shameless Hellions: Travels with an NPR Correspondent, was published by Rodale Press. In that year, he also served as an Ethics Fellow at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In 2004, Burnett won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting for his story on the accidental U.S. bombing of an Iraqi village. His work was singled out by judges for the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award honoring the network's overall coverage of the Iraq War. Also in 2003, Burnett won a first place National Headliner Award for investigative reporting about corruption among federal immigration agents on the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the months following the attacks of September 11, Burnett reported from New York City, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. His reporting contributed to coverage that won the Overseas Press Club Award and an Alfred I. duPont Columbia University Award.

In 2001, Burnett reported and produced a one-hour documentary, "The Oil Century," for KUT-FM in Austin, which won a silver prize at the New York Festivals. He was a visiting faculty member in broadcast journalism at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in 2002 and 1997. He received a Ford Foundation Grant in 1997 for a special series on sustainable development in Latin America.

Burnett's favorite stories are those that reveal a hidden reality. He recalls happening upon Carlos Garcia, a Mexico City street musician who plays a musical leaf, a chance encounter that brought a rare and beautiful art form to a national audience. In reporting his series "Fraud Down on the Farm," Burnett spent nine months investigating the abuse of the United States crop insurance system and shining light on surprising stories of criminality.

Abroad, his report on the accidental U.S. Air Force bombing of the Iraqi village of Al-Taniya, an event that claimed 31 lives, helped listeners understand the fog of war. His "Cocaine Republics" series in 2004 was one of the first accounts to detail the emergence of Central America as a major drug smuggling region. But many listeners remember the audio postcard he filed while on assignment in Peshawar, Pakistan, after 9/11 about what it was like being, at six-foot-seven, the "tallest American at a Death-to-Americarally."

Prior to coming to NPR, Burnett was based in Guatemala City for United Press International covering the Central America civil wars. From 1979-1983, he was a general assignment reporter for various Texas newspapers.

Burnett graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

[+] read more[-] less

Story Archive

Trump Pitches 3-Year Extention Of DACA Protections For Border Wall Funding

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/686935250/686935255" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Teen migrants wait in line inside the Tornillo detention camp in Tornillo, Texas, in December 2018. Andres Leighton/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Andres Leighton/AP

Federal Immigration Agents Separated More Migrant Children Than Previously Thought

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/686198267/686369914" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Darling Adalid Mercado, 19 (center), left his home in Ocotepeque, Honduras, three months ago to flee town thugs who wanted to recruit him. Guillermo Arias for NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Guillermo Arias for NPR

A Waiting Game For Immigrants And Border Agents On 2 Sides Of The Wall

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/684589178/685087304" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Central American Migrants In Tijuana Consider If Long Journey Was Worth The Effort

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/684610100/684610129" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Chief Patrol Agent Rodney Scott stands near an old border monument at the base of the San Ysidro Mountains in southern San Diego County where current fencing ends. John Francis Peters for NPR hide caption

toggle caption
John Francis Peters for NPR

Border Patrol Makes Its Case For An Expanded 'Border Barrier'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/684037990/684087135" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Border Patrol Professionals Weigh In On What's Needed: Wall Or Fence

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/683861960/683861961" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Thousands Of Central American Migrants Stuck In Tijuana, Waiting To Seek Asylum

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/683339670/683339671" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Texas Migrant Tent City To Close By End Of January

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/682394181/682394182" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

People wait outside the port of entry at Tornillo, Texas, in June 2018. Beyond them is one of the tents that were put up to house unaccompanied migrant children. Christ Chavez/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Christ Chavez/Getty Images

Standoff: Trump Wants $5 Billion For Wall, Democrats Offer $1.3B For Border Security

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/681851549/681851550" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

What 'Unaccompanied Alien Children' Means

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/679592522/679592525" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Trump Administration Changes Border Policy To Discourage Asylum-Seekers

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/679057325/679058467" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen looks at her papers while testifying before members of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

People line up to cross into the United States from Tijuana, Mexico, seen through barriers topped with concertina wire at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego. A federal judge on Wednesday blocked the administration from enforcing a ban on asylum-seekers fleeing gang violence or domestic abuse. Gregory Bull/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Gregory Bull/AP

Judge Blocks Administration's Attempt To Restrict Asylum For Domestic, Gang Violence

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/678294396/678294397" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript