John Burnett John Burnett is the Southwest Correspondent on the National Desk.
John Burnett at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., September 27, 2018. (photo by Allison Shelley)
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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 and again in 2019, he won a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In December 2018, Burnett 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.

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Story Archive

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is testing mobile surveillance towers like this one, parked at the Border Security Expo in San Antonio, to improve the tracking of illegal crossers. Critics of the border wall say the government should favor virtual technology over steel and concrete. John Burnett/NPR hide caption

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Border Patrol Faulted For Favoring Steel And Concrete Wall Over High-Tech Solutions

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Demetria McFarland, a teacher who is spearheading the move to relocate the Confederate statue, says growing up in Marshall, Texas, "We always knew what it stood for. It was just one of those taboo things." John Burnett/NPR hide caption

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'We Always Knew What It Stood For': Small Texas Town Torn Over Its Confederate Statue

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Trump Administration Defies Court, Won't Accept New DACA Applications

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Federal police stand guard on Salmon Street after pushing protesters away from the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on Tuesday in Portland, Ore. The federal police response to the ongoing protests against racial inequality has been criticized by city and state elected officials. Nathan Howard/Getty Images hide caption

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Border Patrol Response To Portland Unrest: Straying From Mission Or Continuing One?

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Channing Concho, left, and American Horse photograph themselves in front of a memorial after a sculpture of Spanish conquistador Juan de Onate was removed on June 16, 2020 in Albuquerque. Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Statues Of Conquistador Juan De Oñate Come Down As New Mexico Wrestles With History

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Who Was Juan De Oñate? A Look At The Conquistador's Violent Legacy In New Mexico

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A sculpture of Juan de Oñate's settlers arriving in New Mexico is pictured as city workers remove a sculpture of the Spanish conquistador on June 16 in Albuquerque. Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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New Mexico Leaders To Militia: If You Want To Help Community, Stop Showing Up Armed

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'I Cried With My Mom': 'Dreamers' React To The Supreme Court's DACA Ruling

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A Person Shot During The Protest To Remove Conquistador Statue In Albuquerque, N.M.

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Paramedics from the San Antonio Fire Department set up swabbing stations in a suburban nursing home's parking lot as part of the massive state intervention to stop the spread of infections in Texas nursing homes. John Burnett/NPR hide caption

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Texas Calls In A Strike Force To Try To Slow Coronavirus Spread In Nursing Homes

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A border patrol agent walks along a border wall separating Tijuana, Mexico, from San Diego in March. The Trump Administration has proposed a number of changes that would restrict asylum claims. Gregory Bull/AP hide caption

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George Floyd Laid To Rest In Houston After Emotional Service

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People Gather For George Floyd's Funeral in Houston

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George Floyd To Be Buried Next To His Mother In Houston

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