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

Opposite Sides Of Border Closure: Laredo, Texas, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico

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Trump Closes U.S. Borders. Immigration Grinds To A Halt

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U.S. Coronavirus Screenings Trigger Airport Bottlenecks

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Marvin Joel is currently living in a Dallas suburb. Soon he will turn 18 and apply for asylum as an adult, while his father languishes in a refugee camp in Matamoros, unable to join him. Allison V. Smith for NPR hide caption

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A Migrant Father Sends His Son To The U.S.: 'I Know That He's Safe'

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More Kids Are Making The Dangerous Trip Across Texas-Mexico Border

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Federal Court Blocks 'Remain In Mexico' Program For Central American Asylum Seekers

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Juliet García, former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville, stands behind the border wall. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Between President Trump's Border Wall And The Rio Grande Lies A 'No Man's Land'

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White House Rules Would Restrict Foreign Travelers From Coming To U.S.

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A new section of the border wall is seen in November 2019 south of Donna, Texas. Trump's 576-mile border wall is expected to cost nearly $20 million per mile, which is more expensive than any other wall under construction in the world. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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$11 Billion And Counting: Trump's Border Wall Would Be The World's Most Costly

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At $11 Billion And Counting, Trump's Border Wall Would Be The World's Most Expensive

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A white-tailed deer emerges from the brush. The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge has some of the richest biological diversity in North America — with 1,200 plants, 300 butterflies, and 700 vertebrates, of which 520 are birds. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Border Wall Threatens National Wildlife Refuge That's Been 40 Years In The Making

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The existing border wall (right) is seen near the construction site of new wall panels south of Donna, Texas, on Nov. 20. There is widespread skepticism on the border that President Trump will get anywhere near the 450 miles of wall he wants by next November. Verónica G. Cárdenas for NPR hide caption

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Acquiring Private Land Is Slowing Trump's Border Wall

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Arrest Of Genaro Garcia Luna Shocks Mexico

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