The answer is they can – if they are assigned to cover the events.
But news staff and others covered by NPR's ethics policy should not go.
We've received enormous attention from media of all kinds today about our communication to NPR staff on this question. More press than our coverage of the war in Afghanistan or our investigation of the military's treatment of those suffering from mild traumatic brain injury.
Some people are asking why staff shouldn't attend, since these events are just good fun? How serious could rallies led by comedians be? They are asking whether we sent a similar memo to staff about the Beck's Restoring Honor rally or any other recent rallies on the mall in Washington, D.C., such as the One Nation rally.
We didn't get questions from staff about the Restoring Honor and One Nation rallies, because it was obvious to everyone that these were overtly political events. It's different with the Colbert and Stewart rallies; they are ambiguous. But their rallies will be perceived as political by many, whatever we think. As such, they are off limits except for those covering the events.
For our part, we're curious about what other news organizations – The New York Times, CBS, ABC, NBC and The Washington Post – are thinking about whether their own ethics policies are consistent with their staffs' attendance at these events. If we find out, we'll post it here.
Below are the internal memos that sparked all the attention. Let us know what you think about our decision.
October 13, 2010
To ALL NPR staff,
Please see Ellen Weiss' note to her staff below (and in particular, the reference to the upcoming Jon Stewart rally). In addition to News, the other divisions that are required to abide by the NPR News Ethics policy are digital, programming/AIR, legal and communications.
However, no matter where you work at NPR you should be very mindful that you represent the organization and its news coverage in the eyes of your friends, neighbors and others. So please think twice about the message you may be sending about our objectivity before you attend a rally or post a bumper sticker or yard sign. We are all NPR.
If you have any questions or concerns, please speak to your supervisor.
From: Ellen Weiss
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 8:46 AM
To: News-All Staff
Subject: NPR Journalists and political activity
As we head into the final weeks of this political season, I thought it would be valuable to send out a reminder of what NPR News Ethics Policies and Social Media Guidelines are regarding political activity.
These are the relevant excerpts from the full documents that can be found online.
Please review carefully and if you have any questions please talk to your direct supervisor.
- NPR journalists may not run for office, endorse candidates or otherwise engage in politics. Since contributions to candidates are part of the public record, NPR journalists may not contribute to political campaigns, as doing so would call into question a journalist's impartiality.
- NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers, nor should they sign petitions or otherwise lend their name to such causes, or contribute money to them. This restriction applies to the upcoming Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies.
- You must not advocate for political or other polarizing issues online. This extends to joining online groups or using social media in any form (including your Facebook page or a personal blog) to express personal views on a political or other controversial issue that you could not write for the air or post on NPR.org.
- NPR journalists may not serve on government boards or commissions.