NPR: John Burnett

As a roving NPR correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett's beat stretches across the U.S., and, sometimes, around the world. Normally, he focuses on the issues and people of the Southwest United States, providing investigative reports and traveling the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. His special reporting projects have included New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, and many reports on the Drug War in the Americas. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition.

Beginning with NPR in 1986, Burnett has reported from 25 different countries. His 2008 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 Uncivilized Beasts & Shameless Hellions: Travels with an NPR Correspondent was published by Rodale Press. In that year, he also served as a 2006 Ethics Fellow at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In 2004, Burnett won a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for investigative reporting for his story on the accidental U.S. bombing of an Iraqi village. In 2003, he was an embedded reporter with the First Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq. 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 Sept. 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 detailed the emergence of Central America as a major drug smuggling region. But listeners may say that one of his best remembered reports is an audio postcard he filed while on assignment in Peshawar, Pakistan, about being at six-foot-seven the "tallest American at a Death to America" rally.

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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5:55am

Fri July 24, 2015
Politics

Donald Trump Visits The Border And Calls For Tougher Enforcement

Originally published on Fri July 24, 2015 9:10 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's talk about one of the people who wants to replace President Obama in the White House - Donald Trump, who went to the border with Mexico yesterday. The Republican candidate expressed outrage over illegal immigration.

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5:33pm

Thu July 23, 2015
Politics

Donald Trump Explores Border Reform Measures In South Texas

Originally published on Thu July 23, 2015 6:14 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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7:44am

Sun July 19, 2015
The Salt

Hacking Iconic New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp Far From The Gulf

Originally published on Thu July 23, 2015 4:28 pm

Co-owner and chef Mark DeFelice cooks up an order of barbecue shrimp at Pascal's Manale restaurant in New Orleans.
John Burnett NPR

This summer, NPR is getting crafty in the kitchen. As part of Weekend Edition's Do Try This At Home series, chefs are sharing their cleverest hacks and tips — taking expensive, exhausting or intimidating recipes and tweaking them to work in any home kitchen.

This week: A play on an iconic New Orleans dish to get supreme flavor from shrimp without heads.

The Chef

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5:02am

Thu July 16, 2015
U.S.

U.S. Immigration Agency Again Drops 'Family Friendly' Detention Centers

Originally published on Sat July 18, 2015 12:42 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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5:11am

Tue July 7, 2015
U.S.

In Rio Grande Valley, Some Campaign Workers Are Paid To Harvest Votes

Originally published on Tue July 7, 2015 9:26 am

Mary Helen Flores (center) is the founder of Citizens Against Voter Abuse.
John Burnett NPR

This week, NPR examines public corruption in South Texas. The FBI has launched a task force to clean up entrenched wrongdoing by public servants in the Rio Grande Valley. In the final part of this series, we examine vote-stealing and election fraud.

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4:30pm

Mon July 6, 2015
U.S.

With Corruption Rampant, Good Cops Go Bad In Texas' Rio Grande Valley

Originally published on Tue July 7, 2015 11:51 am

Jonathan Treviño poses in front of a drug bust.
Courtesy of Jonathan Treviño

This week, NPR examines public corruption in South Texas. The FBI has launched a task force to clean up entrenched misconduct by public officials in the Rio Grande Valley. In this installment of the series, we hear from a police officer who became a drug dealer.

In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where people are accustomed to seeing public officials led away in handcuffs, the case of the Panama Unit shocked everyone. The Valley's celebrated anti-narcotics squad had gone to the dark side.

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3:43am

Mon July 6, 2015
U.S.

Corruption On The Border: Dismantling Misconduct In The Rio Grande Valley

Originally published on Mon July 6, 2015 11:57 am

Jonathan Treviño shows seized contraband. The former police narcotics squad leader is currently serving 17 years in prison for reselling narcotics back to drug dealers.
Courtesy of Jonathan Treviño

This week, NPR examines public corruption in South Texas. The FBI has launched a task force to clean up pervasive misconduct by public servants in the Rio Grande Valley. But as NPR's John Burnett and Marisa Penaloza report, the problems are entrenched.

The Rio Grande Valley of Texas is a world apart, isolated by empty ranch land to the north, the Gulf to the east, and Mexico to the south. A million-and-a-half people live there amid dazzling wealth and stark poverty.

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5:05am

Mon June 29, 2015
Religion

Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Doesn't Make It Biblically Correct, Pastor Says

Originally published on Tue June 30, 2015 3:56 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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5:43pm

Sat June 6, 2015
U.S.

Wimberley Residents Leery Of River Weeks After Devastating Floods

Originally published on Mon June 8, 2015 7:27 pm

Kelly O'Keefe is usually volunteering to help others. Now she's accepting help from strangers after her home was destroyed by floods. "It's really difficult to be the one with my hand out," she says.
John Burnett NPR

Today, nearly two weeks after the catastrophic Memorial Day floods in Texas, search crews are still combing the banks of the Blanco River looking for three people who remain missing. They've already found eight bodies.

Meanwhile, residents of the tourist and retirement town of Wimberley, Texas, hit hardest by the flood, are cleaning up and struggling to reclaim their lives.

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8:23am

Sat May 23, 2015
Around the Nation

'They're Not Gang Members': Bikers Protest Mass Arrests In Waco

Originally published on Sun May 24, 2015 11:13 pm

Authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant Sunday in Waco, Texas. Bikers say that most of the 170 people arrested had nothing to do with the violence.
Jerry Larson AP

Authorities in Waco, Texas, continue to investigate the deaths of nine motorcycle gang members in one of the worst biker brawls in recent times. More than 170 people were arrested and charged with organized crime; each is being held under a $1 million bond.

Now there's a backlash from biker groups, who claim many of the riders were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, and had nothing to do with Sunday's bloody fight.

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1:15am

Mon May 18, 2015
The Two-Way

9 Dead After Shootout Between Rival Biker Gangs In Central Texas

Originally published on Mon May 18, 2015 10:34 pm

Authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant Sunday in Waco, Texas. Authorities say the shootout victims were members of rival biker gangs that had gathered for a meeting.
Jerry Larson AP

A brawl among as many as five rival motorcycle gangs turned deadly on Sunday in Waco, Texas. Nine bikers were killed and 18 injured at a popular sports bar frequented by the gangs. No bystanders or employees were hurt.

Waco police said trouble had been brewing at the Twin Peaks bar and grill for some time. Bikers had been congregating there in ever-increasing numbers, and there had been more and more arrests for fights and weapons. Authorities had intelligence that there was a high potential for violence on Sunday. And they were right.

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3:16pm

Thu April 23, 2015
The Salt

How Texas Ranchers Try To Clinch The Perfect Rib-Eye

Originally published on Thu April 23, 2015 7:03 pm

Donnell Brown and another cowboy move a grouping of bulls from one pen to another on rib-eye ultrasound day in March at the R.A Brown Ranch.
David Gilkey NPR

We're heading into grilling season, which means breaking out the burgers and brats. But if you're a true meat lover, the slab you'll want to be searing is the rib-eye.

The rib-eye is the bestselling cut of beef in America both at the supermarket and the steakhouse, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Beef lovers go crazy for it because of its marbling — the network of fat within muscles that melts on the grill and makes the steak juicy and tender.

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5:25am

Sun April 12, 2015
U.S.

Newly Released Texas Inmates Prepare For A Long Ride To Freedom

Originally published on Mon April 27, 2015 4:21 pm

David Gilkey NPR

Last year, 21,000 inmates were released in Huntsville, Texas — one of the largest prison towns in America. For most of them, their gateway to the free world is the Huntsville Greyhound station.

Monday through Friday, the glass doors swing open on the front of the Civil War-era, red-brick prison they call "The Walls." The inmates exit and shuffle along the sidewalk, some smiling, some pensive, shouldering potato sacks full of belongings. Most of them don't have loved ones waiting, so they continue walking the two blocks to the bus station — single file, out of habit.

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2:55pm

Wed April 1, 2015
Parallels

Matamoros Becomes Ground Zero As Drug War Shifts On Mexican Border

Originally published on Wed April 1, 2015 8:00 pm

State police officers patrol a highway between Ciudad Victoria and Matamoros, in northeast Mexico, in 2011. Mexico's drug and turf wars have descended on the once tourist friendly border town of Matamoros.
Alexandre Meneghini AP

Matamoros, which sits across the bridge from Brownsville, Texas, used to be a laid-back border town famed for margaritas and manufacturing.

But for at least the past five years, it's grown more and more violent: first, when the Zetas broke away from the Gulf Cartel, and more recently as a new feud has broken out between two factions within the Gulf.

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3:49am

Thu March 26, 2015
Around the Nation

Closure Of Private Prison Forces Texas County To Plug Financial Gap

Originally published on Thu March 26, 2015 9:17 am

A riot late last month forced officials to close the Willacy County Correcitonal Center in Wallcy County, Texas.
John Burnett NPR

The Willacy County Correctional Center is empty now. The tall security fences and dome-like housing units set out on the coastal prairie have no one inside them.

One morning late last month, the prisoners rioted. They set fires and tore the place up. Guards put down the uprising in about five hours. But the destruction was so severe that the sprawling detention compound has been shut down. All 2,800 inmates were transferred.

Willacy County is now facing the question — what does it do now that its biggest moneymaker is out of business?

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3:23pm

Mon March 16, 2015
Parallels

Excitement Over Mexico's Shale Fizzles As Reality Sets In

Originally published on Mon March 16, 2015 8:01 pm

A platform owned by Mexico's state-run oil company Pemex is seen off the Bay of Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico. The country has recently opened up its energy sector to foreign investors.
Victor Ruiz Reuters/Landov

The prolific shale formation that has made people rich in South Texas doesn't stop at the Rio Grande, as U.S. maps seem to indicate.

"The geology doesn't change when you cross that little 20-foot-deep river," says Brandon Seale, president of San Antonio-based Howard Energy Mexico. "What goes on 10,000 feet under the river is the exact same."

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4:00pm

Mon February 16, 2015
Technology

Hopes Soar As Drone Enthusiasts Greet New Rule Proposal

Originally published on Wed February 18, 2015 8:43 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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3:33am

Fri February 13, 2015
Cities Project

A Texas Community Takes On Racial Tensions Once Hidden Under The Surface

Originally published on Fri March 6, 2015 9:23 am

Kathy Van Sluyters (left), Barbara Carr and Colleen Dickinson chat on a recently finished sidewalk across from Wildflower Terrace, a mixed-income apartment building in the Mueller development for people ages 55 and over.
Julia Robinson for NPR

This is the second story in a two-part report on the Mueller neighborhood for the NPR Cities Project. You can find part one here.

The idea behind "new urbanism" is that a planned environment, designed with pedestrians and social interaction in mind, can create a meaningful community.

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6:26pm

Thu February 12, 2015
Around the Nation

With Porches And Parks, A Texas Community Aims For Urban Utopia

Originally published on Thu February 12, 2015 9:24 pm

Solar Sunflowers, an art installation, greets visitors to Mueller's commercial and retail hub off of Interstate 35. The panels power a nightly light display and return power to the grid. When the development is complete, five miles of granite trails will connect the residents to its commercial and retail hubs.
Julia Robinson for NPR

This is the first story in a two-part report on the Mueller neighborhood for the NPR Cities Project.

In Texas, a state where cars and private property are close to a religion, there is an acclaimed master-planned community that's trying something different.

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5:55pm

Thu February 5, 2015
Business

Planning Through Oil Booms Helps Small Producers Weather The Busts

Originally published on Fri February 6, 2015 10:55 am

Tracy Perryman is production manager for his family's small oil company in Luling, Texas. B.J.P. Inc. owns 116 wells that, combined, produce about 100 barrels a day.
John Burnett NPR

Hard times have hit the oil fields. A barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude has dropped from a high of over $100 to less than $50. But Tracy Perryman, a small oilman in Luling, Texas, has learned how to survive the lean times.

Oil companies that take on a lot of debt sometimes don't survive the downturns. But veterans of oil busts have learned how to plan for the inevitable price plunges.

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6:20pm

Wed January 28, 2015
U.S.

Beefed-Up Border Security Proposal Unsettles Texas Business Leaders

Originally published on Wed February 4, 2015 1:18 am

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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4:54pm

Tue January 6, 2015
Starting Over

An Army Chaplain, First Tested By War, Finds His Faith Renewed

Originally published on Wed January 7, 2015 8:25 am

As an Army chaplain in Iraq, David Peters administered last rites and grieved with survivors. When he came home, he says, he "fell apart emotionally and spiritually."
Courtesy of Robert K. Chambers

David Peters' life was supposed to be one continuous arc of piety and service.

But for the U.S. Army chaplain, it's ended up a more circuitous route. Peters lost the very faith he was supposed to embody for his soldiers — but has also found his way back.

Peters grew up in a fundamentalist evangelical church in Pennsylvania, served as youth minister and then went to war in Baghdad as a chaplain in the U.S. Army in 2005.

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4:27pm

Tue December 30, 2014
Latin America

Child Migrant Crisis Stemmed By Border Security Build-Up

Originally published on Thu January 8, 2015 6:42 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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9:21am

Sat December 27, 2014
U.S.

For Cubans In Key West, A Longing To Fill In 'Gaps Of Who We Are'

Originally published on Sat December 27, 2014 11:10 am

Cuba is 90 miles away from the southernmost point in the United States, in Key West, Fla. "There used to be a ferry that ran between the two islands every day," says 89-year-old Gregorio Garcia, who emigrated in 1958. "I hope they operate it again someday."
Karen Bleier AFP/Getty Images

Like Cuban-American families throughout the diaspora, the Garcias of Key West, Fla., gather on Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve, to catch up on news and eat a traditional meal of lechón, or roast pig.

Wayne Garcia, a local building contractor and artist, prepared the pork for the family feast this year. He smokes it for seven hours in a hole dug in his backyard, in a style he says was passed down from his great-grandparents.

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4:26pm

Fri December 26, 2014
Business

Businesses Buzz With Anticipation In Wake Of U.S.-Cuba Thaw

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

4:21pm

Tue December 23, 2014
Latin America

In Miami, Mixed Emotions Over Release Of Cuban Spies

Originally published on Tue December 23, 2014 6:26 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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5:01am

Fri December 12, 2014
U.S.

Born In The U.S. But Turned Back At The Border, Time After Time

Originally published on Fri December 12, 2014 3:35 pm

Maria Isabel de la Paz, a U.S. citizen, was twice turned away when trying to enter the U.S. legally. When she attempted an illegal crossing, her case was decided by a Border Patrol agent, not an immigration judge.
John Burnett NPR

Maria Isabel de la Paz is a 30-year-old Houstonian who works at a Chick-fil-A. She holds the distinction of being a U.S. citizen who was prevented for a dozen years from entering the United States.

Her case is at the heart of what immigrant advocates say is wrong with U.S. immigration enforcement — that deportations are increasingly being handled by federal agents at the border, rather than in immigration court. The practice is not necessarily illegal, but critics say it is fundamentally unfair.

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5:29pm

Mon December 1, 2014
Parallels

Legal Pot In The U.S. May Be Undercutting Mexican Marijuana

Originally published on Tue December 2, 2014 5:57 am

Nabor, a small-scale marijuana grower in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinoloa, checks his plants. As legal pot increasingly becomes available in the U.S., Americans appear to be buying more that is grown domestically. Prices for marijuana from Mexico have fallen sharply.
John Burnett NPR

Made-in-America marijuana is on a roll. More than half the states have now voted to permit pot for recreational or medical use, most recently Oregon and Alaska. That number also includes the District of Columbia. As a result, Americans appear to be buying more domestic marijuana, which in turn is undercutting growers and cartels in Mexico.

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4:53pm

Fri November 28, 2014
Around the Nation

Do More Boots On The Border Equal Security?

Originally published on Fri November 28, 2014 6:22 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When President Obama announced sweeping changes to the immigration system, this was the first thing on his list.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

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5:11pm

Wed October 15, 2014
Around the Nation

Immigrant Advocates Challenge The Way Mothers Are Detained

Originally published on Wed October 15, 2014 6:54 pm

Children enter a dormitory in the Artesia Family Residential Center in Artesia, N.M, in September. The center has been held up by the Obama administration as an example of the crackdown on illegal crossings from Central America. But civil rights advocates are suing the federal government, saying that lack of access to legal representation turned the center into a "deportation mill."
Juan Carlos LLorca AP

The federal government is opening new family detention centers for newly arrived immigrants in the hope it will speed the process of considering their claims for asylum, but civil rights advocates have challenged this practice of detaining mothers and children who are caught coming into this country illegally.

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