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.



Sat September 17, 2011
Around the Nation

'On The Edge' In Mississippi: Residents Cling To Land

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:23 am

Occasional flooding is part of life on the batture, between the Mississippi River and the levee.
Kevin O'Mara

In the netherworld of the batture between the levee and the Mississippi River near New Orleans, there is a small community built on stilts. Locals call them "camps": a dozen eccentric structures — some rundown, some handsome, all handmade — clinging to the river side of the great dike.

One man has been fighting for years to claim this land, which he says belongs to his family, but those living on the batture don't seem too worried about losing their homes.

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Thu September 15, 2011
Around the Nation

Texas Fire Evacuees Return To Find Only Ashes

Originally published on Thu September 15, 2011 9:39 pm

Jeans hang on a clothesline next to a burned down trailer home in Bastrop, Texas. A wildfire raging for nearly two weeks has blackened 50 square miles and destroyed more than 1,500 homes.
Erich Schlegel AFP/Getty Images

For 17 years, Linda and Roger Ward lived in their two-story dream house in a subdivision in Bastrop County, southeast of Austin, Texas. They loved to sit on their back deck and listen to the wind in the pines.

On the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 4, everything changed.

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Wed September 7, 2011
It's All Politics

Drought And Wildfires Haven't Changed Perry's Views On Climate Change

Firefighting helicopters dump water and flame retardant after loading up with water from a pond at Lost Pines Golf Club as they fight a fire in Bastrop State Park on September 6, 2011 in Bastrop, Texas.
Erich Schlegel Getty Images

Rick Perry heats up the atmosphere every time he talks about climate change. He's an avowed global warming doubter who once quipped, "The biggest source of carbon dioxide is Al Gore's mouth."

Perry set off the debate again in New Hampshire recently when he said, "I think we're seeing weekly, and even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that manmade global warming is what is causing the climate to change."

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Mon September 5, 2011
Around the Nation

'Mother Nature Has The Upperhand' In Wildfire Fight

A tinderbox landscape and unusually windy conditions have caused more than 60 wildfires to explode across Central and East Texas — creating a hellish Labor Day for thousands of Texans. Two people have been killed so far.

The worst fire is in Bastrop County, just southeast of Austin, where the blaze has been burning out of control for more than a day.

No one in Bastrop has ever seen anything like it. The tall, pine forests that were a favorite getaway for campers and city commuters have erupted into an inferno.

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Tue August 30, 2011
Presidential Race

Perry, Romney Boost Military, Bash Obama In Texas

The two top leaders of the large field of Republican presidential hopefuls have gotten a warm welcome this week from the friendly crowd at the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in San Antonio.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney both boasted of their admiration and support for the military in their speeches, but they sidestepped attacks on each other, saving their vitriol for President Obama.

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Fri August 26, 2011
Around the Nation

Texas Drought Takes Its Toll On Wildlife

It's not only people suffering from the drought in Texas. Susan Edwards, manager of Wildlife Rescue, holds a juvenile raccoon. The raccoon should at least be double in size, but its mother's milk was lacking needed nutrients.
John Burnett NPR

The unfolding calamity that is the Texas drought has thrown nature out of balance. Many of the wild things that live in this state are suffering.

Sections of major rivers — like the Brazos, the Guadalupe, the Blanco, Llano and Pedernales — have dried up. In many places, there aren't even mud holes anymore.

Read more


Thu August 18, 2011

Verdict In Katrina Shooting Buoys Police Reform

Ted Jackson The Times-Picayune /Landov

On Aug. 5, a federal jury handed down one of the most sweeping verdicts in the modern history of American police brutality cases. Five New Orleans police officers were convicted of various roles in gunning down civilians in the days after Hurricane Katrina, and then covering it up. Five other officers pleaded guilty.

The Danziger Bridge case, as it's called, adds momentum to a reform effort already under way. The Department of Justice says it's committed to cleaning up the New Orleans Police Department, once and for all.

'This Will Not Stand'

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Sat August 6, 2011

Gov. Perry Tries To Keep Focus On God, Not Politics

It could have been a typical service at any megachurch in the South, with a tight band, a great choir, big-screen projection, and a large congregation swaying and praying. But the speaker who drew the biggest response at the prayer rally in Houston on Saturday was Texas Gov. Rick Perry, looking resplendent in a red tie and his much-envied mane of dark hair.

The often combative Republican governor did not attack his nemesis, Barack Obama, who Perry often accuses of overreaching and whom he may try to defeat at the polls next year.

In fact, Perry prayed for him.

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Fri August 5, 2011

Rick Perry's Religious Revival Sparks A Holy War

Originally published on Wed August 24, 2011 10:55 am

Texas Gov. Rick Perry looks on during a speech at a Boy Scout ceremony in June aboard the USS Midway in San Diego. At that dinner, he said the federal government is rudderless. Now, he's calling for a "day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our nation."
Gregory Bull AP

Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor of Texas, is a Methodist by tradition who, with his wife, Anita, now attends an evangelical megachurch in Austin. He is open about his deep Christian faith.

On Saturday, Perry, who is widely expected to enter the race for the White House, is hosting a religious revival in Houston to pray for what he calls "a nation in crisis."

While the governor claims it's nothing more than a Christian prayer rally, the event has touched off a holy war among critics, who claim it is Jesus-exclusive and political.

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Wed July 6, 2011
National Security

'Spillover' Violence From Mexico: Trickle Or Flood?

Originally published on Tue August 7, 2012 3:29 pm

Mike Vickers runs the group Texas Border Volunteers, which patrols his ranch, and others in south Texas, that complain of illegal immigrants trespassing. Vickers says he has found bodies of immigrants on his land.
John Burnett NPR

Note: This is the second of a two-part series.

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Tue July 5, 2011
National Security

Texas Governor Wages Own Battle Along Border

Originally published on Tue August 7, 2012 3:30 pm

Texas Department of Public Safety pilots monitor the Rio Grande River near Los Ebanos, Texas.
John Burnett NPR

Note: This is the first of a two-part series

The federal government claims the southwest border is more secure than it's ever been. There are more agents and barriers, more choppers, drones, sensors and hi-tech cameras than ever before.

Yet, state officials in Texas maintain the illegal flow of people and drugs is worse than ever — proof, they say, the border is out of control. To back up his rhetoric, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has declared his own war on the traffickers.

The Border Threat: Real Or Rhetorical?

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Tue June 21, 2011

Trial Nears In Post-Katrina Bridge Shootings

Nearly six years later, the real story of what happened on the Danziger Bridge may finally come out.

On Wednesday, the biggest police abuse case in the modern history of the New Orleans Police Department gets under way. Federal prosecutors allege police officers shot and killed two unarmed civilians fleeing the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina and maimed four others. Afterward, prosecutors claim, the police engaged in an elaborate cover-up to make it look like self-defense.

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Fri May 27, 2011

Et Tu, Austin? Locals Start To Doubt Lance Armstrong

New allegations emerged late last week that cycling superstar Lance Armstrong used illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Former teammate Tyler Hamilton said on CBS's 60 Minutes that he told a federal grand jury he and Armstrong both doped while riding for the U.S. Postal Team in Tour de France races.

In Armstrong's hometown of Austin, Texas, the newest accusations are beginning to tear at his reputation as the world's most famous cyclist.

'Shakespearean Tragedy'

Lance Armstrong is Austin's favorite son.

He lives here.

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Mon May 23, 2011
The Picture Show

A Handmade Camera And A Vintage Trailer: On The Road To A Lost America

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:49 am

David Michael Kennedy with Heather Howard and Henry Crow Dog in front of their 1959 Airstream trailer.
Courtesy of David Michael Kennedy

David Michael Kennedy is a 60-year-old art photographer from New Mexico who took an extraordinary cross-country journey to rediscover what he thought was a lost America. He shares his photos here, and responds to a few questions.

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Fri May 13, 2011
Music News

Hot Club Of Cowtown: A Texas Trio's Tribute

Hot Club of Cowtown's new album, What Makes Bob Holler, is a tribute to Western swing legend Bob Wills.
Courtesy of the artist

Several cities have "Hot Clubs" — bands that play so-called "Gypsy jazz" in the tradition of Django Reinhardt. There's the Hot Club of New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

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Mon May 9, 2011
Reporter's Notebook

A Young Hitchhiker's Guide To The Road: Smile

I'm not in the habit of picking up hitchhikers, but the one I approached on Interstate 10 in west Texas not long ago looked different. He was a friendly-faced lad with his thumb out, a cardboard sign propped against his rucksack read "West," and he was playing a fiddle.

The day was overcast and traffic light. He was standing beside the road just beyond the city limits of Junction, a ranching town surrounded by limestone hills and dull-green junipers.

I pulled over.

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Mon April 18, 2011
A Blog Supreme

A Tsunami Washes Away 10,000 Albums, But The Music Plays On

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami took more than 13,000 lives and wiped whole towns off the map of Japan. One of the lesser-known casualties was the loss of a great jazz record collection — the life's work of one man.

It belonged to Ken Terui, a jazz aficionado who owns Johnny's Jazz Cafe in the northeastern prefectural (state) capital of Morioka, a rural region known more for aging rice farmers than jazz lovers. Discovering Terui's club — everybody calls him Johnny — was the high point of my three-week assignment in Japan covering the aftermath of the tsunami.

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Tue April 12, 2011
Japan In Crisis

Japanese Youth Step Up In Earthquake Aftermath

Amid the destruction and devastation left by Japan's earthquake and tsunami, Japanese youth have stepped up in volunteering to help.

Aided by social media, young people unused to pitching in are streaming toward the devastated northeast coast, eager to deliver relief supplies and clean up.

Kenta Umeda arrived in the town of Ishinomaki last weekend from Tokyo to help haul garbage out of neighborhoods that were destroyed by the tsunami. For the trip, he loaded some new music into his iPod, hung an alarm whistle around his neck and tucked some drumsticks into his backpack.

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Sun April 10, 2011

In Japan, Many Still Living On The Edge



The government of Japan has established a 12-mile evacuation zone around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. Within the 12- to 20-mile zone, people can remain where they are, but they must stay indoors because the reactors are leaking radiation into the air.

Outside the danger zone, people are trying to resume normal lives, but it's not so easy, as NPR's John Burnett reports from the city of Soma.

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