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. Currently, he is serving as NPR's Religion correspondent.

In December 2012, he returned from a five-month posting in Nairobi as the East Africa Correspondent. 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.

Burnett has reported from more than 30 different countries since 1986. 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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Law
4:15 pm
Tue April 24, 2012

Firm Leaves Miss. After Its Prison Is Called 'Cesspool'

In 2010, former inmate Ross Walton describes mistreatment he says inmates received from guards. Faced with a court order to reform the Walnut Grove juvenile prison, the company managing the prison is leaving Mississippi.
Rogelio V. Solis AP

Originally published on Mon April 30, 2012 8:06 pm

One month after a federal court ordered sweeping changes at a troubled juvenile prison in rural Mississippi, the private company managing the prison is out. A report by the Justice Department describes "systemic, egregious and dangerous practices" at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility.

As those words imply, the official report is scathing.

Federal Judge Carlton Reeves wrote that the youth prison "has allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate, the sum of which places the offenders at substantial ongoing risk."

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U.S.
2:40 pm
Tue April 10, 2012

Tulsa Mourns Man Who 'Never Met A Stranger'

A makeshift memorial pays tribute to Bobby Clark, one of the victims of a shooting spree that left three people dead and terrorized Tulsa's African-American community.
Sue Ogrocki AP

Originally published on Thu April 12, 2012 5:57 pm

Three people were killed in last week's shootings in Tulsa, Okla.: Dannaer Fields, 49; William Allen, 31; and Bobby Clark, 54. Two others were wounded in the shootings. All of them were shot — apparently at random — in the predominantly black neighborhood of Northgate in northern Tulsa.

It was Bobby Clark's brother, Donny, who first found him after the fatal shooting.

"I came through there and I realized it was my brother laying in the street," Clark says. "They shot him under the armpit, and I think it hit his heart."

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Social Entrepreneurs: Taking On World Problems
1:59 pm
Fri April 6, 2012

Company Ties Shoes And Ethics Together

Gideon Shoes co-founder Matt Noffs with youth from The Street University, the nonprofit youth center that launched the fair trade company.
John Burnett NPR

Originally published on Sat April 7, 2012 12:16 pm

You don't go through corporate communications to meet the executive steering committee at Gideon Shoes.

Instead, you walk through a basketball court with graffiti-covered walls and into a sound studio. There, Gideon employees are warming up their talking points: rap lyrics.

"There's no excuses in this life, so I'm fighting on. ... The flame inside my heart is more like a firestorm," they rap.

The team is made up of Suhkdeep Bhogal from India, Thane Poloai from Samoa and Allan from New Zealand, who doesn't want to give his last name.

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Opinion
2:46 pm
Fri March 30, 2012

Lone Star State Of Mind: Could Texas Go It Alone?

Lone Star Nation: Today, the Texas capitol flies both the American and Texas flags, but after independence the Lone Star flag would fly on its own.
Steve Dunwell Getty Images

It's a popular idea in Texas that the Lone Star State — once an independent republic — could break away and go it alone. A few years ago, Texas Gov. Rick Perry hinted that if Washington didn't stop meddling in his state, independence might be an option. In his brief run for the White House, he insisted that nearly anything the feds do, the states — and Texas in particular — could do better.

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Health Care
12:01 am
Wed March 28, 2012

Texas, Feds Face Off Over Planned Parenthood

Rene Resendez, a 24-year-old uninsured graduate student, used to be a client at the Planned Parenthood in Odessa, Texas, which closed earlier this month because of state budget cuts.
John Burnett NPR

Texas and the federal government are going at each other again, this time over Planned Parenthood.

The Texas Legislature cut off all Medicaid money to Planned Parenthood because of its involvement in abortions; in response, the federal government has suspended funding for the state's reproductive health program.

Now, Texas is suing the Obama administration.

Closed For Business

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World
4:47 pm
Fri March 2, 2012

Mexican Drug Cartel Targets Australia

An image released Nov. 14, 2011, by the Australian Federal Police shows cocaine seized during the yacht raid in Bundaberg. Drug smugglers take advantage of Australia's long coastline and many harbors.
Australian Federal Police EPA/Landov

Originally published on Sat March 3, 2012 7:09 am

Australia is a huge island, with stretches of lonely, rocky coastline that extend for thousands of miles. What's more, there are lots of harbors and airports.

In short, opportunities are plentiful for an enterprising Mexican drug trafficker to move his product 8,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean to service the vibrant new market Down Under.

One such drug lord is Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman, head of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel. He's a cunning, small-statured, exceedingly dangerous outlaw recently dubbed "the world's most powerful drug trafficker" by the U.S. Treasury Department.

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A Blog Supreme
4:00 am
Sat February 25, 2012

Shannon Powell: New Orleans Rhythm, Straight From The Source

Shannon Powell performs with the Palm Court Jazz Band at the 2010 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Clayton Call Redferns

Originally published on Thu March 29, 2012 5:18 pm

It is said of Shannon Powell that he's part of New Orleans' musical DNA — that he knows things only local drummers know.

Powell, 49, is the A-list drummer in town. He's played with Dr. John, Harry Connick Jr., Nicholas Payton, R&B guitarist Earl King and Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

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Business
4:35 am
Tue January 31, 2012

Sotol Maker Tries To Break Into U.S. Spirits Market

Americans drank more than 100 million liters of tequila in 2010. It's no wonder then, that a little-known spirit from Mexico is trying to make its name in the United States. Introducing Sotol — a smoky smooth liquor distilled in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

Latin America
6:16 am
Sat January 28, 2012

Law-Abiding Mexicans Taking Up Illegal Guns

Police stand near the scene of a murder in Juarez, Mexico. The country suffers from drug cartel-related violence despite some of the most restrictive gun laws in the world.
Spencer Platt Getty Images

Originally published on Sat January 28, 2012 5:53 pm

In Mexico, where criminals are armed to the teeth with high-powered weapons smuggled from the United States, it may come as a surprise that the country has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the world.

Law-abiding Mexicans who want a gun to defend themselves have no good options. Either they fight government red tape to get a legal permit, or they buy one on the black market.

After an outbreak of violence, one embattled community in northern Mexico called Colonia LeBaron has begun to ask if it's time for the country to address its gun laws.

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Election 2012
9:44 am
Sun January 22, 2012

Mexican Cousins Keep Romney's Family Tree Rooted

Miles and Kent Romney, (left to right), distant cousins of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, in Colonia Juarez, Mexico. Miles believes his cousin's candidacy is nothing less than prophetic.
Peter Breslow NPR

Originally published on Wed January 25, 2012 9:24 am

Hispanic voters are a key group in the presidential race, and Republican hopeful Mitt Romney has been reaching out to them. Should he tell them that he himself is the son of an immigrant from Mexico?

Romney's father, George, was born in the state of Chihuahua, in a colony of polygamous Mormons.

Romney rarely speaks about the Mexican branch of his family, and he's never visited his numerous cousins south of the border — but the Romneys of Mexico are all rooting for him.

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