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.

Pages

4:15pm

Tue April 24, 2012
Law

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

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

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

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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2:40pm

Tue April 10, 2012
U.S.

Tulsa Mourns Man Who 'Never Met A Stranger'

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

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

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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1:59pm

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

Company Ties Shoes And Ethics Together

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

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

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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2:46pm

Fri March 30, 2012
Opinion

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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12:01am

Wed March 28, 2012
Health Care

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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4:47pm

Fri March 2, 2012
World

Mexican Drug Cartel Targets Australia

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

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

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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4:00am

Sat February 25, 2012
A Blog Supreme

Shannon Powell: New Orleans Rhythm, Straight From The Source

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

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

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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4:35am

Tue January 31, 2012
Business

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.

6:16am

Sat January 28, 2012
Latin America

Law-Abiding Mexicans Taking Up Illegal Guns

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

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

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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9:44am

Sun January 22, 2012
Election 2012

Mexican Cousins Keep Romney's Family Tree Rooted

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

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

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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4:00am

Thu December 22, 2011
Around the Nation

Charities Compete With Stores For Shoppers Money

Americans make more charitable donations than people of any other country, and this is the time of year they dig the deepest. In Little Rock, Arkansas, that means the anti-poverty charity, Heifer International, is going full throttle. Contributors purchase living things, which are donated to struggling families in 52 countries.

9:01am

Fri December 16, 2011
Latin America

Angels Send Message Of Peace To Juarez, Mexico

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

After 20 minutes of silent witness, the angels gather around a group of neighbors and pray with them for employment, for better living conditions, for salvation from sin, and for an end to the murders.
Raymundo Aguirre for NPR

In the violent border city of Juarez, Mexico, young evangelical Christians are dressing up as "Messenger Angels" to bear silent witness against murder and corruption, to the dismay of the police.

On a recent Saturday morning in the barrio called New Land, at the ragged edge of Juarez, the angels get ready to go to work.

Fifteen young people glue goose down recovered from cast-off comforters onto plastic wings. Others smear on silver makeup, which is, presumably, the color of angels.

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4:00am

Wed December 14, 2011
Race

Holder Vows To Enforce Civil Rights Protections

Originally published on Wed December 14, 2011 7:02 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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6:16am

Sun December 4, 2011
Around the Nation

Migrants Say They're Unwilling Mules For Cartels

Originally published on Sun December 4, 2011 7:06 pm

A Border Patrol agent looks for footprints from illegal immigrants crossing the U.S.- Mexico border in 2010. Traffickers have begun using immigrants as drug smugglers, recruiting voluntarily and forcibly.
John Moore Getty Images

Mexican drug cartels have found a new source of labor to backpack marijuana into the United States: illegal immigrants.

Federal agents, prosecutors, defense attorneys and migrants themselves say that traffickers have begun recruiting undocumented immigrants at the border, both voluntarily and forcibly. Now, U.S. courts along the border have to decide what to do with terrified immigrants who come before them and say, "The cartel made me do it."

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2:15pm

Fri November 11, 2011
Music News

Vets Write Music To Heal The Wounds Of War

Originally published on Fri November 11, 2011 8:35 pm

In front of the Texas flag: Iraq vet and aspiring songwriter Buddy Lee Dobberteen.
John Burnett

Veterans Day is the day when Americans remember and thank members of the armed forces who fought in foreign wars. Nearly 1.4 million men and women have left the service since serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. A group of musicians in San Marcos, Texas, just down the highway from Austin, has started a songwriting workshop especially for returning veterans, believing that composing music can help a person heal from the wounds of war.

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2:45pm

Wed October 5, 2011
Election 2012

In Texas, Perry Has Little Say In 'Ultimate Justice'

Originally published on Thu October 6, 2011 1:54 pm

In 2005, death penalty opponents protest the impending execution of condemned inmate Frances Newton in Huntsville, Texas. Newton was convicted of killing her husband and two children in their Houston apartment. She was put to death by lethal injection on Sept. 14, 2005.

David J. Phillip AP

As the longest-serving governor of Texas, Rick Perry has overseen the application of the death penalty more than any other U.S. governor — 236 executions, and counting.

While Perry is unquestionably a steadfast supporter of capital punishment, his overall record on criminal justice is more complicated than that.

'The Train Runs On Its Own'

Inside the Texas Prison Museum, off Interstate 45 in the city of Huntsville, sits a stout oak chair, its varnish dull with age, fitted with thick leather straps.

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4:04pm

Fri September 23, 2011
Latin America

Mexican Drug Cartels Now Menace Social Media

Mexican journalists march in a protest against violence directed against the media on Sept. 11, in Mexico City. Drug cartels, which have been responsible for many of the deaths, are now intimidating social media sites.
Ronaldo Schemidt AFP/Getty Images

The Mexican drug cartels silenced the mainstream media by threatening and killing journalists. Now they seem to be extending the practice to social media.

Many Mexicans have had to rely on social media to find out what's going on in their cities after newspapers, TV and radio stations stopped reporting on drug-related violence.

But last week, the mangled bodies of a young man and woman were hung from a highway bridge in Nuevo Laredo along with a sign that read: "This is what happens to people who post funny things on the internet. Pay attention."

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6:10am

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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3:00pm

Fri September 16, 2011
Law

Supreme Court Temporarily Halts Texas Execution

The U.S. Supreme Court has stopped a scheduled execution in Texas. The case raises questions about the role race played in the sentencing of Duane Buck. He had been scheduled to die by lethal injection Thursday night. Buck's attorneys asked the Supreme Court to intervene because, during the original trial, a psychologist testified that black people were more likely to commit violent crimes.

4:39pm

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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4:44pm

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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3:00pm

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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3:00pm

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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5:10am

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.

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12:01am

Thu August 18, 2011
Law

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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9:48pm

Sat August 6, 2011
Politics

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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5:02am

Fri August 5, 2011
Politics

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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