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 Southwest Correspondent for the National Desk.

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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Around the Nation
4:59 pm
Thu June 27, 2013

Texas Gov. Calls Special Session, Reigniting Abortion Debate

Originally published on Thu June 27, 2013 5:44 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

The battle over a new abortion bill in Texas will resume now that Governor Rick Perry has called a second special legislative session. It's scheduled to begin on Monday. This past Tuesday night, an audience far beyond Texas watched as a Democratic state senator filibustered an anti-abortion bill for 12 hours. When Republicans cut her off, spectators jeered and the chamber erupted in pandemonium.

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Religion
6:42 pm
Thu June 20, 2013

Group That Claimed To 'Cure' Gays Disbands, Leader Apologizes

Exodus International, the Evangelical Christian ministry that sought to change the sexual orientation of gays and lesbians has announced it is shutting down. The move came directly after the group's president issued an apology to the gay community for being part of a "system of ignorance" that hurt the LGBT community.

The Picture Show
1:27 pm
Mon June 3, 2013

Seeing The Psychotropic, Photographing The Phantasmagoric

Holly Wilmeth

Originally published on Mon June 3, 2013 6:46 pm

I'm sitting in my neighborhood bakery, the Upper Crust in Austin, Texas, trying to read my newspaper and enjoy an oatmeal muffin, but I can't stop staring at the photographs on the wall. A native man, his face painted weirdly, holds a great scowling iguana on his head; a boy lies on palm fronds with a colony of giant silk moth caterpillars ornamenting his neck; small brown hands hold a luminous blue morpho butterfly up to the camera. Put down your Danish rolls, people! How can anyone finish breakfast under the spell of these bizarre tropical photos? Who is this photographer anyway?

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Around the Nation
6:05 pm
Thu April 25, 2013

Controversy Brews Over Church's Hallucinogenic Tea Ritual

Ayahuasca brew used in South and Central America.
Nha Flickr

Originally published on Thu April 25, 2013 8:17 pm

A small church in Santa Fe, N.M., has grown up around a unique sacrament. Twice a month, the congregation meets in a ritualized setting to drink Brazilian huasca tea, which has psychoactive properties said to produce a trance-like state.

The Supreme Court confirmed the UDV church's right to exist in 2006. The church doesn't seek new members and prefers to keep a low profile. It did, however, agree for the first time to open up to a journalist.

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Around the Nation
6:28 am
Mon April 22, 2013

Explosion Fails To Divide Texas Community

Originally published on Mon April 22, 2013 10:18 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's check in on another major story that dominated our attention last week, a fertilizer plant that caught fire and exploded in Texas. We can now say that 14 people were killed and 200 injured. But those numbers alone do not quite capture the impact of this disaster.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

To understand that, recall that the disaster with that scale came in a city of fewer than 3,000 people.

NPR's John Burnett reports from West.

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Around the Nation
5:21 am
Sat April 20, 2013

Two Decades Later, Some Branch Davidians Still Believe

Flames engulf the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, on April 20, 1993. A 51-day standoff at the compound ended in a fire and the deaths of about 80 sect members, including two dozen children.
Susan Weems AP

Originally published on Mon October 28, 2013 5:15 pm

Twenty years ago, federal agents clashed with David Koresh's Branch Davidian community near Waco, Texas. The standoff ended with a raid and fire that killed some 80 people. It's remembered as one of the darkest chapters in American law enforcement history.

Two decades later, some of the Branch Davidians who survived the raid are still believers, while a new church group has moved onto the land.

The Raid

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Around the Nation
6:06 pm
Thu April 18, 2013

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion 'A Nightmare Scenario'

Originally published on Thu April 18, 2013 10:26 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. The search and rescue operation is still underway in the town of West, Texas, the scene of that devastating fertilizer plant explosion last night. Crews are going through the wreckage of some 75 homes and other buildings, many of them leveled in the blast.

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U.S.
12:08 pm
Thu April 18, 2013

Search And Rescue Ongoing After Texas Plant Explosion

Originally published on Thu April 18, 2013 12:22 pm

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're learning more about last night's fire in the Texas town of West. The fire started in a fertilizer plant, and a father in a vehicle nearby was taking video of the flames when the plant exploded.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Are you OK?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You OK?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yeah. I can't hear.

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Religion
4:42 am
Mon April 15, 2013

Evangelicals Try To Soften Hearts On Overhauling Immigration

Originally published on Mon April 15, 2013 1:28 pm

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Evangelical Christians in the United States are raising their voices in support of immigration overhaul. Church leaders were largely mute during the earlier contentious debates over how to fix the nation's immigration laws, but now they are speaking out, telling conservative Christians and their friends in Congress that it's OK to embrace compassionate solutions. Here's NPR's John Burnett.

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Religion
4:46 pm
Fri March 29, 2013

Thousands Trek To New Mexico Chapel On Good Friday

Students playing the roles of Roman soldiers lead a man playing the role of Jesus during a re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross at the Sanctuary of Chimayo in New Mexico on Thursday.
Brian Snyder Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Tue April 2, 2013 1:09 pm

Driving in northern New Mexico requires special caution on Good Friday. Tens of thousands of people — some walking all night — are converging on the village of Chimayo to pray inside a 200-year-old chapel before a carved wooden image of Jesus.

As it does every year, the highway department has put out portable toilets, orange barriers, and signs warning motorists of "Santuario walkers."

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Around the Nation
4:47 am
Mon March 25, 2013

Battleground Over Gay Marriage: El Paso, Texas

Originally published on Mon March 25, 2013 8:34 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This Tuesday and Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear more of oral arguments on two cases that could redefine marriage in this country. The court will consider the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage, and also the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, that denies marital benefits to legally married gay couples. The cases have left some people - especially religious conservatives - reeling. NPR's John Burnett visited a church in El Paso that is fighting the rapidly shifting culture.

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The Papal Succession
5:26 am
Thu March 14, 2013

The Life And Career Of Pope Francis

Originally published on Thu March 14, 2013 9:34 am

Newly minted Pope Francis, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, was known for his humility, for standing with the poor, and for his staunch conservatism on church teachings. With no experience in Vatican administration, the strength of this first Jesuit pope is thought to be his intellectual vigor and his pastoral skills.

Religion
3:29 pm
Sun February 10, 2013

As Islam Grows, U.S. Imams In Short Supply

Muslims pray during a special Eid ul-Fitr morning prayer at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Aug. 30, 2011, in Los Angeles.
Kevork Djansezian Getty Images

Originally published on Sun February 10, 2013 4:58 pm

Islam in America is growing exponentially. From 2000 to 2010, the number of mosques in the United States jumped 74 percent.

Today, there are more than 2,100 American mosques but they have a challenge: There aren't enough imams, or spiritual leaders, to go around.

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Religion
5:17 pm
Fri February 1, 2013

L.A. Cardinal Removed From Position For Role In Sex Abuse Scandal

Originally published on Fri February 1, 2013 7:17 pm

The Los Angeles Archbishop, Jose Gomez, has removed retired Cardinal Roger Mahony in the wake of revelations about how the Cardinal handled priest sex abuse cases. Mahony will be relieved of his remaining public duties.

Around the Nation
5:37 am
Wed January 16, 2013

Measuring The Fallout After Lance Armstrong Talked To Oprah

Originally published on Wed January 16, 2013 6:46 am

The City of Austin, Texas, is singularly attached its favorite son, Lance Armstrong. His bike shop and Livestrong foundation are there. Now that Oprah Winfrey has confirmed that Armstrong confessed to doping and lied about it, can his foundation recover from the doping controversy?

World
2:46 pm
Fri January 11, 2013

Juarez Priest Finds 'Hand Of God In The Midst Of Mayhem'

Father Kevin Mullins' parish, the Comunidad Catolica de Corpus Christi near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, is located at the epicenter of the country's drug cartel war. After years of violence, murders are down and the city's shuttered shops and cafes are beginning to reopen.
Christ Chavez For NPR

Originally published on Fri January 11, 2013 6:11 pm

Father Kevin Mullins steers his old Chevy pickup up a steep road to a hilltop dominated by a large statue of the virgin. She has a commanding view of this troubled corner of Christendom.

Here, the states of Texas, New Mexico and and Chihuahua, Mexico, intersect amid barren hills freckled with ocotillo plants and greasewood.

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World
5:17 pm
Wed October 24, 2012

As Somalia's War Ebbs, Mogadishu Dares To Rebuild

Somalis chat at a beach-side restaurant earlier this month. After two decades of civil war, Somali's capital, Mogadishu, is beginning to recover.
Feisal Omar Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Wed October 24, 2012 7:37 pm

There is a remarkable change going on in Mogadishu, Somalia — often dubbed the world's most dangerous city. For starters, it may not deserve that title anymore.

Last year, African Union forces drove the Islamist militant group al-Shabab out of Mogadishu. Now, Somalia has a new president and prime minister who have replaced the corrupt and unpopular transitional government.

Hope is edging aside despair, and Mogadishu is coming back to life.

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Africa
4:23 am
Fri October 12, 2012

Forest People Return To Their Land ... As Tour Guides

In 1991, the Batwa forest people of Uganda were evicted from their land when two national parks were created to protect the shrinking habitat of the endangered mountain gorilla. A new program is trying to help them earn money and reconnect with their roots.
Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for NPR

Originally published on Fri October 12, 2012 11:55 pm

Like other hunter-gatherers of Central Africa who've been cast out of their jungle homes, when the Batwa forest people of southwest Uganda lost their forest, they lost their identity.

The Batwa were evicted from their rain forest kingdom in 1991, when two neighboring national parks, Mgahinga and Bwindi, were created to protect shrinking habitat for the endangered mountain gorilla.

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Africa
4:36 pm
Mon October 8, 2012

Uganda's Leader: 26 Years In Power, No Plans To Quit

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled since 1986, speaks in January at Uganda's Makarere University in the capital Kampala. Uganda celebrates a half-century of independence next month, and Museveni has ruled for more than half of that time.
Ronald Kabuubi AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu October 11, 2012 3:19 am

Rebel leader Joesphy Kony, head of the infamous Lord's Resistance Army, has achieved greater notoriety than any other Ugandan in the world today.

Idi Amin, who ruled the country through most of the 1970s, still stands as a symbol of African dictators who abused power and inflicted gross human rights abuses.

Yet as Uganda celebrated 50 years of independence on Tuesday, the man who has most shaped the country is far less known, at least in the West.

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Africa
1:29 pm
Thu September 13, 2012

Gorillas And Guerrillas Share The Troubled Congo

Patrick Karabaranga, a warden at the Virunga National Park, plays with an orphaned mountain gorilla at the park headquarters in Rumangabo, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on July 17. The Virunga park is home to about 200 mountain gorillas, approximately a quarter of the world's population.
Phil Moore AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu September 13, 2012 11:19 pm

When crossing from Uganda into Congo at the shabby border town of Bunagana, I encountered a broadly smiling man in a black leather jacket named Hamid Kashaisha.

He asked if I wanted to see the gorillas. I replied that it's guerrillas — with guns, that is — that I wanted to see: the M23 rebels who, for the past two months, had occupied a piece of real estate in eastern Congo larger than Delaware.

That was no deterrence to the pitchman.

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