John Burnett, NPR

NPR National Correspondent

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.

Immigration
4:09 am
Wed July 2, 2014

Influx Of Children Creates New Strain On Beleaguered Immigration Courts

Boys in a holding area at a Border Protection center in Nogales, Ariz. Generally, minors are put into deportation proceedings and given a "Notice To Appear" in immigration court, but they have permission to stay in the country while the U.S. decides their fate.
Ross D. Franklin AP

Originally published on Tue July 1, 2014 9:55 pm

President Obama said over the weekend that he is seeking to fast-track deportations of unaccompanied immigrant children from Central America who cross into the United States.

More than 52,000 have been caught in South Texas since October, and hundreds more arrive daily, overwhelming Border Patrol stations and overflowing temporary shelters.

But once they get here, what happens? Do they just get to stay, as the president's critics charge?

Read more
Politics
4:48 am
Mon June 30, 2014

Meet The Newest American Running Mate: The Rifle

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell holds a rifle on stage at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference earlier this year.
Susan Walsh AP

Originally published on Mon June 30, 2014 12:32 pm

Read more
Law
6:46 am
Thu May 15, 2014

U.S. Border Patrol's Response To Violence In Question

Patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border can be dangerous. Still, critics say there isn't enough public accountability when Border Patrol agents use deadly force.
Eric Thayer Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Thu May 15, 2014 9:55 am

Picnickers in a riverside park in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, react in horror as a man in a yellow baseball cap named Guillermo Arevalo lies on the bank of the Rio Grande, bleeding to death.

It's a warm Monday evening in September 2012. He has just been shot by an agent on a U.S. Border Patrol airboat on the river. The Border Patrol says the agent shot at rock throwers and that the incident is under investigation.

Read more
NPR News Investigations
8:48 am
Wed April 2, 2014

Can A Television Network Be A Church? The IRS Says Yes

Marcus and Joni Lamb, founders of Daystar, also host their own show, as seen in this screenshot from their network. With $233 million in assets, Daystar is the largest religious television network in America that also calls itself a church.
Daystar Television Network

Originally published on Thu April 3, 2014 9:06 am

Flip on Daystar television at any hour of the day and you'll likely see the elements of modern televangelism: a stylish set, an emotional spiritual message and a phone number on the screen soliciting donations.

Based in a studio complex between Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, and broadcasting to a potential audience of 2 billion people around the globe, Daystar calls itself the fastest growing Christian television network in the world.

The Internal Revenue Service considers Daystar something else: a church.

Read more
Borderlands
4:55 pm
Thu March 20, 2014

Awash In Cash, Drug Cartels Rely On Big Banks To Launder Profits

A woman uses a cash machine at an HSBC bank office in Mexico City. The multi-national bank was heavily penalized several years ago for permitting huge transfers of drug cartel money between Mexico and the U.S.
Enric Marti AP

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 5:20 pm

The Sinaloa Cartel, headquartered on Mexico's northern Pacific Coast, is constantly exploring new ways to launder its gargantuan profits. The State Department reports that Mexican trafficking organizations earn between $19 and $29 billion every year from selling marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines on the streets of American cities.

Read more
Borderlands
4:45 am
Thu March 20, 2014

At The Border, The Drugs Go North And The Cash Goes South

Many drug cartel members die young, and when they do, their families often spend lavishly to construct mausoleums that look like small condos.
John Burnett NPR

Originally published on Thu March 20, 2014 10:07 am

The international drug trade goes in two directions: Narcotics go north and money goes south. All the drug profits made on the streets of U.S. cities like Chicago and Atlanta and Dallas are funneled down to ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border where they're smuggled back into Mexico. In 2012, one federal agency alone, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, seized $411 million in cash hidden in vehicles, mostly heading south.

Read more
Arts and Culture
1:26 pm
Mon June 3, 2013

Seeing The Psychotropic, Photographing The Phantasmagoric

Holly Wilmeth

Originally published on Mon June 3, 2013 5:46 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?

Read more
Latin America
8:05 pm
Wed May 9, 2012

Mexican Crime Reporters Risk Becoming the Story

A woman lights a candle during a tribute to slain Mexican journalists at the Monument of Independence in Mexico City on May 5. The vigil took place to protest violence against the press after the brutal murders of four journalists in Veracruz state.
Sashenka Gutierrez EPA/Landov

Originally published on Thu May 10, 2012 8:37 am

Mexico is reeling from another round of brutal murders of journalists. Four journalists and photographers who covered the police beat have been killed in eastern Mexico's crime-ridden state of Veracruz.

There's a new call for the federal government to take measures to protect journalists in a country where more and more reporters censor themselves out of fear.

The ceremony to remember the most recent killings took place last weekend in Mexico City on the steps of the Monument of Independence between statues depicting peace and law.

Read more
Texas
3:51 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

Originally published on Fri March 30, 2012 1:46 pm

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.

Read more
music
9:47 am
Fri December 23, 2011

Austin's Musicians Caught In Conundrum

A musician performs at the Bat Bar during SXSW 2011 in Austin, Texas.
Katie Hayes Luke for NPR

Originally published on Thu December 22, 2011 11:01 pm

Sixth Street in downtown Austin, Texas, is one of the city's premiere live music districts. Guitar-shaped Christmas decorations hang on light poles, and the street is alive with bands and bars. Tonight you can hear ­­­­­­­­Austin Heat at the Thirsty Nickel, Mike Milligan and the Altar Boys at Maggie Mae's, or you could catch Misbehavin' at the Dizzy Rooster.

Read more
immigration
4:39 pm
Mon December 5, 2011

Migrants Say They're Unwilling Mules For Cartels

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

Originally published on Sun December 4, 2011 6:06 pm

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."

Read more
2012 Presidential Election
2:56 pm
Wed October 5, 2011

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

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

Originally published on Thu October 6, 2011 12:54 pm

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.

Read more
wildfires
9:51 am
Fri September 16, 2011

Bastrop Fire Evacuees Return To Find Only Ashes

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

Originally published on Thu September 15, 2011 8:39 pm

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.

Read more
2012 Presidential Election
4:55 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

Drought, Wildfires Haven't Changed Perry's Climate-Change Views

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

Originally published on Wed September 7, 2011 3:44 pm

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."

Read more
wildfires
5:19 pm
Mon September 5, 2011

'Mother Nature Has The Upper Hand' In Wildfire Fight

Originally published on Mon September 5, 2011 2:00 pm

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.

Read more
politics
7:41 pm
Tue August 30, 2011

Perry, Romney Boost Military, Bash Obama In Texas

Originally published on Tue August 30, 2011 2:00 pm

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.

Read more
texas
7:56 am
Fri August 26, 2011

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

Originally published on Fri August 26, 2011 4:10 am

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
2012 Presidential Election
10:51 pm
Sat August 20, 2011

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

Originally published on Sat August 6, 2011 8:48 pm

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.

Read more
Politics
8:14 am
Fri August 5, 2011

Rick Perry's Religious Revival Sparks A Holy War

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

Originally published on Wed August 24, 2011 9:55 am

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.

Read more
Politics
9:25 am
Tue July 5, 2011

Texas Governor Wages Own Battle Along Border

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

Originally published on Tue August 7, 2012 2:30 pm

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?

Read more