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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U.S.
4:13 am
Thu July 24, 2014

Amid Wave Of Child Immigrants, Reports Of Abuse By Border Patrol

Thousands of young immigrants, many of them from Central America, have crossed illegally into the United States this year, causing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.
John Moore Getty Images

Originally published on Thu July 24, 2014 12:21 pm

Some of the immigrant children crossing the border say they are being subjected to abusive and inhumane treatment in U.S. Border Patrol stations in South Texas. This includes frigid holding rooms, sleep deprivation, verbal and psychological abuse, inadequate food and water, denial of medical care, and worse.

Dozens of children have come forward to make complaints against Customs and Border Protection officers. The agency responds that any complaints are the result not of mistreatment, but of its stations being overwhelmed by the surge of minors.

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Parallels
6:03 am
Tue July 15, 2014

Who Is Smuggling Immigrant Children Across The Border?

Child detainees in a holding cell at a Border Patrol facility in Brownsville, Texas. Some human smugglers who bring children across the Rio Grande make sure to treat their clients well.
Eric Gay AP

Originally published on Tue July 15, 2014 7:00 am

"They call me the Wolf," said the 25-year-old human smuggler sitting in front of me, sipping a Coke and stepping away for frequent cellphone calls.

"Everybody says we're the problem, but it's the reverse. The gringos don't want to get their hands dirty. So I bring them the Mexicans and Central Americans to do the dirty work for them," he says, smiling.

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Law
5:40 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

For Kids In Immigration Court, Legal Counsel Is Catch As Catch Can

Protesters outside a San Antonio courthouse advocate for legal representation for immigrant children.
John Burnett NPR

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 8:39 pm

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued the federal government Wednesday for its failure to provide legal representation to immigrant children in deportation proceedings.

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Code Switch
4:22 pm
Tue July 1, 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 8:55 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?

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Law
3:21 am
Tue July 1, 2014

U.S. Court: Mexican Teen Killed By Border Patrol Had Rights

Originally published on Tue July 1, 2014 2:27 pm

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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It's All Politics
1:25 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 11:32 am

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Around the Nation
3:28 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

From A Stream To A Flood: Migrant Kids Overwhelm U.S. Border Agents

Romero is detained at a county park near McAllen, Texas, after wading across the Rio Grande. He says he left Central America to avoid conscription by street gangs and to join his family in the U.S.
John Burnett/NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 5:59 pm

Like a marathoner at the end of a grueling race, 16-year-old Jorge Romero sits on the grass, exhausted. A county constable has detained him about a hundred yards from the Rio Grande.

For a month, Romero traveled from El Salvador through Mexico to Texas, avoiding predatory police and gangs, warding off mosquitoes and hunger.

Migrants like Romero are creating a humanitarian crisis for federal border authorities. Record numbers of Central American immigrants are crossing the Rio Grande into South Texas, overwhelming the Border Patrol's limited holding facilities.

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U.S.
2:18 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

How Border Patrol Handles The Immigrant Children Streaming Into Texas

Originally published on Wed June 11, 2014 4:24 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The majority of the minors seeking asylum cross through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. NPR's John Burnett is there this week. He joins us to tell us about the huge volume of kids crossing the border and about the conditions where some of them are now being detained. And John, you're in the city of Harlingen. What are you hearing?

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Law
3:02 pm
Fri June 6, 2014

Open Carry Activists Bear Arms In The Streets — And Chipotle

Originally published on Sat June 7, 2014 4:02 pm

As part of the open carry movement, some gun rights activists in Texas have been carrying loaded rifles into restaurants to assert their second amendment rights. A growing list of national chains has pushed back, though, instituting no-guns policies in response. Even the National Rifle Association has publicly rebuked the Texas long-gun enthusiasts. NPR's John Burnett covers a street demonstration by a particularly aggressive chapter of the open carry movement in Fort Worth, Texas.

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National Security
2:47 pm
Fri May 30, 2014

Border Agency Revises And Makes Public Its Use Of Force Policy

Originally published on Fri May 30, 2014 5:07 pm

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske has released documents regarding the use of force along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Law
1:35 am
Wed May 28, 2014

After Private Pilots Complain, Customs Rethinks Intercept Policy

Tom and Bonnie Lewis were stopped on a trip from Texas to New Hampshire because they were flying along a known drug air route.
John Burnett NPR

Originally published on Wed May 28, 2014 10:57 am

Federal border security agents have sharply reduced intercepts of general aviation aircraft, following complaints by pilots that excessive police action at small airports is restricting the freedom to fly.

An official with U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Air and Marine Operations told NPR his agency has heard pilots' grievances and the program is being altered so as not to needlessly affront law-abiding pilots.

In recent years, more and more pilots have reported their aircraft stopped for warrantless searches by aggressive officers.

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Religion
11:22 am
Sun May 18, 2014

Nigerian Church Spreads African-Style Zeal Across North America

Members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God pray at Redemption Camp in Floyd, Texas, in 2009. The church is on a mission to spread to every city in North America.
Jessica Rinaldi Reuters /Landov

Originally published on Sun May 18, 2014 11:50 am

In earlier times, white missionaries traveled from Europe and America to sub-Saharan Africa to save souls.

Today, the trend has reversed. Evangelists from the global south are targeting Americans and Europeans they say are ripe for Christian renewal.

There is no greater example than the Redeemed Christian Church of God. This ambitious Nigerian denomination has established its North American headquarters in Texas, and its goal is nothing less than becoming the next major global religion.

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Law
1:04 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 8:55 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.

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Around the Nation
3:20 am
Wed April 30, 2014

U.S. Border Patrol Scrutinized For Increasing Fatalities

Originally published on Wed April 30, 2014 12:22 pm

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For people near the U.S. border with Mexico, the Border Patrol is part of life. You pass agents on the highway, or parked quietly by the border fence. Along with the security has come criticism for violence. In numerous incidents, agents are accused of shooting unarmed Mexicans, some of them said to be throwing rocks. The incidents are a sensitive subject for the agency. NPR's John Burnett learned just how sensitive.

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Ecstatic Voices
2:08 pm
Fri April 18, 2014

In New Mexico, A Brotherhood Of Ancient Hymns

Originally published on Fri April 18, 2014 5:13 pm

In northern New Mexico, among the Catholic brotherhoods known as the penitentes, Good Friday is the highest of holy days. The brothers sing ancient Spanish hymns about life, death and piety — hymns they've helped preserve.

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Religion
2:43 am
Sun April 13, 2014

Statue Of A Homeless Jesus Startles A Wealthy Community

The Rev. David Buck sits next to the Jesus the Homeless statue that was installed in front of his church, St. Alban's Episcopal, in Davidson, N.C.
John Burnett NPR

Originally published on Mon April 14, 2014 6:40 am

A new religious statue in the town of Davidson, N.C., is unlike anything you might see in church.

The statue depicts Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench. St. Alban's Episcopal Church installed the homeless Jesus statue on its property in the middle of an upscale neighborhood filled with well-kept townhomes.

Jesus is huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the crucifixion wounds on his uncovered feet give him away.

The reaction was immediate. Some loved it; some didn't.

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News
2:45 pm
Wed April 9, 2014

Obama Honors Victims Of Fort Hood Shooting

Originally published on Wed April 9, 2014 4:48 pm

President Obama is traveling to Fort Hood, Texas, on Wednesday to attend the memorial service for those killed in last week's shooting.

Around the Nation
3:02 am
Fri April 4, 2014

Second Deadly Shooting At Fort Hood Raises Multiple Questions

Originally published on Fri April 4, 2014 6:22 am

Attention is focused on the mental state of Army Specialist Ivan Lopez, who's accused of killing 3 people and injuring 16 at Fort Hood on Wednesday. A verbal altercation may have lead to the shooting.

Around the Nation
2:51 am
Thu April 3, 2014

Fort Hood Suffers Another Shooting Tragedy

Originally published on Thu April 3, 2014 5:53 am

Military officials say a soldier opened fire at the base killing three people before taking his own life. A senior officer says the shooter was being assessed for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Latin America
5:50 am
Sat March 22, 2014

Leaving Behind The Cartel's 'Songs Of Death'

Originally published on Sun March 23, 2014 10:07 am

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Narcocorridos are a form of Mexican folk music that tell the tales of drug traffickers. They are tremendously popular in Mexico and the Southwest borderlands. NPR's John Burnett has this story of one ex-Narcocorrido singer who escaped that life and lived to tell the tale.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: When Jorge Rivera, stage name El Imperial, watches old images of himself on YouTube these days, he's filled with conflicted feelings.

JORGE RIVERA: (Foreign language spoken)

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Parallels
2:28 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 4:20 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.

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Parallels
2:31 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 9:07 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.

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Parallels
6:56 am
Wed March 19, 2014

'Saint Death' Now Revered On Both Sides Of U.S.-Mexico Frontier

Claudia Rosales kneels in front of her home altar devoted to Santa Muerte, or Saint Death. Rosales put up a statue of the saint in the city that was taken down by the mayor of Matamoros.
Kainaz Amaria NPR

Originally published on Wed March 19, 2014 3:40 pm

The intrepid tourist who visits the market in the border city of Matamoros will find her between the onyx chess sets and Yucateca hammocks. She looks like a statue of the Grim Reaper dressed in a flowing gown. She is Santa Muerte, or Saint Death.

Originally revered as an underground folk saint in Mexico, her popularity has jumped the Rio Grande and spread to Mexican communities throughout the United States.

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Around the Nation
4:32 pm
Thu January 30, 2014

SpaceX Could Give Struggling Texas City A Boost

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft atop rocket Falcon 9 lifts off from Cape Canaveral in Florida in May 2012. The launch made SpaceX the first commercial company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station.
Roberto Gonzalez Getty Images

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 6:00 pm

The space company SpaceX has identified a remote spot on the southern tip of Texas as its finalist for construction of the world's newest commercial orbital launch site.

The 50-acre site really is at the end of the road. Texas Highway 4 abruptly ends at the warm waves of the Gulf surrounded by cactus, Spanish dagger and sand dunes.

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Ecstatic Voices
12:06 pm
Fri January 3, 2014

'Our Soul Music Is Mariachi Music': Houston's Mexican Mass

Jess Escalante (right), the 70-year-old founder of Mariachi Norteno, plays his guitarrón in a recent Mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe inside St. Joseph Catholic Church in Houston. He's joined by Jose Martinez.
John Burnett NPR

Originally published on Sat January 4, 2014 6:50 pm

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World
2:46 pm
Wed December 11, 2013

Pope's Propensity For Shaking Things Up Makes Him Man Of The Year

Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 4:26 pm

Time magazine has named Pope Francis as its Person of the Year. The magazine cited Francis' willingness to take on thorny issues such as homosexuality, the role of women in the church, poverty and the nature of capitalism. At the same time, the pontiff has done so while projecting an air of humility and compassion, which has captured the world's attention in just nine months.

NPR Story
2:06 pm
Tue December 3, 2013

Televangelist Paul Crouch, Who Started Trinity Network, Dies

Originally published on Tue December 3, 2013 4:39 pm

Televangelist Paul Crouch, co-founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, died Saturday at the age of 79. The Pentecostal minister's broadcasting network came to be the world's largest Christian television system with Praise-a-Thon fundraising efforts that brought in as much as $90 million a year in mostly small donations.

Energy
3:03 am
Wed November 27, 2013

Drilling For Oil, Based On The Bible: Do Oil And Religion Mix?

John Brown, the head of Zion Oil & Gas, believes the Bible will help him find oil in Israel. The company, which is listed on Nasdaq, has so far spent $130 million and drilled four dry holes. Brown is shown here at one of the company's drilling rigs in Israel.
Courtesy of Zion Oil

Originally published on Wed November 27, 2013 10:44 am

They say an oilman has to be a gambler, but can he be a prophet?

Zion Oil & Gas, based in Dallas, is a publicly traded company that believes it is commanded by the Bible to search for oil in Israel, both to help the Holy Land and make money for investors. The 22 employees of Zion Oil in Texas and Israel, and many of its 30,000 investors, believe the company is on a mission from God.

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Ecstatic Voices
12:56 am
Thu November 7, 2013

Across America, Voices Rise To Reinvent India

Kanniks with the choir at St. Johns Unitarian Church in Cincinnati in 2004.
Courtesy of Kanniks Kannikeswaran

Originally published on Thu November 7, 2013 2:20 pm

When I visit Kanniks Kannikeswaran on a weekday evening, he is warming up his choir in the meeting room of a civic center in suburban Cincinnati.

"Breathe in the cosmic energy," he says to the choir. The response is a collective "Ommmmmm ..."

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The Salt
2:25 am
Sun November 3, 2013

To Stave Off Decline, Churches Attract New Members With Beer

Todd Fadel, at piano, leads singers at a recent gathering of Beer & Hymns at First Christian Church Portland.
John Burnett NPR

Originally published on Mon November 4, 2013 3:40 pm

With mainline religious congregations dwindling across America, a scattering of churches is trying to attract new members by creating a different sort of Christian community. They are gathering around craft beer.

Some church groups are brewing it themselves, while others are bring the Holy Mysteries to a taproom. The result is not sloshed congregants; rather, it's an exploratory approach to do church differently.

Leah Stanfield stands at a microphone across the room from the beer taps and reads this evening's gospel message.

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