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.

The Salt
10:02 am
Wed October 15, 2014

The Texas Road Food Takeover: Smoked, Fried And Tex-Mex

Originally published on Wed October 15, 2014 12:22 pm

Recently, a friend and I rode bicycles from Brownsville, Texas, to Oklahoma, 738 miles from the Rio Grande to the Red River, just for the hell of it. Naturally, eating was the highlight of the journey. The trip turned into a 13-mph tour of Texas's evolving food geography.

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The Salt
10:02 am
Tue October 14, 2014

Bike Like A Pro Athlete, Eat Like A Pig

This serving of Texas barbecue brisket, sausage and beans was a mere snack on our epic movable feast.
John Burnett NPR

Originally published on Mon October 20, 2014 7:59 am

Last month, a friend and I rode bicycles 738 miles up the spine of Texas from the Rio Grande to the Red River, dodging oilfield trucks and yipping Chihuahua dogs.

All that pedaling had us burning about 5,000 to 5,500 calories every day. And so the 10-day journey — eight days of it riding into a headwind — became a movable feast.

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Around the Nation
1:50 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 4:59 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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Law
1:58 pm
Fri June 6, 2014

Open Carry Activists Bear Arms In The Streets — And Chipotle

Originally published on Sat June 7, 2014 3:02 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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NPR News Investigations
1:22 pm
Tue April 1, 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 7:06 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.

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Parallels
9:31 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 8:07 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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Religion
8:38 pm
Mon February 17, 2014

For Snake-Handling Preacher, 10th Bite Proves Fatal

Pastor Jamie Coots holds a snake at Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name Church in Middlesboro, Ky., last year.
NGO

Originally published on Mon February 17, 2014 4:59 pm

Pastor Jamie Coots, a 42-year-old Pentecostal preacher and third-generation snake handler from Middlesboro, Ky., spoke to NPR in October about his unusual way of leading church services.

"We sing, we preach, we testify, take up offerings, pray for the sick, you know, everything like everybody else does," he said. "Just, every once in a while, snakes are handled."

On Saturday night, Coots was handling three rattlesnakes at his small church, the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, when one of them bit him on his right hand.

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The Salt
10:20 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 2:40 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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Ecstatic Voices
2:00 pm
Sat October 19, 2013

Wynton Marsalis Goes Back To Church For 'Abyssinian Mass'

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis performs his Abyssinian Mass in 2008.
Frank Stewart Jazz at Lincoln Center

Originally published on Sat October 19, 2013 7:01 am

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U.S.
7:24 am
Sun July 8, 2012

Texas Seeks New Water Supplies Amid Drought

Receding water at Lake Travis near Austin, Texas, has the state concerned about its water supply. In 2011, Lake Travis had the lowest inflow since it was created about 70 years ago.
Joshua Lott Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Sun July 8, 2012 11:59 am

The punishing seven-year drought of the 1950s in Texas brought about the modern era of water planning. But the drought of 2011 was the hottest, driest 12 months on record there.

Though only a handful of towns saw their water sources dry up last summer, it got so bad that cities, industries and farmers began to think the unthinkable: Would they run out of water?

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