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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5:05am

Mon June 29, 2015
Religion

Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Doesn't Make It Biblically Correct, Pastor Says

Originally published on Tue June 30, 2015 3:56 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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5:52pm

Sat June 6, 2015
U.S.

Wimberley Residents Leery Of River Weeks After Devastating Floods

Originally published on Mon June 8, 2015 7:27 pm

Kelly O'Keefe is usually volunteering to help others. Now she's accepting help from strangers after her home was destroyed by floods. "It's really difficult to be the one with my hand out," she says.
John Burnett NPR

Today, nearly two weeks after the catastrophic Memorial Day floods in Texas, search crews are still combing the banks of the Blanco River looking for three people who remain missing. They've already found eight bodies.

Meanwhile, residents of the tourist and retirement town of Wimberley, Texas, hit hardest by the flood, are cleaning up and struggling to reclaim their lives.

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8:23am

Sat May 23, 2015
Around the Nation

'They're Not Gang Members': Bikers Protest Mass Arrests In Waco

Originally published on Sun May 24, 2015 11:13 pm

Authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant Sunday in Waco, Texas. Bikers say that most of the 170 people arrested had nothing to do with the violence.
Jerry Larson AP

Authorities in Waco, Texas, continue to investigate the deaths of nine motorcycle gang members in one of the worst biker brawls in recent times. More than 170 people were arrested and charged with organized crime; each is being held under a $1 million bond.

Now there's a backlash from biker groups, who claim many of the riders were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, and had nothing to do with Sunday's bloody fight.

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1:15am

Mon May 18, 2015
The Two-Way

9 Dead After Shootout Between Rival Biker Gangs In Central Texas

Originally published on Mon May 18, 2015 10:34 pm

Authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant Sunday in Waco, Texas. Authorities say the shootout victims were members of rival biker gangs that had gathered for a meeting.
Jerry Larson AP

A brawl among as many as five rival motorcycle gangs turned deadly on Sunday in Waco, Texas. Nine bikers were killed and 18 injured at a popular sports bar frequented by the gangs. No bystanders or employees were hurt.

Waco police said trouble had been brewing at the Twin Peaks bar and grill for some time. Bikers had been congregating there in ever-increasing numbers, and there had been more and more arrests for fights and weapons. Authorities had intelligence that there was a high potential for violence on Sunday. And they were right.

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3:16pm

Thu April 23, 2015
The Salt

How Texas Ranchers Try To Clinch The Perfect Rib-Eye

Originally published on Thu April 23, 2015 7:03 pm

Donnell Brown and another cowboy move a grouping of bulls from one pen to another on rib-eye ultrasound day in March at the R.A Brown Ranch.
David Gilkey NPR

We're heading into grilling season, which means breaking out the burgers and brats. But if you're a true meat lover, the slab you'll want to be searing is the rib-eye.

The rib-eye is the bestselling cut of beef in America both at the supermarket and the steakhouse, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Beef lovers go crazy for it because of its marbling — the network of fat within muscles that melts on the grill and makes the steak juicy and tender.

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5:25am

Sun April 12, 2015
U.S.

Newly Released Texas Inmates Prepare For A Long Ride To Freedom

Originally published on Mon April 27, 2015 4:21 pm

David Gilkey NPR

Last year, 21,000 inmates were released in Huntsville, Texas — one of the largest prison towns in America. For most of them, their gateway to the free world is the Huntsville Greyhound station.

Monday through Friday, the glass doors swing open on the front of the Civil War-era, red-brick prison they call "The Walls." The inmates exit and shuffle along the sidewalk, some smiling, some pensive, shouldering potato sacks full of belongings. Most of them don't have loved ones waiting, so they continue walking the two blocks to the bus station — single file, out of habit.

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2:55pm

Wed April 1, 2015
Parallels

Matamoros Becomes Ground Zero As Drug War Shifts On Mexican Border

Originally published on Wed April 1, 2015 8:00 pm

State police officers patrol a highway between Ciudad Victoria and Matamoros, in northeast Mexico, in 2011. Mexico's drug and turf wars have descended on the once tourist friendly border town of Matamoros.
Alexandre Meneghini AP

Matamoros, which sits across the bridge from Brownsville, Texas, used to be a laid-back border town famed for margaritas and manufacturing.

But for at least the past five years, it's grown more and more violent: first, when the Zetas broke away from the Gulf Cartel, and more recently as a new feud has broken out between two factions within the Gulf.

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3:49am

Thu March 26, 2015
Around the Nation

Closure Of Private Prison Forces Texas County To Plug Financial Gap

Originally published on Thu March 26, 2015 9:17 am

A riot late last month forced officials to close the Willacy County Correcitonal Center in Wallcy County, Texas.
John Burnett NPR

The Willacy County Correctional Center is empty now. The tall security fences and dome-like housing units set out on the coastal prairie have no one inside them.

One morning late last month, the prisoners rioted. They set fires and tore the place up. Guards put down the uprising in about five hours. But the destruction was so severe that the sprawling detention compound has been shut down. All 2,800 inmates were transferred.

Willacy County is now facing the question — what does it do now that its biggest moneymaker is out of business?

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3:23pm

Mon March 16, 2015
Parallels

Excitement Over Mexico's Shale Fizzles As Reality Sets In

Originally published on Mon March 16, 2015 8:01 pm

A platform owned by Mexico's state-run oil company Pemex is seen off the Bay of Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico. The country has recently opened up its energy sector to foreign investors.
Victor Ruiz Reuters/Landov

The prolific shale formation that has made people rich in South Texas doesn't stop at the Rio Grande, as U.S. maps seem to indicate.

"The geology doesn't change when you cross that little 20-foot-deep river," says Brandon Seale, president of San Antonio-based Howard Energy Mexico. "What goes on 10,000 feet under the river is the exact same."

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4:00pm

Mon February 16, 2015
Technology

Hopes Soar As Drone Enthusiasts Greet New Rule Proposal

Originally published on Wed February 18, 2015 8:43 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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3:33am

Fri February 13, 2015
Cities Project

A Texas Community Takes On Racial Tensions Once Hidden Under The Surface

Originally published on Fri March 6, 2015 9:23 am

Kathy Van Sluyters (left), Barbara Carr and Colleen Dickinson chat on a recently finished sidewalk across from Wildflower Terrace, a mixed-income apartment building in the Mueller development for people ages 55 and over.
Julia Robinson for NPR

This is the second story in a two-part report on the Mueller neighborhood for the NPR Cities Project. You can find part one here.

The idea behind "new urbanism" is that a planned environment, designed with pedestrians and social interaction in mind, can create a meaningful community.

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5:50pm

Thu February 12, 2015
Around the Nation

With Porches And Parks, A Texas Community Aims For Urban Utopia

Originally published on Thu February 12, 2015 9:24 pm

Solar Sunflowers, an art installation, greets visitors to Mueller's commercial and retail hub off of Interstate 35. The panels power a nightly light display and return power to the grid. When the development is complete, five miles of granite trails will connect the residents to its commercial and retail hubs.
Julia Robinson for NPR

This is the first story in a two-part report on the Mueller neighborhood for the NPR Cities Project.

In Texas, a state where cars and private property are close to a religion, there is an acclaimed master-planned community that's trying something different.

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6:23pm

Thu February 5, 2015
Business

Planning Through Oil Booms Helps Small Producers Weather The Busts

Originally published on Fri February 6, 2015 10:55 am

Tracy Perryman is production manager for his family's small oil company in Luling, Texas. B.J.P. Inc. owns 116 wells that, combined, produce about 100 barrels a day.
John Burnett NPR

Hard times have hit the oil fields. A barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude has dropped from a high of over $100 to less than $50. But Tracy Perryman, a small oilman in Luling, Texas, has learned how to survive the lean times.

Oil companies that take on a lot of debt sometimes don't survive the downturns. But veterans of oil busts have learned how to plan for the inevitable price plunges.

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6:20pm

Wed January 28, 2015
U.S.

Beefed-Up Border Security Proposal Unsettles Texas Business Leaders

Originally published on Wed February 4, 2015 1:18 am

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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4:54pm

Tue January 6, 2015
Starting Over

An Army Chaplain, First Tested By War, Finds His Faith Renewed

Originally published on Wed January 7, 2015 8:25 am

As an Army chaplain in Iraq, David Peters administered last rites and grieved with survivors. When he came home, he says, he "fell apart emotionally and spiritually."
Courtesy of Robert K. Chambers

David Peters' life was supposed to be one continuous arc of piety and service.

But for the U.S. Army chaplain, it's ended up a more circuitous route. Peters lost the very faith he was supposed to embody for his soldiers — but has also found his way back.

Peters grew up in a fundamentalist evangelical church in Pennsylvania, served as youth minister and then went to war in Baghdad as a chaplain in the U.S. Army in 2005.

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