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.

In the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has nearly completed one of the world's most remarkable hurricane protection systems to encircle New Orleans. Locals say their low-lying city finally has the storm defenses it should have had before Katrina, which killed hundreds and caused billions in property losses.

In the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina, law enforcement in New Orleans erroneously told evacuees to gather at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to await rescue.

It was known as the "Swankiest Night Spot in the South" and considered one of the most famous clubs in the network of black cabarets known as the "Chitlin' Circuit." During the era of segregation, it was the cultural mecca of black New Orleans — what the Savoy Ballroom was to Harlem. Little Richard, a frequent performer there, even composed a song about the place.

After the levees broke 10 years ago in New Orleans, tens of thousands of residents fled the city and never returned. They resettled in 32 states around the nation, many of them landing in Houston.

New Home Family Worship Center also relocated to that city and became the spiritual family for a dislocated and homesick congregation. Most of the people who came to a special worship service Thursday night were born in New Orleans. With "Katrina 10" projected on the screen behind the altar, Pastor Robert C. Blakes introduced his special guest.

Donald Trump's immigration plan is — like the candidate — flashy, strident and headline-grabbing. Fox News called it "an early Christmas gift" for immigration hawks. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter pronounced it "the greatest political document since the Magna Carta."

But some of those in the trenches of immigration reform say it's unrealistic and unworkable.

Donald Trump could write "Immigration Reform for Dummies." He makes a complex issue simple and sexy.

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Now let's talk about one of the people who wants to replace President Obama in the White House - Donald Trump, who went to the border with Mexico yesterday. The Republican candidate expressed outrage over illegal immigration.

This summer, NPR is getting crafty in the kitchen. As part of Weekend Edition's Do Try This At Home series, chefs are sharing their cleverest hacks and tips — taking expensive, exhausting or intimidating recipes and tweaking them to work in any home kitchen.

This week: A play on an iconic New Orleans dish to get supreme flavor from shrimp without heads.

The Chef

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This week, NPR examines public corruption in South Texas. The FBI has launched a task force to clean up entrenched wrongdoing by public servants in the Rio Grande Valley. In the final part of this series, we examine vote-stealing and election fraud.

This week, NPR examines public corruption in South Texas. The FBI has launched a task force to clean up entrenched misconduct by public officials in the Rio Grande Valley. In this installment of the series, we hear from a police officer who became a drug dealer.

In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where people are accustomed to seeing public officials led away in handcuffs, the case of the Panama Unit shocked everyone. The Valley's celebrated anti-narcotics squad had gone to the dark side.

This week, NPR examines public corruption in South Texas. The FBI has launched a task force to clean up pervasive misconduct by public servants in the Rio Grande Valley. But as NPR's John Burnett and Marisa Penaloza report, the problems are entrenched.

The Rio Grande Valley of Texas is a world apart, isolated by empty ranch land to the north, the Gulf to the east, and Mexico to the south. A million-and-a-half people live there amid dazzling wealth and stark poverty.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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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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.

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.

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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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.

Like Cuban-American families throughout the diaspora, the Garcias of Key West, Fla., gather on Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve, to catch up on news and eat a traditional meal of lechón, or roast pig.

Wayne Garcia, a local building contractor and artist, prepared the pork for the family feast this year. He smokes it for seven hours in a hole dug in his backyard, in a style he says was passed down from his great-grandparents.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit


Maria Isabel de la Paz is a 30-year-old Houstonian who works at a Chick-fil-A. She holds the distinction of being a U.S. citizen who was prevented for a dozen years from entering the United States.

Her case is at the heart of what immigrant advocates say is wrong with U.S. immigration enforcement — that deportations are increasingly being handled by federal agents at the border, rather than in immigration court. The practice is not necessarily illegal, but critics say it is fundamentally unfair.