Daniel Zwerdling is a correspondent in NPR's Investigations Unit.
He's one of the best known and most acclaimed investigative journalists in America. Since Zwerdling joined NPR in 1980, his reports have repeatedly attracted national attention and generated national action. Along the way, they've won every major award in broadcasting. Directors of the duPont-Columbia journalism awards, which he won again in 2017, call Zwerdling "a legend in the public radio world...known for creating some of radio's best what-they-call 'driveway moments.'"
In late 2015, for example, the Secretary of the Army agreed to launch a top level investigation after Zwerdling reported (in collaboration with Colorado Public Radio) that the Army has kicked out tens of thousands of troops after they came back from the wars with mental health problems or brain injuries. Early the same year, Zwerdling's five-part series revealed that more nursing workers get debilitating back and arm injuries than any other occupation, and those injuries are caused mainly by lifting and moving patients. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced soon afterward that the NPR series spurred them to launch the first federal program to investigate what hospitals are doing to protect their staff, and to fine hospitals with major problems.
Zwerdling's earlier series on the domestic impact of the wars (some in collaboration with ProPublica) revealed that the military failed to diagnose and treat tens of thousands of troops with traumatic brain injuries from explosions. Some of those stories, which prompted Congressional investigations of major army bases and Senate hearings, led the Pentagon to change the way it treats brain injury victims.
In late 2004, Zwerdling revealed that the Department of Homeland Security had been detaining immigrants in harsh conditions in jails across the United States. The day after Zwerdling reported that guards at one jail were using attack dogs to terrorize non-citizens, the Bush administration banned the use of dogs around detainees. And after he exposed another jail where guards beat detainees while a group of other guards watched, the jail announced that it would discipline almost a dozen employees.
In 1986, Zwerdling and NPR's Howard Berkes broke the story revealing that NASA officials launched the ill-fated space shuttle Challenger despite warnings that it might explode, as it eventually did. Their stories helped influence the federal investigation into the tragedy. Zwerdling's investigative series on the then-best-selling pesticide Chlordane revealed that the chemical was poisoning people and forcing them to abandon their homes. The stories prompted the manufacturer to remove the chemical from the market at the urging of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Zwerdling has won the most prestigious awards in broadcasting, including the duPont, Peabody, Polk, Edward R. Murrow, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Robert F. Kennedy and DART awards for investigative reporting. He won the Overseas Press Club Foundation award for live coverage of breaking international news, the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Award, the National Press Club Award for consumer reporting, the Ohio State awards for international reporting, the James Beard award for reporting on the food industry, and the Champion-Tuck Award for economic reporting. He's been twice nominated for an Emmy.
From 2002 to 2004, he was NPR's television correspondent on PBS' NOW with Bill Moyers, on PBS. Prior to his television work, Zwerdling was host of NPR's Weekend All Things Considered, a post he held from 1993-1999. For more than a decade before that, Zwerdling covered environmental, health, science, and Third World development issues as an investigative reporter for NPR News. He was NPR's roving Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya for four of those years as he examined nations struggling to develop across Africa and South Asia.
Before joining NPR in 1980, Zwerdling worked as a staff writer at The New Republic and as a freelance reporter. His work appeared in national publications such as The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Review of Books. His groundbreaking articles in the early 1970s, examining evidence suggesting that the typical American diet contributed to cancer and heart disease, incurred the wrath of the medical and food industries. When Zwerdling reported that successful commercial farmers in the United States and Europe had stopped using chemicals and were farming organically, the pesticide industry lambasted him, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched an investigation that confirmed his findings.
Zwerdling has served as an adjunct professor of Media Ethics in the communications department at American University in Washington, D.C., and as an associate of the Bard College Institute for Language and Thinking in New York. His book, Workplace Democracy (Harper & Row, 1980), has been widely used in colleges across the country. He has taught workshops and given speeches at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of California and other universities across the country.
The Army has "separated" more than 22,000 soldiers for "misconduct" since 2009 — often without benefits — after they returned from war with mental health problems or brain injuries.
While industry and government officials agree something needs to be done to prevent the tens of thousands of debilitating injuries among nursing staff, nobody can agree how to enforce it.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is taking a lead among other hospital systems in the country to keep nurses and other staff from getting injured when they move and lift patients.
When Terry Cawthorn severely injured her back on the job, Mission Hospital refused to take responsibility — an attitude toward nurses that NPR found in hospitals across the U.S.
What exactly is happening to nurses' backs when they move and lift patients? NPR's Daniel Zwerdling teamed with scientists for a high-tech look inside his own back as he tried the same maneuvers.
Nursing employees suffer 35,000 back and other injuries nearly every year. But many career-ending injuries could be prevented if hospitals brought in new technology and taught "safe patient handling."