Daniel Zwerdling 2013 i
Kainaz Amaria/NPR
Daniel Zwerdling 2013
Kainaz Amaria/NPR

Daniel Zwerdling

Correspondent, Investigations Unit

Daniel Zwerdling is a correspondent in NPR's Investigations Unit.

With acclaimed investigative and documentary reports appearing on all of NPR's major news shows, Zwerdling's stories have repeatedly attracted national attention and generated national action. In 2015, 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 federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced soon afterward that the NPR series spurred them to launch a new 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 revealed that many military commanders, from the Pentagon to platoons, have neglected and mistreated troops who come home with serious mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder – even kicking them out of the Army. He revealed (in collaboration with T. Christian Miller of ProPublica) that the military failed to diagnose and treat tens of thousands of troops with traumatic brain injuries from explosions. Some of those stories have prompted Congressional investigations of major army bases, Senate hearings and other investigations.

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 shape the course of 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.

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 senior host of NPR's Weekend All Things Considered, a post he held from 1993-1999. For more than a decade, 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 universities including Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the University of California.

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Michael Bolla and Sally Singer lift Leon Anders using a ceiling lift and sling at the VA Hospital in Loma Linda, Calif. The VA system is among a very small number of hospitals that have installed equipment and provided proper training so their nursing staff can avoid physically lifting and moving patients themselves. Annie Tritt for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Annie Tritt for NPR

To safely lift Bernard Valencia out of his hospital bed, Cheri Moore uses a ceiling lift and sling. The VA hospital in Loma Linda, Calif., has safe patient handling technology installed throughout its entire facility. Annie Tritt for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Annie Tritt for NPR

Terry Cawthorn was a nurse at Mission Hospital for more than 20 years. But after a series of back injuries, mainly from lifting patients, she was fired. Cawthorn took legal action against the hospital and still faces daily struggles as a result of her injury. Susannah Kay for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Susannah Kay for NPR

The screenshot from a simulation video shows the magnitude and distribution of forces NPR correspondent Daniel Zwerdling endured on his spine while re-creating the way nurses lift patients from their beds. Courtesy of the Spine Research Institute at The Ohio State University hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the Spine Research Institute at The Ohio State University

The X-ray of Tove Schuster's spine shows the metal cage and four screws her surgeon used to repair a damaged disk in her back. Daniel Zwerdling/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Daniel Zwerdling/NPR

Workers inspect an area near storage tanks where a chemical leaked into the Elk River at Freedom Industries storage facility in Charleston, W.Va., on Jan. 13. It is still unclear exactly how much of the chemicals leaked into the area's water supply. Steve Helber/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Steve Helber/AP

NPR interviewed dozens of current or former soldiers who said they have struggled under toxic leaders. iStockphoto hide caption

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Judge Michael Zusman's bialys are topped with roasted onions, poppy seeds and coarse salt. Daniel Zwerdling/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Daniel Zwerdling/NPR

Private attorneys are easily getting access to defendants' emails and texts. All it takes is a subpoena, which any attorney can do. iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto.com