On Tuesday, Feb. 6th, Current, a nonprofit news service for and about public media that’s published by the American University School of Communication, posted a story by associate editor April Simpson titled “NPR’s Daniel Zwerdling out after investigation into harassment.”
Here are the first four paragraphs of the Current story:
“Daniel Zwerdling, a veteran investigative journalist at NPR, has left the network amid allegations of sexual harassment.
“At least two NPR staffers reported Zwerdling to human resources in November, according to sources close to the investigation. Employees filed in response to an invitation by NPR’s top leadership that month to report inappropriate behavior. The NPR sources declined to describe the incidents that prompted complaints because the women could be identified.
“In an emailed statement, Zwerdling said the allegations are untrue and that he retired in January. NPR spokeswoman Isabel Lara said in an email Tuesday that the network ‘can confirm Daniel Zwerdling is no longer on staff at NPR. As this is a personnel matter, we do not have any additional comments to share.’
“Six current and former NPR interns and staffers told Current that they had been subject to harassment or inappropriate behavior from Zwerdling. Most were interns or young producers at the time. One of the women who reported Zwerdling to HR said he tried to kiss her. Three said they had witnessed inappropriate behavior.”
In total, the article notes, “Eighteen current and former NPR staffers and interns spoke with Current about Zwerdling’s alleged conduct, which ranged from unwanted kisses to overly personal conversations.”
I’m not sure of Zwerdling’s age, but I found a mention on the Web that he graduated college in 1971, which would make him about 68 years old now. He joined NPR in 1980.
The article also recounts some of the women outlining their allegations against Zwerdling.
According to Current, here’s what Zwerdling said in his statement: “The allegations are not true. When the movement started sweeping across the nation recently to expose sexual harassers and predators, I applauded it. I still do. The current national reckoning regarding sexual harassment is a momentous opportunity for America to make itself a better, safer and more equitable country. Yet as many have already observed, there are also perhaps predictable and troubling collateral casualties along the way. The allegations against me are one of those instances.”
Current also says that Zwerdling wrote in his statement, “Given all that we’ve learned in recent months of seemingly ‘good’ men performing boorish, disgusting and illegal deeds, I recognize that the reputation I’ve built over almost 50 years does not automatically refute the allegations against me. I also understand why some accusers want anonymity. As the nation has been learning from painful accounts, some women have felt it best to conceal their identities as they’ve dealt with their genuine ordeals.”
The article added, “In his statement to Current, Zwerdling said he intends to continue ‘investigating and reporting important stories in new ways.’”
Current says several colleagues who worked with Zwerdling at NPR have not seen him since November. November was when Current says it started investigating this story. In December NPR’s spokeswoman Isabel Lara “declined to confirm whether Zwerdling was on leave or comment on the allegations,” Current says.
Interestingly, it was also in November – on Nov. 16, 2017 – that NPR aired a report about sexual harassment at NPR itself. That report began, “More fallout here at NPR today over sexual harassment concerns. The chairman of NPR’s board of directors has decided to step down from that role, and a senior editor is now on leave.”
This was just weeks after NPR’s editor-in-chief, Mike Oreskes, was asked to resign amid sexual harassment accusations.
The NPR board chairman, Roger LaMay, denied that he was stepping down based on any story about his personal life, and said he welcomed any NPR board review. The reporter said, “We don’t have a lot of details about the nature of that.”
As for the senior editor, David Sweeney, the report said, “We should stress these [allegations] have not yet been proven, and NPR hasn’t drawn any conclusions about the nature of these allegations, while taking them seriously.”
On November 28, 2017 in a story NPR posted on its website but did not report in any of its on-air news segments, it was written, “NPR Chief News Editor David Sweeney has left the company following allegations of sexual harassment filed against him by at least three female journalists.
“‘David Sweeney is no longer on staff,’ Chris Turpin, acting senior vice president of news, said in an email to staff. ‘This is a difficult time for our newsroom and I’m committed to supporting all of you as we move forward. I know you appreciate that there are some questions I cannot answer in keeping with our practice to not comment on personnel issues, but I will do my best to address those I can,’ Turpin added.”
The story added, “The email did not directly state the cause for Sweeney’s departure. But this follows a formal internal review into his conduct, after three current and former NPR journalists made formal complaints against him.”
I have been critical of Fox News about the fact that it clearly has had a major problem with sexual harassment, yet management refuses to use those two words.
It seems that NPR has a similar m.o.: a continuing problem with sexual harassment and a management that refuses to use the words, especially if that’s the reason it lets someone go. But the words matter if one is serious about ridding one’s workplace of sexual harassment.
Furthermore, NPR must be more forthcoming to its listeners.
In the current case of Daniel Zwerdling, as of Tuesday nothing of his situation had been reported on any of NPR’s on-air news segments, although eight hours after Current posted its piece the NPR website finally posted a written story confirming that Zwerdling was no longer with NPR.
NPR is uniquely connected to its listeners. The average public radio station gets the majority of its funding from its listeners – 37%, according to the NPR website. The next biggest contributor of monies to local public radio stations are corporate contributors, at 20%.
Furthermore, those public radio stations in turn are the biggest funders of NPR news and other NPR programming—to the tune of 38% of NPR’s operating budget. For the fiscal year that ended last September, stations paid NPR $75 million in programming fees.
Zwerdling has won a plethora of awards for his investigative reporting; everything from a Peabody to an Edward R. Murrow Award.
We’ve heard what he’s had to say about the sexual harassment allegations.
Now, here is one woman’s story of what happened between herself and Zwerdling, as reported Tuesday, Feb. 6th, in the NewsCut blog on the website of Minnesota Public Radio (MPR). It was published several hours after Current had published its piece. The accuser’s name is Kryssy Pease, who is a former MPR News producer. She did not talk to Current, but came forward after she read the Current story, according to NewsCut.
Pease, then 22, says she met Zwerdling at a conference in Phoenix in 2007. She was interested in working at NPR and introduced herself to him. “He gave me his card and we exchanged numbers,” Pease told NewsCut.
After that, according to what Pease told NewsCut, “We would wave to each other as sessions got out and people mingled in the hotel. One night at a reception, he said, ‘This room is really loud, let’s talk somewhere more quiet.’ No alarm bells are going off for me at all. We sit at the hotel bar, then he suggests walking around the hotel grounds. Still seemed fine to me.
“The Biltmore Hotel has an odd setup, and there are stand-alone bungalows or whatever along the ground, and he was staying in one of them. We stop in front of his. There are details I’m not comfortable with sharing, but he was highly inappropriate.
“I leave, and he started to text me, the most egregious one coming the next morning, saying, from memory, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself. I didn’t sleep at all because I was thinking about you.’ It got so bad that I told him that I would never say a word to anyone about what happened as long as he left me the hell alone. If not, I’m getting superiors involved.
“He didn’t stop, I had to tell my bosses, and it was horrifically embarrassing. They talked to him, he stopped.”
NewsCut then writes, “We asked Current to forward Pease’s story to Zwerdling for comment. We have not heard from him.”
The NewsCut piece ends by saying that Pease has not told her story publicly before, and she may have continued to keep silent “if Zwerdling hadn’t said (in his statement about the allegations other women had told Current) that “the accusations aren’t true.”
Then Pease said “‘I want him to look at me and tell me my story isn’t true.”
So what we have here, as we often do in these cases, is she said, he said.
NPR didn’t investigate Pease’s story because it didn’t know of it. But it did know of similar allegations, according to Current. We deserve to hear from NPR itself as to whether or not it indeed investigated the allegations, and what it found if it did. Furthermore, that’s only fair to the women who made the allegations and to Zwerdling.