Daniel Zwerdling, a longtime investigative correspondent with NPR, has retired after a tenure spanning nearly three decades. The network’s announcement Tuesday coincided with published allegations of sexual harassment against the Peabody-winning journalist, including claims of unwanted kisses and inappropriate conversations.
Zwerdling, for his part, has publicly stated the allegations are false.
In an email to staff Tuesday, NPR’s senior vice president for news and editorial direction, Christopher Turpin, said, “We fully support his decision to leave the organization.” And Turpin stressed the network’s ongoing commitment to its investigative team, of which Zwerdling had been an integral part for years.
“Our investigative work is the [linchpin] in NPR’s drive to report high impact stories,” Turpin added.
Zwerdling’s departure came to light on the same day Current, a trade publication covering public media, surfaced several sexual harassment claims against him. Current reported that at least two NPR staffers had complained to the network’s human resources department about Zwerdling’s inappropriate behavior.
Six current and former staffers and interns spoke to Current about similar behavior by Zwerdling when they “were interns or young producers.”
“One of the women who reported Zwerdling to HR said he tried to kiss her,” Current added. “Three said they had witnessed inappropriate behavior.”
Not long after the publication of the Current article, Kryssy Pease of American Public Media spoke to Minnesota Public Radio News about Zwerdling. She alleged that after an awards ceremony when she was 22 years old, Zwerdling engaged in “highly inappropriate” conduct with her, as well.
Then, he allegedly began texting her.
“He didn’t stop,” Pease told MPR News. “I had to tell my bosses, and it was horrifically embarrassing. They talked to him, he stopped. I had to call my dad, crying, telling him how this turned out. He just sighed and said, ‘I’m sorry, Sweets. I was afraid this was what was going to happen.’ ”
This reporter has not confirmed the allegations against Zwerdling, and Zwerdling did not immediately respond to NPR’s request for comment.
In a written statement released to Current, Zwerdling said the allegations included in the publication’s report “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.”
For roughly 28 years, Zwerdling was one of NPR’s most essential investigative journalists, a familiar voice whose reportage could prompt policy changes and congressional inquiries. But, as he noted in an interview last year, when he was a freelance reporter getting recruited to the network, he didn’t exactly expect those years to unfold as they did.
“I’ll give it a year,” he recalled telling the All Things Considered producer who sought to hire him finally for a full-time role. “That was in 1980.”
Now, nearly four decades later, his career with NPR has spanned scores of stories. His work took him from the desert landscapes of Chad and prisons in Pakistan to a post-Katrina New Orleans and Antarctica’s frozen wastes.
NPR spokeswoman Isabel Lara said the network does not comment publicly on “specific complaints or personnel matters” and would not confirm whether any complaints had been filed in Zwerdling’s case. She did, however, confirm that Zwerdling “is no longer on staff.”
“We take all reports and their consequences very seriously. Our process respects the confidentiality of everyone, most importantly of those who make complaints,” Lara said. “While we cannot discuss the specifics of any given case, our main priority is a safe workplace and we will always work to promptly address issues as they come up.”