You are hereAlterNet: Moyers and Winship: We Can't Let an Amateur Right-Wing Smear Campaign Destroy NPR

AlterNet: Moyers and Winship: We Can't Let an Amateur Right-Wing Smear Campaign Destroy NPR

By FZ - Posted on 22 March 2011

Public media is essential to American life -- without public radio, the reactionaries among us will hold a monopoly on the airwaves.

March 18, 2011- There’s no more scrupulous or versatile broadcast journalist than NPR’s Daniel Zwerdling. He is one of those reporters who keeps his eye on the sparrow – that is, on small details from individual lives that add up to significant issues of public policy. As he described in a special report this week how the United States Army is clarifying guidelines "that should make it easier for soldiers with traumatic brain injuries from explosions to receive the Purple Heart," it was mind-boggling to think that right wingers in Congress were at that very moment voting to eliminate the modest federal funds that make such essential and authoritative reporting available to anyone in America who cares to tune in.

Zwerdling’s collaborator on this report was ProPublica (the non-profit and equally independent newsroom that won the Pulitzer Prize last year for a harrowing account of deadly choices made by a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina). As a result of their reporting, the Army now intends to give special priority to reexamining the cases of soldiers who suffered battlefield concussions but who mistakenly may have been turned down for the Purple Heart, which historically has been awarded to soldiers injured by enemy action.

You may not think this such a big deal, but the symbolism of the announcement is potent. And it’s part of a larger, ongoing investigation conducted by Zwerdling and ProPublica’s T. Christian Miller into the military’s widespread failure to diagnose and treat traumatic brain injuries, the "signature injury" among troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as they fall to roadside bombs and other explosives.

It’s also typical of the comprehensive and essential journalism that has been a hallmark of NPR since its creation in 1970. Once upon a time, in the early glory days of radio, corporate media took on the challenge of providing Americans with the kind of information critical to citizenship. No longer. Conglomerates long ago bought up the country’s commercial radio stations, closed down the news departments, and auctioned off the airtime to partisan polemicists or pre-packaged content devoid of journalism. Serious news on radio -- "the news we need to keep our freedoms," as the historian and journalist Richard Reeves once put it – has become the province of NPR (Full disclosure: We two have spent most of the last forty years toiling in the vineyards of public broadcasting, although never for NPR.)

Take Zwerdling’s investigations as just one example: Over the years, he has sorted out the complexities and secrets of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster and the warnings that preceded it, dangers posed to humans by the plant pesticide Chlordane (it eventually was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency) and the failures of the Corps of Engineers to maintain safely the dikes and dams around New Orleans -- among many other stories. Multiply his efforts by those of all the modestly-paid but dedicated journalists at NPR and you have a forty year history that has given listeners a deeper and richer portrait of America and the world than any other broadcast news organization in the country -- with or without offense, as Byron said, to friend or foe.

In just the last few weeks, NPR has provided unique coverage of the job crisis in the United States, upheavals in the Middle East, and anxiety over the safety of nuclear power in the wake of the Japanese earthquake – as a matter of fact, many of the issues the House of Representatives should have been debating instead of posturing and pandering to its rightward political base.


Mark Crispin Miller
Progressive Democrats of America