Tuesday, December 02, 2008

How About Contracting Zwerdling?

Holy crap, Daniel Zwerdling demonstrates some of the basics of what NPR ought to be doing all the time: digging up information on government policies, asking probing questions, providing historical context, seeking out varied opinions from those in positions to know information, and providing numbers and data (and pointing what information is hidden from public knowledge or simply unknowable). Perhaps NPR could shut down for a few weeks and hire Zwerdling provide a little in-house training to remind his colleagues that their job is to question and probe the powerful - not just be their loyal spokespersons.

On Monday morning, Zwerdling explores the burgeoning phenomenon of contracting out government services and functions. Amazingly, he puts the privatization of government in a historical context. He notes that some contracting out of government services has always occurred in the US, but "you could say the modern era of contracting began on Jan. 20, 1981, when President Ronald Reagan was sworn into office...Reagan said one of the best ways to solve this problem was to turn over government jobs to private industry. Then, a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, embraced the same strategy....and, actually....did even more to contract out work than Reagan....[and] made it easier for companies to get government contracts without competing. And then came President Bush, who said 'big government is not the answer' and shattered all the previous records for contracting out."

Zwerdling considers the assumptions that underlie privatizing government ("Businesses often know better than government how to do things right — and cheaper.") and then goes to the GAO (nonpartisan agency) for the facts about how so many contracts are completely unsupervised and accountable to no one.

Today, was just as pointed. Zwerdling lays out the vast array of critical government services that are now contracted out, and then he does something amazing - points out the threat that such privatization poses for a democratic society: "federal workers, at least, have to swear an oath to defend the Constitution, just like soldiers do. Not contractors." As a Congressionally appointed oversight commissioner tells Zwerdling, "These contractors, they're not under the normal democratic accountability at all....Contractors are motivated by the dollar."

Zwerdling manages again to go back in time to evoke the warnings of Eisenhower regarding the military industrial complex, and connects it growth to the extensive growth of private contracting.

Imagine if all news reports on NPR had the basic features of this series - I could stop writing this Godforsaken blog! But I doubt that will happen anytime soon. Listening to Zwerdling's reports was refreshing, but ultimately sad for how it stands out as the exception to the usual practice of NPR's news.
(BTW, the graphic is me...of course)


Anonymous said...

Zwerdling is literally a blast from NPR's past.

You really have to wonder what he thinks of what has happened to his organization.

He must be even more disgusted than some of us who post here are.

Anonymous said...

I've never heard of Zwerdling. I shut off National Petroleum Radio this morning in disgust (happens most mornings). I guess I missed him.

Anonymous said...

Wow, sounds as though that little tidbit turned NoPR's giggly clown upside down.

Go Dan! Why not do yourself a favor & defect to NOW, Moyers Journal or Democracy Now?! Your current outlet doesn't deserve you.

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Danny Zwerdling is the ONLY reporter still putting real journalism on the air at NPR. His reporting on the military's vile and reprehensible treatment of returning Iraq vets on the posts to which they return, by their officers and NCOs has been the ONLY really critical coverage I've heard.

I almost threw my cup at the tuner again this morning listening to thE interviews witht eh drooling, redneck, peckerwood, knuckle-draggihng asshole crackers in Goergia this morning.

Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell, Zwerdling is NPR's token real journalist.

He lends credibility to an otherwise vacuous organization.

They keep him on so that whenever they are criticized they can parade him out and say "Looky who we have here. An award winning journalist."