Zucchino, David 1951-
ZUCCHINO, David 1951-
PERSONAL: Born November 14, 1951, in McPherson, KS. Married; wife's name, Kacey; children: three daughters. Education: University of North Carolina, B.A., 1973.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10003.
CAREER: News & Observer, Raleigh, NC, reporter, 1973-78; Detroit Free Press, Detroit, MI, reporter, 1978-80; Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA, foreign correspondent, beginning 1980; Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, currently foreign correspondent.
MEMBER: Overseas Press Club.
AWARDS, HONORS: American Society of Newspaper Editors Award, 1985; Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, 1989.
Myth of the Welfare Queen: A Pulitzer Prize-winningJournalist's Portrait of Women on the Line, Scribner's (New York, NY), 1997.
Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad, foreword by Mark Bowden, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: David Zucchino is a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter and foreign correspondent who is also the author of Myth of the Welfare Queen: A Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist's Portrait of Women on the Line and Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad. The former title provides case studies with which Zucchino attempts to overcome the popular stereotype of the "welfare queen," a woman who lives comfortably on her welfare checks and does not contribute to society because she is content to get a free ride from hard-working taxpayers; the latter relates the reporter's firsthand experiences as an embedded correspondent with troops penetrating Iraq's capital city to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Written in 1995, when Zucchino was still a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Myth of the Welfare Queen centers on two people: Odessa Williams, a fifty-six-year-old African American struggling to support a large family that includes children and grandchildren, and Cheri Honkala, a thirty-two-year-old white activist who also receives welfare while running the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU). While Zucchino provides no hard statistics for its case that welfare mothers are generally responsible and hard-working individuals, he does provide several personal stories with strong emotional impact. He describes how Williams valiantly tries to support her family, despite suffering from several health problems. She collects disability and works odd jobs. The center of her family, Williams demonstrates her powerful spirit in an episode in which her daughter's house burns down and she brings the family together to rebuild it from the ruins. "Zucchino conveys enormous respect for Williams's warm heart, wherewithal and seemingly endless capacity to resist the insults of poverty," observed Mimi Abramovitz in a Women's Review of Books article. The other portrait in the book is on Honkala, who spends the majority of her time as the unpaid head of the KWRU, an organization that provides temporary housing for welfare recipients, often doing so in violation of local ordinances, for which Honkala proves steadfastly unapologetic.
While the portraits of Williams and Honkala show welfare recipients who are doing their best to survive and certainly seem worthy of receiving federal money to help them get by, Zucchino also includes descriptions of other welfare recipients who are less admirable, such as those who are addicted to drugs, seem unwilling to work, or who fail to adequately support their children. Yet these people illustrate not that welfare leads to self-destructive behavior but rather that their problems stem from the hopelessness of poverty itself, according to Zucchino. "Myth of the Welfare Queen provides a moving corrective to the prevailing myths about poor women on welfare," commented Abramovitz. Nevertheless, the critic complained that Zucchino fails to "explain the role of economics" or "expose the underlying politics" that lead to poverty and the welfare system. "Nor do we learn that corporate America benefits by welfare 'reforms' that flood the labor market with thousands of additional low-paid workers."
Jason DeParle, writing in Washington Monthly, provided an even more stringent critique, asserting, "The characters don't really debunk the 'myths' about underclass life." For example, DeParle pointed out that Honkala earns hundreds of dollars a night as a topless dancer while still receiving welfare, thus making her "a rather inconvenient case of welfare fraud." And, in the case of Williams's granddaughter Iesha, the critic noted that the day her mother's house burned down she was sleeping when she was supposed to be watching the children, thus demonstrating severe neglect. Iesha's boyfriend, furthermore, is a jailed drug addict, and Iesha seems uninterested in looking for a job. "One can argue," DeParle continued, "about whether [Republican U.S. Congressman Newt] Gingrich and his lieutenants were sincere"in stating that the welfare system creates a culture of dependency, "But there's little in Zucchino's book that wouldn't neatly fit their critique." Despite such observations, other reviewers greatly appreciated Zucchino's book, Library Journal writer Kate Kelly calling it "a powerful exposé of the welfare myth." Booklist contributor Mary Carroll similarly praised the "powerful portraits of the women behind the stereotype."
After accompanying the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division as these U.S. troops invaded Baghdad in April of 2003. In Thunder Run the reporter illustrates that this operation was far from the easy victory that was portrayed on American television. Although Iraq's capital fell fairly quickly, the military victory was not without its costs. Zucchino interviewed soldiers during and after the attack, coming away with a strong appreciation for their professionalism and training while also vividly describing the "gut-wrenching, deeply disturbing accounts of slaughter," as Booklist contributor Jay Freeman described it. A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that Thunder Run is a "high-quality example of in-depth and evocative war reporting."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1997, Mary Carroll, review of Myth of the Welfare Queen: A Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist's Portrait of Women on the Line, p. 1210; April 15, 2004, Jay Freeman, review of Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad, p. 1404.
Library Journal, April 1, 1997, Kate Kelly, review of Myth of the Welfare Queen, p. 113.
Publishers Weekly, January 27, 1997, review of Myth of the Welfare Queen, p. 90; April 12, 2004, review of Thunder Run, p. 48.
Washington Monthly, July-August, 1997, Jason DeParle, review of Myth of the Welfare Queen, p. 42.
Washington Post Book World, May 9, 2004, Phillip Carter, review of Thunder Run, p. 4.
Women's Review of Books, May, 1997, Mimi Abramovitz, review of Myth of the Welfare Queen, p. 20.
LeanWrite.com,http://www.leanwrite.com/ (April 6, 2004), John S., interview with Zucchino.*