By Dave Andrusko
My first encounter (once removed) with NPR’s Diane Rehm was in (yikes!) 1981. I sat outside the studio of the local NPR affiliate, WAMU, while my wife debated two pro-abortionists and (of course) Rehm. Since there were only three aligned against Lisa, it wasn’t a fair fight.
So a story in the Washington Post today that the 79-year-old Rehm will retire next year caught my eye, for this and many other reasons.
I had already heard Rehm’s laughable pretense at objectivity before Lisa calmly debunked the usual malarkey about pro-lifers. Since that time I have listened to Rehm, but infrequently because her show airs locally when I am at work.
Suffice it to say it is true that she is a big shot around here–a “NPR Talk-Show Legend,” as the Post headline puts it. But to pretend that Rehm maintains “ a nonpartisan orientation,” as Paul Fahri does, is simply Fahri’s own biases showing through.
As NRL News Today readers may remember, Rehm got in a teeny, tiny bit of trouble earlier this year. Her advocacy of assisted suicide was so blatant Rehm was (sort of) forced to scale back.
Which is one of the reasons she will leaving next year (but–surprise, surprise, not likely until after the presidential election). Fahri writes
“Among other things, she wants to advocate on behalf of aid in dying for the terminally ill, a cause she has been obliged to avoid espousing on the air. John [her late husband] so wanted to die on his own terms,” she said. “It made me feel like I had to speak out for the right to die.”
Let’s look a little closer at what happened in March. It’s of ongoing importance because the full-throated support of celebrities such as Rehm is key to the physician-assisted suicide movement’s strategy.
John Rehm had Parkinson’s and he died in 2014 by self-starvation– with his wife’s help. Thus it came as no surprise that Diane Rehm would be working closely with Compassion & Choices, formerly (and more accurately) known as the Hemlock Society.
Wesley Smith has pointed out many times, Compassion and Choices “promotes VSED [Voluntary Stop Eating and Drinking] on its website. It has even published a booklet about suicide by starvation for those who are not terminally ill.”
It all came to a preliminary head for Rehm after a glowing, one-sided story appeared in the Washington Post written by Michael Rosenwald.
The key paragraphs in Rosenwald’s story were
Now 78 and pondering how to manage her own death, Rehm is working with Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life organization run by Barbara Coombs Lee, a key figure in Oregon’s passage of an assisted-suicide law and a previous guest on the show. Rehm will appear on the cover of the group’s magazine this month, and she is telling John’s story at a series of small fundraising dinners with wealthy donors financing the right-to-die campaign.
If asked, she said she would testify before Congress.
Writing over at Newsbusters, Tim Graham asked
How many hosts on taxpayer-funded talk shows will be testifying on a hot-button issue like euthanasia before Congress? How can anyone expect her to offer fairness when this issue comes to her own program? No one can imagine an NPR star testifying against abortion or against assisted suicide.
They’re far too “progressive” for that.
Rehm told the Post she knows that as a journalist, she must be careful. “As strongly as I feel, I don’t want to use the program to proselytize my feelings,” she said. “But I do want to have more and more discussion about it because I feel it’s so important.”
Which appears to have caught the attention of the NPR Ombudsman. After Elizabeth Jensen questioned Rehm’s very public involvement, we read the following headline in the Post in another story written by Rosenwald: “Following criticism, NPR host Diane Rehm scales back efforts in right-to-die debate.”
We’ll talk about how much “scaling back” in a moment. Let’s first look at what Jensen had to say in her statement.
Jensen makes clear that to most people, Rehm and WAMU and NPR (National Public Radio) are pretty much one and the same.
But, in fact, as Jensen explained,
She is an employee of WAMU, not NPR. NPR distributes her show and allows WAMU to associate the NPR brand with it, but doesn’t “own” or produce it. Listeners, however, can’t be expected to know the difference and many don’t.
So at the time Jensen wrote her Ombudsman column, they were thrashing out the whys and the wherefores of how NPR’s code of ethics would (or wouldn’t) apply to the “NPR Talk-Show Legend.”
Adding her two cents, Jensen concluded
My own view is that Rehm’s participation as a celebrity guest of sorts at fundraising dinners for an organization that does extensive political lobbying, as compelling as her personal story is and as careful as she is being, is a step too far for someone associated with NPR. Rehm does not believe she has crossed any line, but my view is she should be counseled against future participation in fund-raising events for the organization.
So how much did Rehm “scale back” her public advocacy? As I say I don’t listen enough to know.
But at the time (March 9, 2015), Rosenwald wrote, “Rehm agreed to stop attending the dinners — except for two this month she was already scheduled to appear at and are sold out. She plans to continue helping the organization, but on a ‘case-by-case basis’ and in consultation with her station manager.”
Most importantly for her, Rehm said, wasn’t backing away from being a right-to-die proponent.
“This should be a right for me and should have been a right for my husband,” she said.
A joint statement from NPR and WAMU said Rehm will continue to host shows on the topic and that she “will remind the audience about her personal experience and be transparent about her affiliation with any organization focused on the issue.”
“As a talk show host, Diane Rehm is free to express her own opinions alongside people who have different views,” the statement said. “This is one of the things her listeners expect, and it allows for empathy, and a lively exchange of ideas.”
So Rehm wouldn’t be the star attention at Compassion & Choices banquets but would do her thing on a “case by case” basis in “consultation with her station manager.”
And, once she retires, even that fig-leaf will not be necessary.