Public radio host Diane Rehm is known for running a genial, intelligent and well-informed talk show. But during her interview with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders last week, something went very wrong. Prompted by a listener’s post on Facebook, Rehm stated that Sanders, who is Jewish, had dual citizenship with Israel.
“No, I do not have dual citizenship with Israel; I’m an American,” Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, replied. “That’s some of the nonsense that goes on in the Internet. But that is absolutely not true.”
Rehm then asked the Vermont senator: “Are there members of Congress who do have dual citizenship or is that part of the fable?”
The ADL and other Jewish groups have properly blasted Rehm for the exchange. The question of dual citizenship is akin to the charge of dual loyalty, of which Jews have perennially been accused. Rehm fed into that canard and put Sanders in the position where he had to restate that he is an American and had to reaffirm his loyalty to our country. By doing so, Rehm ventured into the dark territory of conspiracy theorists. She should have known better.
Rehm has apologized for, among other things, stating Sanders’ dual citizenship as fact rather than posing it as a question. And she said she regretted not going with her gut instinct when the listener’s Facebook post looked suspicious. The list of members of Congress with dual citizenship that the listener referred to was, in fact, a hoax. “I should have probed further. I should have looked into it myself when the doubts came into my own mind,” she told NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen. But she didn’t, and that’s a shame.
We’ve come to expect conspiracy mongering from talk radio and from the fringes of the American left and right. But for it to come from an otherwise reputable host on public radio was jaw dropping. Whether Rehm’s fact checkers are at fault is not the point. That she presented a conspiracy theory as a legitimate topic of inquiry — forcing Sanders to respond — reminds us that being intelligent and well informed does not immunize a person from being misled by the convoluted logic or made-up facts of anti-Semitism. The fact is, Rehm chose to launder hate speech and attempted to pass it off as intelligent discourse. That is as sad as it is dangerous.