Diane Rehm didn’t pull a “Helen Thomas” on Bernie Sanders. She pulled a McCarthy | Blog#42

* Updated: June 14, 2015 Hat tip to Hugh Kaufman on Twitter

Diane Rehm of NPR did something that many characterized as “pulling a Helen Thomas” on Bernie Sanders while she interviewed him. She pulled something, all right, but it was more a McCarthy than it was a Helen Thomas.

A lot of water has run under the bridge since Helen Thomas made her imprudent anti-Zionist statements while wearing her journalist’s hat. While one may or may not agree with the opinion she expressed that day and subsequently, the impropriety was in expressing her personal beliefs while working as a reporter. Had she been a pundit, her career would probably have gone on without a hitch. That, however, is hardly what Diane Rehm did to Senator Bernie Sanders:

Rehm: “Senator, you have dual citizenship with Israel,

Sanders: “Well, no I do not have dual citizenship with Israel. I’m an American. I don’t know where that question came from. I am an American citizen, and I have visited Israel on a couple of occasions. No, I’m an American citizen, period

Rehm: “I understand from a list we have gotten that you were on that list, forgive me if that is…

The “list we have gotten” is the McCarthy part of Rehm’s behavior. NPR didn’t get any lists. Rehm saw some rumor or link on Facebook and she used it to confront Sanders all the while calling it a “list” to make it appear as if it was obtained through her channels at NPR. That all too familiar tactic harkens back to the McCarthy era. * Update: I was just given a link to *the list* in question:

Diane Rehm might want to get a researcher who doesn’t check facts in comment sections of anti-Semitic facebook pages. http://t.co/J49d4gIqLv — Tobin Harshaw (@tobinharshaw) June 10, 2015

Read the rest of this article on Did NPR host Diane Rehm just accuse Bernie Sanders of dual citizenship with Israel? | Most Things Considered | Jewish Journal

Rehm knew exactly where she got the information from all along, even though she might not have known to or chosen to properly evaluate its worth. It was her choice to phrase her question in the way she did. Judging by the hesitation in her voice and the flubbing of words while she was asking, it is clear it was an impromptu ad-lib. Judging by her follow-up, she knew exactly where she wanted to go with her line of questioning. Ms. Rehm made what she calls an apology later in the day. I’ve included it below.

What, if not making Sanders stand out as “other,” could have been her intent? What, in today’s polarized atmosphere, could have made her feel as if her behavior is permissible?  Rehm didn’t stop at asking Sanders about his own dual citizenship:

Rehm: “Interesting. Are there members of Congress who do have dual citizenship or is that part of the fable?

The phrasing of this question is really odd. Fable? What was the point in asking? Why would Rehm expect Senator Sanders to keep track of possible dual citizens in Congress? Rehm should know that dual citizenship is not a crime and that it is quite common. How many dual citizens might there be lurking among her relatives or her husband’s? In fact, former member of Congress, Michele Bachmann was a dual American-Swiss citizen until 2012.

Dual citizenship was litigated in the US Supreme Court and it is perfectly legal.

“… the Supreme Court of the United States has stated that dual citizenship is a “status long recognized in the law” and that “a person may have and exercise rights of nationality in two countries and be subject to the responsibilities of both. The mere fact he asserts the rights of one citizenship does not, without more, mean that he renounces the other”, Kawakita v. U.S., 343 U.S. 717 (1952).”

According to an expert interviewed by CNN, even though numbers aren’t tracked, there well may be millions of Americans with dual, even triple, citizenship. We are still, after all, a nation of immigrants.

Each year, millions of Americans travel to the nations their ancestors came from. Travel to Israel is not a crime. Spending a year in Israel is not a crime. Being a Jew who visits Israel on occasion is not a crime. Believing in the right of Israel to exist is not a crime, nor does it make one a duplicitous traitor.

Rehm is of Arab-American heritage. Sanders is of American-Jewish heritage.

I am of mixed Arabic and Jewish heritage and I, as tens of thousands or more Americans of all nationalities are, am a dual citizen. So what? I was born in America. I live in America. I pay my taxes in America. And whether I feel more Jew than Arab or vice versa, I am no less American than Ms. Rehm and, most certainly, no more than Bernie Sanders.


Politico reports:

In an email, Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs said they have never heard that question before.

“Diane Rehm is an excellent radio host. There’s a great big Internet out there with lots of good and bad information. I’ve never heard the question come up before,” Briggs said.

Rehm also issued a statement to Politico, later in the day. While she may consider it an apology, I most certainly do not, nor do I consider her chosen line of questioning a mistake. It was clearly a deliberate choice.

“On today’s show I made a mistake. Rather than asking Senator and Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders whether he had dual U.S./Israeli citizenship, as I had read in a comment on Facebook, I stated it as fact. He corrected me, saying he did not know where the question came from. I apologized immediately,” Rehm said. “I want to apologize as well to all our listeners for having made an erroneous statement. I am sorry for the mistake. However, I am glad to play a role in putting this rumor to rest.”

The Free Beacon’s tweet and coverage:


5 thoughts on “Diane Rehm didn’t pull a “Helen Thomas” on Bernie Sanders. She pulled a McCarthy | Blog#42”

  1. Echos of what was done with Obama. Shame on Diane. I hadn’t heard of this rumor but now it has more legs. McCarthy indeed.

  2. In my book, the question–especially the way in which it was contextualized and posed– crossed the line into McCarthyism. As subtle as a sledge hammer too! Shades of “Gentlemen’s Agreement.” She retires this year, I believe.

    1. After she was confronted with her behavior, she didn’t seem very regretful. It was my impression she knew what she’d done. So many giants of TV and radio have turned out to be such cads!

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