Okay, so Bernie Sanders was a guest this morning on The Diane Rehm Show.
For those unfamiliar, Diane Rehm is a veteran public radio talk show host based on Washington, D.C. Her show is aired on many public radio stations across the country, including New Hampshire Public Radio but not VPR, which airs “On Point” in that time slot.
Anyway, Bernie was on to talk about his run for President. And about 25 minutes in, something weird happened. Rehm began a question by stating, as a fact, that Sanders has dual US/Israeli citizenship. Bernie cut her off and denied the assertion:
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 responded that Sanders was on “a list we have gotten” of public officials with dual US/Israeli citizenship.
Sanders dismissed it as “the nonsense that goes on in the Internet.”
And in fact, Rehm was completely wrong. The “list” has been circulating among anti-Israel conspiracy theorists for years. It includes 12 Senators and 29 Congressmembers — basically anyone with a Jewish-sounding name. The list carries no attribution and offers no evidence. (It’s also about five years old, and includes several people who are no longer in Congress.)
The question then becomes, how in the blue Hell did this get on public radio?
Rehm has issued a statement explaining the incident and offering a self-congratulatory apology:
“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. 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.”
Oh yeah, thanks a bunch, Diane. That’s not a simple “mistake,” it’s a breach of professional responsibility. If it was Rehm herself, not some junior staffer, who grabbed this off a Facebook page and put it on the national airwaves, then that’s a level of carelessness I wouldn’t expect from a responsible, accomplished radio personality. And rephrasing the question wouldn’t have sufficed; reading “a comment on Facebook” should never be the sole basis of an interview question.
And it rings hollow to claim credit for one allegedly positive consequence of the “mistake” without acknowledging the greater harm. These things are viral, and they spread through repetition. The subsequent denials have little or no effect. Truth is, Diane Rehm lent her substantial voice and the public radio airwaves to spreading this unfounded rumor. Sanders’ denial will not undo the harm. I bet we’ll see this rumor spread “as reported on public radio.” That’s how this works.
Between this and his infamous 1972 essay and the question of the missing 1970s on his campaign website, Our Bernie is getting a quick introduction to what it’s like to run for President in the 21st Century: endless scrutiny of any detail, pertinent or not; questions that are beneath contempt; and the nonstop frenetic pace of campaigning.
Could be worse, though. He could be Rick Santorum, showing up at an Iowa diner and addressing a “crowd” of one. Yes, one.
Just one Iowan showed up at 2 p.m. campaign stop Monday at a restaurant in the unincorporated community of Hamlin, population 300, according to a report from The Des Moines Register — Peggy Toft, an insurance agent who chairs the county’s Republican Party.
Ahh, sweet schadenfreude!