Diane Rehm is off the radio but still active
Former National Public Radio host Diane Rehm began her appearance at Planned Parenthood South Texas’ annual fundraising luncheon with a declaration aimed at what she called “forces” allied against the health services provider.
“We will not be intimidated, we will not back off, we will not shut up” she told the 1,200 attendees, a record crowd for the event.
Rehm shared the stage in the Marriott Rivercenter ballroom with Jeffrey Rosen, a George Washington University law professor and president and CEO of the National Constitution Center. On a raised stage dressed with two large striped chairs, the two discussed the possible direction of the Supreme Court under the Trump Administration and what that might mean for pro-choice advocates.
For almost four decades, until her run ended at the end of last year, Rehm, 80, hosted her own NPR program, talking public affairs with newsmakers from all walks of life. She became known and appreciated for her gentle but insistent prodding of guests reluctant to answer questions as well as, in later years, her battles with spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological disorder that causes the vocal cords to spasm and on many days left her with a timorous speaking voice.
After the 2014 death of her beloved husband, John Rehm, from Parkinson’s disease, Rehm also became a staunch advocate for what she calls “death with dignity,” rejecting the more common term “assisted suicide.”
“If you believe God should be the only (life and death) decision maker, I support you 1,000 percent,” she told the luncheon crowd. “If you believe that what you want is every option modern medicine has to offer, I support you 1,000 percent.
“But if you decide that you wish to end your life when you choose, when death is on the horizon, then I also support you 1,000 percent.”
The Express-News caught up with Rehm shortly before she left for Austin to visit a longtime friend.
Q. A lot of people here and around the country have been missing you since your show ended. How have you been keeping yourself busy since then?
A. It touches my heart to hear that people are missing me. I have begun doing a weekly podcast (“Diane Rehm: On My Mind,” available on iTunes), and that gives me freedom to do absolutely whatever I’d like to do. We did one segment on death with dignity, but I usually try to cover the weekly news and talk about what’s been going on with my guests. Topics like, how things are changing after the Obama Administration and, frankly, what to make of the new Trump Administration.
Q. What do you make of it?
A. I don’t know what to make of it. I think his tweets are setting people’s teeth on edge, whipsawing them as they try to figure out what it is he’s saying. What is this man trying to communicate when he says that the former president of the United States is tapping his phones?
Q. What do you think he was saying?
A. Now, here’s what I wonder. I wonder if he found out that the CIA and the NSA were wiretapping the Russians and caught them on the line with him.
Q. Is the podcast enough to get your juices flowing?
A. You bet! And now my life doesn’t begin until 7 o’clock in the morning. For 37 years I got up at 5 o’clock every morning, except for weekends. But at age 80 I am ready to cut myself a little more slack.
Q. During the Planned Parenthood luncheon, you linked being pro-choice with supporting death with dignity. How do you tie those two together?
A. The beginning of life and the end of life are both about control of one’s own life. It’s belief in my ability to control my own life, my own body, my own vision of what I believe is right for me. And I don’t think there are many situations where I want to give over that control — either at the beginning or at the end of life — to someone else. Therefore, they are the one and the same.
Q. Some would say the unborn child doesn’t get a say in the decision the same way the death-with-dignity patient does.
A. When a woman makes a decision to have an abortion, she is making it for her own well being or for the size of her family or for her ability to afford another child. She is making it for the well being not just of herself but for the the people around her. And in the very same way we are thinking about family, thinking about the needs, the desires, the well being of the family at the end of life, we think about those things at the beginning. And that’s how I think they really do join forces.
Q. Your interviews are known for promoting what Jeffery Rosen called “civil dialogue.” What needs to happen to encourage more civil dialogue in our country?
A. I think that the press and the media in general has to work to do an even better job to make sure that absolutely everything that’s said is right on target and is an absolute quotation with as many sources as possible. I think we all get in trouble with unnamed sources. I think what everybody wants is the truth.
And where does the truth lie? Certainly not necessarily in Mr. Trump’s tweets. I’m really bothered by a president who gets up in the morning and tweets without knowing the full story. If he would listen a little more to NPR, maybe he might have a better sense of what the actual facts are. I think he’s listening too much to people who agree with him. People from Breitbart, for example. I think he would do well to listen to NPR a lot more.