Breaking: Radio host makes mistake, apologizes

Did you hear? A person made a mistake on the radio the other day and you won’t believe what happened next!

Actually, nothing happened except the usual amount of bead-clutching by partisans and media writers.

It was an honest, if clumsy, mistake that Diane Rehm, host of an NPR-distributed talk show (not carried by MPR), made when she noted to presidential aspirant Bernie Sanders that he holds dual citizenship in Israel.

He doesn’t, which Sanders pointed out and for which Rehm apologized, but the Internet did its Internet thing.

That was several days ago and it’s still percolating for some reason.

Today, CNN media watcher Brian Stelter explained how it happened, blaming Rehm’s media’s desire for “audience engagement” by asking her audience via Facebook what they’d like to ask Sanders.

It turns out there are misinformed people in the radio audience.

One of the responses, from a user named Ryan, said, “Senator Sanders — you hold dual Israeli/American citizenship. Why should the president of our country be allowed to maintain full citizenship in another country at the same time?”

That comment — “liked” by several other Facebook users — is what triggered the on-air error.

Producer Denise Couture included the comment (and three others from Facebook) in the prep material that was given to Rehm before the interview.
Nothing unusual about that, either. Hosts are routinely given articles and suggested questions.

But Ryan’s comment was rooted in misinformation.

“One of the core elements of Diane’s show is audience engagement,” (WAMU boss J.J.)Yore (a former American Public Media employee) said. “Of course, the show began doing this strictly through phone calls. But in an age of Facebook and Twitter, we have other ways for listeners to ask questions.”

Yore said the producer did (not) do “further research” on the comment from Ryan.

Sloppy, yes. But it’s also not the first time someone in a radio audience had asked a question based on an incorrect premise; but when it happens via Facebook, the question needs to be vetted. It’s a good reason not to accept questions online but Rehm does it and we all do it.

For the most part, Rehm was just doing what a lot of talk show hosts do — what producers tell her to.

“Instead of asking it as a question I stated it as fact, and that was wrong,” she said, refusing to throw her staff under the campaign bus.

“Diane Rehm is an excellent radio host,” a Sanders spokesman told Politico. “There’s a great big Internet out there with lots of good and bad information.”

Nonetheless, Salon calls the mistake “massive.”

The Jewish Journal calls it a “remarkable” feat of shoddy and lazy journalism.

It’s neither “massive” nor “remarkable.”

It’s a mistake.