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Wed July 8, 2009
Interview with Diane Rehm
By Kate Lochte
Murray, KY – The first addition to our new - comprehensive weekday news and information schedule starting next Monday morning at 9 is The Diane Rehm Show, an established forum for balanced public affairs discussion. Diane Rehm celebrates her 73rd birthday, her 30th year as host, and another important anniversary this year. She's written two books as well, and we learn about them next, with Kate Lochte.
Kate Lochte: We are very pleased the WKMS listeners will start hearing the Diane Rehm Show weekday mornings from 9-11 starting Monday July 13th. You're observing 30 years of the show this year, your Birthday, and I see your going down the Nile. How exciting that our listeners meet you this year.
Diane Rehm: Well I am absolutely thrilled that WKMS is coming on board with us and that we'll have an opportunity to interact with your listeners starting Monday July 13th. It's really a real thrill for us Kate.
KL: You told Leigh Thornton, host of the television program Changing Media from the University of Maryland, that you've always been an avid listener and that you used to listen to your parents conversations by putting your ear to the floor. Tell me about how growing up with parents from Lebanon and Egypt shaped your career.
DR: Well you know you don't quite realize those things until after the fact, but I do know that in our household we, my sister and I, were taught, and not only have to, but told to listen. We were not so much asked our own opinions, our own thoughts, and our own ideas but rather to listen to what the adults around us had to say. So you become rather keen on listening, learning to listen, being very attentive to what others have to say because your own opinions, your own ideas, are internalized. There not really put out there for public consumption. And there were occasions on which for some reason or another, my mother would have saw that I had misbehaved and then would send me to my room. Now as in the same way my father's many many sisters and brothers were also here in Washington and they would frequently be at the house which for me was always great excitement because I loved seeing my aunts and uncles and loved seeing my cousins. On most occasions when, as I say, my mother determined I misbehaved would send me to my room. Now fortunately my room was a tiny room right above the living room and what I could do was to put my ear to the floor and could listen to the conversation as it went on downstairs. You know I could tell what the mood was, I could tell what the excitement was, where the laughing was coming from, who was making this kind of remark and you know you just get in that habit of listening very carefully. And I think that was perhaps good training for being a talk show host, but who knew.
KL: Who knew? You work in the studios of WAMU at American University. There you and your producers have a world of guests to recruit, to discuss a variety of topics each day, describe how you work, your philosophy for the program, and what is most important to you that each day's work accomplishes.
DR: Well I think that what we have the opportunity and the privilege of doing each day because we are here in Washington, is to draw on just a huge abundance of knowledgeable people who are expert in their fields and they are willing to come on the program. But I mean it's not just the people themselves; it's the work and the producer that goes on behind the scenes each producer with the help of the others if need be, and there are 5 producers here working on the program Kate, each them will take responsibility for a particular show, for example recently we did a program on the Sudan and Denise Couture, who is one of our newest producers, set to work finding the most knowledgeable people on the program bring them in, then contacting the highest ranking person in the Obama administration who was working on the that turned out to be a General who is the special envoy to Sudan. So first you start with the producers, they go about doing research in hope to find the best people for the program, and then present me with all the information I could possibly need to ask the kinds of questions that I think your listeners want to hear answered. And then if asked about my philosophy it goes back to your first questioning regarding listening. I am there to listen to interact briefly, to interact sufficiently, to bring out the kinds of answers that I think we are all looking for, but I am not there to antagonize. I am not there to provoke. I am not there to put down. I am not here to make people angry. These are guest in the studios and guest on the program I want them to know that their comments, their willingness to participate is welcome, but at the same time we must be in a position to inform listeners. Listeners are central to the program of course they participate in the program. They are so knowledgeable and so willing not only to listen but to ask good questions themselves so I think in a nutshell I have given you my philosophy.
KL: Tell me about the regular Friday round tables.
DR: The Friday News Roundup began in 1984. Shortly after the program became the Diane Rehm Show. From 1979 until 1984 it was called Kaleidoscope. I was then the host, but it was divided into many smaller parts. And then we decided to create a two hour program called The Diane Rehm show and I felt that a review of the week's news on Friday starting out with just one reporter would be a real service to listeners. Then as time went on I added a second reporter so we had two perspectives in the studio, and finally a third so we had real discussions on the current issues of the week. Now more recently we have made that Friday News roundup a two hour program so that the first hour deals with domestic issues, and the second hour deals with international issues. So for example, this week will certainly be talking about the present effort to achieve some compromise on healthcare in the first hour. We'll be talking about North Korea, Iran, Iraq, in the second hour, and that Friday News Roundup has come to be the most popular two hours that we do here on the Diane Rehm Show.
KL: We are looking forward to hearing it.
DR: Thank you.
KL: What compelled you to write Finding my Voice was your long journey to diagnoses and treatment for spasmodic dysphonia, but you've said that writing the book brought you other personal discoveries. Would you share a few with us?
DR: Its interesting Kate that people asked me whether writing the book was cathartic and my response is always that indeed not, it was in fact revelatory. I think I discovered things about myself, my fear of silence, as I grew up my fear of being alone, my fear of not having people around me, my fear of being shut away. I think I began to recognize things in myself, as well as to better understand my mother, my father with whom my relationship is not always good. They both died when I was 19 within 10months of each other, so as an adult never had the opportunity to talk with them honestly. Not only about what I really really would like to know about their own backgrounds, how they came to meet each other, how she left behind her entire family in Egypt while he my father came here with is entire family made up of sisters and brothers and not all of them were totally warming to my mother. My father was the youngest in his family an therefore doted upon, so that any women who came perhaps into his life was going to be, perhaps the object of or the subject of some jealousy, and I think that I discovered at the end of the writing Finding my Voice that I felt real compassion for her. That I had never quite felt until she was dying, and felt a much much better understanding of the difficulties that she has had which in turn ultimately came to affect me in my life.
KL: We shift another book you have written on commitment. You bravely engaged your husband of how many years now?
DR: We will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary this December, so we are among the very very fortunate and you know the book Towards Commitment is one that we both felt strongly about writing. The divorce rate as you well know is 50% about 50% in this country, and though it may have leveled off somewhat temporarily because of the economic decline, in this country sociologist, psychologist, and family counselors expect it to jump back up if in fact, or when I shall hopefully say when the economy does make a turnaround, but both of us felt that too many young people ,most especially, were going into marriage without really delving into their partners and what that relationship really is. And that is why that word commitment is such a strong one. I think we all are moving toward commitment when we begin planning that wedding day, but the wedding day should not, cannot be the end all be all. In fact the work of marriage should begin far far ahead of that in some kind of counseling process in some kind of exploration process so that we each discover something about ourselves and the person that we are committing to spending the rest of our lives with. So at the end of the book you can see there are a series of questions that we believe that people should begin to discuss with each other. So as to better understand not only the intention going forward, but what shaped the beliefs and the background. For example, how did your family deal with money? How did you deal with your siblings, if you had any how? Did the subject of pray come into your family life? What do you enjoy most: being with people or do you enjoy solitude? These are questions that you know Mother Nature in turn of our sexual attract toward one another, these are questions that get put to the side and there for we have found that from what we have heard so many people have found the book very useful in planning their own lives together.
KL: It sounds so very rational.
DR: Well and that is what marriage is not from time to time. Marriage is totally irrational and sometimes our choices are irrational, but in learning about each other we can understand why we have come to this decision to engage in marriage with another person or we can realize before it's too late that this marriage should not take place.
KL: Well how are you and your husband celebrating in December.
DR: We are going to celebrate with a very very small group of friends and family at our home which is now a condominium. We moved a little more than a year ago from our home of 40 years because my husband suffers from Parkinson's disease. It's a mild case and totally under control with medication, but our daughter, our son both encored yes, indeed urged us to move from a house which had three stories to a one level condominium, and I must say it was the best decision we could have ever had made. We are very happy there. So we'll celebrate with our family and with our close friends.
KL: Well congratulations on that accomplishment and I wanted to wrap up with asking you about another accomplishment, you're the only radio person to have interviewed a sitting president in the White House and inquiring minds want to know what you really thought about Bill Clinton
DR: Well what I really thought of Bill Clinton, was that he is a man of great intelligence and great wit. He is a masterful politician. He is someone who has problems that he has tried deal with. He is above all a human being. I mean my engineers and we, two producers , Toby Shriner our engineer and John Holt our chief engineer, went down to the white house together for a one o'clock appointment. From one o'clock to four o'clock in the afternoon we were moved from room to room to room and finally at 4 o'clock welcomed in to the oval office and kate I can tell it is as magnificent as you can imagine seeing the oval office on television programs. Whether on the West Wing with recreation or actual television photographs of the oval office, it's absolutely magnificent. And we waited, I was seated in the chair in front of the fire place with an antique chair awaiting the president and finally he came bursting through the door from the cabinet room saying, "my allergies are killing me, " and the poor man his eyes watering his nose was watering he had blow his nose during the conversation. When I think he is the President of the United States for all the power that he or someday she wheels, is a human being and I was privileged to be in that office to talk with a sitting president and its memory I shall always enjoy.
KL: Indeed. I failed to adequately research whether you have ever been able to sit down with President George Bush.
DR: No. On repeated occasions we did make the request but he declined.
KL: I hope that someday you will.
DR: Thank You.
KL: Thanks for being with me this morning.
DR: Kate it was so good to talk with you, and I am so happy to be with you and your listeners at WKMS. I hope you'll call in. I hope you'll enjoy the program.
KL: I know we will.
Starting next Monday, The Diane Rehm Show airs on 913 weekdays at 9 a.m. following Morning Edition -- premiering our enhanced weekday news lineup. The host's distinctive voice results from the neurological condition "spasmodic dysphonia." Hear this interview again at our website wkms.org. Mrs. Rehm broadcasts from WAMU-FM at American University in Washington.