She agreed to attend a series of fundraising dinners for the right-to-die group and appear on the cover of its magazine. The first dinner was held on Feb. 23.
But shortly after The Post article appeared, NPR’s ombudsman raised questions about whether the longtime talk show host was violating NPR’s ethical standards. (Rehm works for WAMU, but her show is distributed and promoted by NPR.)
“My own view,” wrote ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen, “is that Rehm’s participation as a celebrity guest of sorts at fundraising dinners for an organization that does extensive political lobbying, as compelling as her personal story is and as careful as she is being, is a step too far for someone associated with NPR.”
NPR and WAMU officials held a meeting last week to discuss the matter, at which Rehm said she was asked how she would feel about not attending the dinners. She said she told them, “I was saddened but understood their position.”
Rehm agreed to stop attending the dinners — except for two this month she was already scheduled to appear at and are sold out. She plans to continue helping the organization, but on a “case-by-case basis” and in consultation with her station manager.
Most importantly for her, Rehm said she wasn’t backing away from being a right-to-die proponent.
“This should be a right for me and should have been a right for my husband,” she said.
A joint statement from NPR and WAMU said Rehm will continue to host shows on the topic and that she “will remind the audience about her personal experience and be transparent about her affiliation with any organization focused on the issue.”
“As a talk show host, Diane Rehm is free to express her own opinions alongside people who have different views,” the statement said. “This is one of the things her listeners expect, and it allows for empathy, and a lively exchange of ideas.”
WAMU station manager J.J. Yore said listeners had expressed “very little concern” about Rehm’s position on the issue, but from his perspective “the dinners were always the trickiest part.”
“I think we’ve come to a good resolution here,” he said.
Compassion & Choices defended Rehm, sending her a letter to take to public radio officials. The letter said Rehm was simply a conversation facilitator at the dinners and that no money was exchanged in her presence, nor did she ever ask for money.
“We will respect the decision, although we do not believe there is anything unethical about her participation in the dinners,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, the organization’s president.