Radio host to Sanders: Aren't you an Israeli dual citizen like some other members of Congress? Update: Rehm says mistake was not putting it in the form of a question

One doesn’t usually dial up NPR or its affiliates to indulge in conspiracy theories, but perhaps they’re looking to rebrand. WAMU radio host Diane Rehm turned an otherwise dry hour with Senator Bernie Sanders into a surreal moment, falsely accusing Sanders of having dual Israeli citizenship. When Sanders forcefully denied it, Rehm went on to note that his name was on a list of several members of Congress who have dual citizenship with Israel, which Sanders called “nonsense.”

The Jewish Journal’s Jared Sichel picked it up first, and the Washington Free Beacon put the clip on YouTube:

Diane Rehm: Senator, you have dual citizenship with Israel.

Bernie Sanders: 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: I understand from a list we have gotten that you were on that list.

Sanders: No.

Rehm: Forgive me if that is—

Sanders: That’s some of the nonsense that goes on in the internet. But that is absolutely not true.

Rehm: Interesting. Are there members of Congress who do have dual citizenship or is that part of the fable?

Sanders: I honestly don’t know but I have read that on the internet. You know, my dad came to this country from Poland at the age of 17 without a nickel in his pocket. He loved this country. I am, you know, I got offended a little bit by that comment, and I know it’s been on the internet. I am obviously an American citizen and I do not have any dual citizenship.

Sanders spent several months on a kibbutz in the 1960s, Dylan Byers notes, but never sought nor received Israeli citizenship. Sichel found the “list” in the comments a pro-Palestinian Facebook page:

A cursory search on Google of “Bernie Sanders Israeli citizenship” shows that his name comes up in the comments section of the “We are all Vittorio Arrigoni” Facebook page. Arrigoni was an Italian pro-Palestinian activist who was kidnapped and murdered by non-Hamas Islamists in Gaza in April 2011. In the comments section of the Facebook page, on May 2 a user posted a list of senators and representatives who “have both Israel and U.S. citizenships.” Sanders is on the list. No source is given because the list is a total fabrication, not to mention created by an anti-Semite and anti-Zionist, which is given away by the fact that it says “Jewish Lobby”, “#israelwarcrime”, “AIPAC: Buying Congress one seat at a time”, “Rothschild”, and features an American flag with a Star of David replacing the 50 stars.

Yeah … seems legit. The graphic in which the list appears shows the level of credibility the list has. That brings us back to Rehm and her strange decision to ask this question in the middle of this interview. She clearly had done no research on the topic, seems to have had no context in which to ask this, and didn’t bother to source the list at all other than being “a list that we have gotten,” emphasis mine. Did NPR or WAMU provide that list to Rehm, or was this an instance of the royal we? Why not double-check the list with Sanders or his office before springing it on him in the middle of the interview, and thus avoid a potential embarrassment — like what Rehm experienced?

NPR and/or WAMU should provide some answers to those questions, but Sanders’ team wants to move on, Byers reports:

“Diane Rehm is an excellent radio host. There’s a great big Internet out there with lots of good and bad information. I’ve never heard the question come up before,” Briggs said.

Yes, there is plenty of bad information out there on the Internet. A good radio host does some due diligence before spreading it around even further.

Update: Byers has Rehm’s response at the same link as above, but it’s pretty clear that she’s not quite grasping the failure. Here’s her 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,” Rehm said. “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.”

The issue wasn’t whether she offered it as a statement of fact or a question; it was that she brought it up at all without performing any due diligence. This isn’t a Jeopardy form error, it’s journalistic malpractice. Rehm admits she just looked at the Facebook comment and took it as fact. In doing so, she didn’t “play a role in putting this rumor to rest,” Rehm attempted to propagate it.

Her credibility is now in serious Jeopardy, though.