In Praise of “The Diane Rehm Show”

Anyone who knows me know that I am a huge fan of NPR. I mean, come on, I’m a doctoral student in an English department, OF COURSE I would love NPR. From This American Life to All Things Considered, I rely on public radio to provide me with a voice of reason about politics and culture. When it comes to NPR shows, however, one of my all-time favorites has to be The Diane Rehm Show.

Day after day, Diane Rehm goes on the air to bring to light important issues percolating in American politics and culture. While she often has shows that focus on the current politics, just as often she hosts a panel discussing such wide-ranging topics as the bleaching of the coral reefs (the subject of a recent episode), the blight currently affecting many commercial varieties of banana (still one of the most compelling episodes), and she also frequently hosts a guest author. The interviews with authors are often quite revealing, as they give us a fascinating glimpse into the workings of the creative mind.

I am a particular fan of the weekly news roundup on both domestic and international politics. While some have accused Ms. Rehm (and NPR more generally) of being straightforwardly leftist, I actually find her to be a moderate and rational voice. She frequently invites guests and panelists that are straightforwardly conservative, and will often have both a Democrat and a Republican during the same segment. She remains invested, in my mind at least, in cultivating civil dialogue across partisan lines, and that is an invaluable trait in these troubled and divided times.

While part of the pleasure of The Diane Rehm Show stems from what can be termed its NPR aesthetic, a greater measure comes from Ms. Rehm herself. She can be by turns charming and piercing in her critical questions. She is not afraid to ask her guests–no matter how exalted and self-confident they might be–the tough questions that she knows her listeners want answered. And if you think that you are going to get by with a bit of empty rhetoric, rest assured that she will nail you on it and demand a more straightforward answer.

Further, I have often been surprised by how mature the conversations are between Diane and her call-in guests. We all know how unpleasant these situations can get (there’s a reason I avoid comments sections like the plague), but somehow Diane manages to keep even the most unruly and sometimes uninformed voter on track, and she has that truly remarkable knack of turning even the most obtuse and arcane question or comment into something more relevant. She truly cultivates a magnificent marketplace of ideas, and it is not exaggeration, in my mind, to declare her (as many have before me), a true national treasure.

While Ms. Rehm has announced that she will retiring at the end of 2016, there is still hope that the show will carry on her remarkable legacy. A number of guest hosts have begun filling in for her with increasing frequency, among whom is my personal favorite, Susan Page of USA Today. Regardless of who ends up replacing her–or if, indeed, the series has a sustainable life at all after she leaves–there can be no doubt that Diane Rehm has made an indelible impression on the face of both NPR and on American civil, political, and cultural discourse writ large. I can think of no higher praise.

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