- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Diane Rehm said she had no choice but to speak up. In a devastating front-page article last month, The Washington Post exposed financial problems and low morale at WAMU-FM (88.5), one of two local National Public Radio affiliates.

Several unhappy employees spoke to The Post anonymously.

Not Mrs. Rehm.

The slow-spoken host of WAMU’s signature talk show went on the record, blaming Executive Director Susan Clampitt for the station’s troubles. Nine days later, with the criticism mounting, American University, which owns WAMU, removed Ms. Clampitt.

“I think it was imperative Susan leave the station. I knew in the end somebody had to speak up,” Mrs. Rehm told Channel Surfing.

“The people who had spoken up in the past were either let go or threatened with being let go. Because I do a daily program that is so important to the station and to NPR nationally, it would have been harder for them to fire me,” she said.

Ms. Clampitt and university officials declined comment. The university hasn’t named her successor.

In the palace intrigue that is life at WAMU these days, most staffers see Mrs. Rehm, 67, as the heroine. The drama has further bolstered the mystique of a broadcaster whose rise is legendary within the industry.

In 1973, Mrs. Rehm, then a homemaker, began volunteering for WAMU. She worked her way through the ranks, becoming host of its “Kaleidoscope” talk show six years later.

The station renamed the program “The Diane Rehm Show” in 1984. NPR began distributing it nationally in the mid-1990s, about the same time Mrs. Rehm began struggling with voice problems. In 1998, she was diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological disorder that involves involuntary vocal cord spasms.

Doctors treat Mrs. Rehm’s condition by injecting Botox into her vocal cords every few months. “It’s no huge deal when you think about what other people go through,” she said.

Today, Mrs. Rehm is one of NPR’s most popular hosts, drawing about 1 million listeners weekly.

Some conservatives dismiss her as a liberal darling, but her program, which WAMU airs weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon, is reliably thoughtful and refreshingly shout-free.

“I see myself as bringing all voices together. There are some people who would say that is the definition of liberal,” Mrs. Rehm said.

Her spirits, as well as the mood of many of her colleagues, have lifted in recent weeks, but the drama is not over.

The Post is expected to publish the results of an audit of WAMU’s finances soon.

Mrs. Rehm wants no role in finding Ms. Clampitt’s successor. “Golly day, I was on the search committee [for Ms. Clampitt]. I feel in some way responsible,” she said.

By most accounts, Mrs. Rehm has always been respected inside WAMU, but staffers said her decision to speak out elevated their admiration.

Some of Ms. Clampitt’s loyalists disagree.

“There are people who are angry at me. Nothing is ever 100 percent,” Mrs. Rehm said.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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