Terry Gross Is Bad for the Country

Philly Fighting Words Week continues with the person Sandy Hingston calls “the Church Lady of Public Radio.”

Photo: William F. Steinmetz/Philadelphia Inquirer

Photo: William F. Steinmetz/Philadelphia Inquirer

Conventional wisdom holds that Terry Gross, host of WHYY-produced NPR staple Fresh Air, is the best interviewer in the business. Conventional wisdom is full of shit. Let’s start with her mannerisms. Sarah Miller captured them perfectly in her New Yorker parody “Gwyneth Paltrow Talks to Terry Gross About Conscious Uncoupling”:

GROSS: Okay, I wonder — could you maybe take — you know, like a typical scene from a breakup and describe it as though it were an opera? And then, maybe, could you describe the same scene through the lens of conscious uncoupling? Could you … do you think you could maybe do that, for us?

The hesitant, beseeching ingénue, so timidly obsequious — cut the crap, Terry. You’ve been doing this for 40 years. If you asked guests to strip naked and stick daisies up their arses, they would. That vaunted air of interview intimacy is all smoke and mirrors; you’re perched in a studio far away, interacting only via phone. Yet you make a point of telling the world how you sacrificed having children and friends for this, your calling; you spend all your time preparing, reading, watching movies — beg your pardon, films. Because what you’re doing is so deeply meaningful, so important. You say in your book All I Did Was Ask that you wanted to make sure a guest was aware “this was not a typical book interview.” You told Salon: “There are some things we don’t really tire of — like food, good conversation. A good mind is something that never loses its value, no matter how many good minds you have the luxury of encountering.”

And only those “good minds” interest you. You apply, you say, a “taste test” when it comes to American culture. You write about your famously awkward interview with Gene Simmons of Kiss: “You’d think that a man who dresses for the stage in breastplate and codpiece [and] paints his face … would have a sense of irony about himself, right?” The interview went awry when Simmons tweaked your self-righteousness, told you: “You and I, we sit here and we just talk and toss the ball around. That doesn’t mean a lot.” A clown said that to you. A CLOWN!

You know what you are? The Church Lady of Public Radio. You’re why ’HYY has to fund-raise all year long; you alienate 99 percent of the human race. Listening to you is like going for dinner at my rich brother-in-law’s; you make me want to scratch myself and pick my nose. In your elitist snobbery, in your delineation of what’s worthy of attention and what’s not, you’re as guilty of perpetuating our Red and Blue State America as any Tea Party bigot ever could be. I loved Samuel L. Jackson’s deft put-down in your interview with him:

GROSS: In Spike Lee’s movie School Daze, you play a townie who’s very hostile to the college students from out of town.

JACKSON: Leeds. He had a name, Leeds.M

So go ahead and sit there on your solitary throne, editing every unwanted “um” out of the pristine tapes for your rarefied Fresh Air. Just don’t fault Bill O’Reilly for stirring up the hoi polloi. You do a good enough job of that yourself.

We’ve got plenty more Philly heresies where that came from in our “Fighting Words” package. See the lineup here, then go buy the July 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine, on newsstands now, or subscribe today.

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  • Rick Kelly

    She’s not even the best interviewer in Philadelphia – Marty Moss-Coane is, no question. Marty has a *conversation* whereas Terry just sounds like she’s just looking at her yellow legal pad and going down her list of questions, non sequiturs be damned. She’s the Larry King of radio – great guests, lousy questions.

    • citywide

      Marty the best? Indeed x10 per day? If you are right all that does is show how low our standards are for “the best”, indeed.

      • http://batman-news.com PPABootsquadVinnie

        She’s just OK, very small-time radio even for Philadelphia. Better guests than host, but a good topic related show for 10AM to Noon.
        There is no ‘best’ interviewer among the Philadelphia media, although they all Think they are.

    • Elizabeth Lockman

      I am with Rick on this one. Terry is an institution, but Marty is my favorite, she’s much more engaged and deep into her topics – I love her! Often they have they same guests, and there is a clear difference. To each his own I guess.

      I try not to be a Terry hater, but I do find her interviews irritating at least as often as I find them compelling. She can really bring out the worst narcissism in some of her guests (I have not gotten over her interviews with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Lena Dunham – who are probably not entirely to blame for how annoying they were in those interviews).

      Yes, this article is hyperbole but some of its underlying points are true. Take, for example, the recent Joel McHale interview (NB: I do like him) but he made two points – being on Terry was going to validate his existence to the people he came from, the sort of people who grew up with having the attitude that “if you don’t go to college, you’re basically not a person”. Put those together and it sums up the vast majority and narrow POV of Terry’s audience.

  • Jan D

    Well, isn’t that SPEH-cial?!

  • Dave W

    Hyperbolic headlines designed to garner maximum amount of clicks is just as bad for the country. If you’re not into “elitist snobbery”, why are you listening to NPR?

  • Bayla Rubin

    Wait, why is Philadelphia Magazine publishing an article that attacks Terry Gross for seemingly no reason? I don’t get it. Why would someone do that? Doesn’t Sandy Hingston have something more interesting or important to do with her writing?

  • Amanda Hugnkiz

    You’re just pissed off because Terry never interviewed you. Saw it a thousand times when I worked on the show. Smells like resentment.

  • http://batman-news.com PPABootsquadVinnie

    What’s Sandy’s problem? OK, you don’t like her, I think she’s slipped a bit too. Gene Simmons was a jerk and Samuel Jackson was trying to be difficult on purpose. These guys Hate no being in control on all things ‘media’ related, so they act out like spoiled children. This rant is almost as bad as Victor Fiorello’s about why he hates Bruce Springsteen. Make a point Factually, not just “I Don’t Like [fill in the blank]”
    Hell we’d All be here forever if we All started to rant like this. It’s Summer and it’s slow in the news, so This is what we get, manufactured controversy.

  • Don A

    Terrible article for the reasons already stated by other posters. Sandy must still be addled from her recent Adderall experience. You can do better.

  • Les

    Who do you want her to interview, “Joe the Plumber”? Yeah, it isn’t like it was thirty years ago, but what is? And BTW, HYY has to fund-raise all the time to pay their useless CEO.

  • balancedinphl

    Ironic that you accuse her of portraying public broadcasting. You are portraying commercial media. You shout something only partially proven, like it was truth, in order to attract attention. We need a world where the truth can be distilled from many sources. Do not shut down Terry Gross. Make opportunities for more personal viewpoint journalists like her. We need to hear all sides before deciding.

  • garygnj

    I really like Terry Gross’s interviews. HIngston sounds bitter and maybe a little jealous. At the least, bereft of any ideas for something to write about.

  • Ken H

    Big fan of Sandy, but this really seems to come from left field. I’ve heard so many interesting and insightful interviews on Fresh Air. I just don’t know what could have prompted this hack job.

  • Tim G.

    I am disappointed in Sandy Hingston for writing this article. I am not familiar with Sandy’s previous work. I am hoping this article is a joke, and since I do not know Sandy’s work/personality well enough I did not pick up on her sense of humor. I fear this article is a poor attempt at a “shock jock” article to get clicks. I wish Philly Magazine would invest their time on better causes.

  • Boo Boo

    Sandy. A fat cow nobody. Terri. Acclaimed radio host. Sandy. A fat cow nobody.

  • Jean

    Interesting how the Terry Gross “article” violated the rules for commenting posted above by Philadelphia Magazine – no personal attacks, don’t be offensive. It was unfunny, mean spirited, and pointless. I’ve noticed similar themes in more and more PM articles – I think I’ll give my subscription a rest for awhile.