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.