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Terry Gross (born 1951) is the host and co-executive producer of Fresh Air, an interview format radio show produced by WHYY-FM in Philadelphiamarker and distributed throughout the United Statesmarker by National Public Radio. Gross has won praise over the years for her low-key and friendly yet often probing interview style and for the diversity of her guests. She has a reputation for researching her guests' entire lives and asking them about lesser known aspects of their early careers.

Biography

Gross grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New Yorkmarker. She earned a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's in communications from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She began a teaching career, but said that she was "totally unequipped" for the job, and was fired after only six weeks. She began her radio career in 1973 at WBFO, a public radio station in Buffalo, New Yorkmarker, where she had been volunteering. In 1975 she moved to WHYY-FM in Philadelphiamarker to host and produce Fresh Air, which was a local interview program at the time. In 1985, Fresh Air with Terry Gross went national, being distributed weekly by NPR. It became a daily program two years later.

Gross is married to Francis Davis, jazz critic of the Village Voice. The couple have no children. In an interview with B.D. Wong, Gross said this is a deliberate choice on their part. Because of her short haircut and the number of guests from arts and entertainment (some of whom are gay), Gross said in the introduction to All I Did Was Ask: Conversations With Writers, Actors, Musicians, and Artists that she is sometimes asked whether she is a lesbian, including one memorable instance where a guest at a social occasion speculated on Gross' sexual orientation to Gross' mother-in-law. In her interview with Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, she mentioned that she had lived in a commune.

She also starred as a guest-voice on The Simpsons as herself.

Interview style

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Gross's interviews are "a remarkable blend of empathy, warmth, genuine curiosity, and sharp intelligence." Gross prides herself on preparation; prior to interviewing guests, she reads their books, watches their movies, and/or listens to their CDs. The Boston Phoenix opined that "Terry Gross…is almost certainly the best cultural interviewer in America, and one of the best all-around interviewers, period. Her smart, thoughtful questioning pushes her guests in unlikely directions. Her interviews are revelatory in a way other people's seldom are."

Gross treats different guests differently, depending on a variety of factors. She is often more challenging with political figures than with people in the arts, who may be less prepared for such interviews and less prone to expressing themselves in canned "sound-bites."

Clashes with guests

Gross has drawn added public attention following some occasions when she has clashed with her guests, including these:

  • The February 4 2002 interview with rock star Gene Simmons began with Gross mispronouncing Simmons' original Hebrew last name. Simmons dismissively replied to her that she mispronounced it because she had a Gentile (or Goyim) mouth. Gross corrected him by stating that her mouth was not Gentile. Gross questions Simmons' views on the importance of money. In the interview Gross interjects "so having sex with you" (implying herself and Simmons), Simmons said, "you're going to have to get in line." Gross continued with questioning Simmons about his many liaisons. Later Simmons said "If you want to welcome me with open arms, I'm afraid you're also going to have to welcome me with open legs," to which Gross replied, "That's a really obnoxious thing to say." Unlike most Fresh Air guests, Simmons refused to grant permission for the interview to be made available online on NPR. However, the interview appears in Gross's book All I Did Was Ask, and unauthorized transcripts and audio of the complete original interview exist.
  • An October 8 2003 interview with Fox News television host Bill O'Reilly, who walked out of the interview because of what he considered her biased questions, creating a media controversy fed by the ongoing presidential campaign. Toward the end of the interview, O'Reilly asked Gross if she had been as tough on Al Franken, who had appeared on the program two weeks before O'Reilly. Gross responded, "No, I wasn't...we had a different interview." Gross was later criticized by then NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin for "an interview that was, in the end, unfair to O'Reilly". Dvorkin described Gross's interviewing tactic of reading a quote critical of O'Reilly after he had walked out of the room as "unethical and unfair". Gross was later supported by an NPR colleague, Mike Pesca, who contended that O'Reilly did have the opportunity to respond to a criticism that Gross read to O'Reilly leveled by People Magazine but that he defaulted by prematurely abandoning the interview. On September 24, 2004, Gross and O'Reilly met again on O'Reilly's television show in which Gross assured O'Reilly "that no matter what you ask me, I'm staying for the entire interview."
  • A February 9 2005, interview of Lynne Cheney, conservative author and wife of then-Vice President Dick Cheney. The initial focus of the interview was on Cheney's latest history book, but Gross moved on to questions about Cheney's lesbian daughter Mary and her opinion of the Bush administration's opposition to same-sex marriage. Cheney declined to comment on her daughter's sexuality, but repeatedly stated her opposition to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which was being endorsed by President Bush. Cheney declined to discuss the matter further. Later, when Gross brought the interview back to issues of gay rights, Cheney again refused to comment. According to producers, Cheney had been warned that she would be asking about politics and current events.


Awards



Bibliography



Audio collections

  • (1998) Fresh Air: On Stage & Screen (cassette)
  • (2000) Fresh Air on Stage and Screen Vol 2 (CD)
  • (2004) Fresh Air Laughs with Terry Gross [UNABRIDGED] (CD)


References

  1. Phillips, Michael. "Voicestruck in Philly by Terry Gross", Chicago Tribune, September 26, 2004. Accessed November 16, 2009. "Since going national in 1987, "Fresh Air" has brought together the Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York, native -- electronically, at least."


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