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Terry Gross blew it

Friday, November 21, 2008 by Dave Winer.

If you've been reading my blog you know I'm a big fan of the Fresh Air podcast, have been for a long time, since before it was a podcast. I like the way the host Terry Gross interviews people, and because the show is so good, and she's basically a fair interviewer, and a lot of people listen to it, she gets very good, very interesting guests. All around, a lot of positive flow around the show, and I'm a fan. Or I should say I was a fan until three days ago, since then I've not been able to listen to the show, I'm so disillusioned with Ms Gross. Let me explain. Permalink to this paragraph

First, what happened three days ago was she interviewed William Ayers, the man made famous by the McCain-Palin campaign as the supposed terrorist who President-elect Obama "palled-around" with. Here's an MP3 of the interview. Before you judge my judgement, listen to the whole thing. It's necessary to get a full appreciation of what I'm going to say. Permalink to this paragraph

In this interview, she used the tough "gotcha" style interview, every question designed to evoke a confession. Ayers answered each question like a skilled politician, and walked a very fine line, and held back a lot of things I'm sure he would have liked to say. Permalink to this paragraph

In the end she asked Ayers if he wanted to apologize for what he did, if he would be willing to take the "unrepentent" part off the label "unrepentent terrorist," and he refused, and I'm glad he did. Permalink to this paragraph

These are complicated issues, and to deal with it in a balanced way would require probably a few books, written from different perspectives. We don't today have a balanced view of the struggle in the US over Vietnam. Not when one person is singled out this way, when so many others are responsible for so much more death and destruction. Permalink to this paragraph

The reason I like FreshAir is she doesn't normally do gotcha. Her style is to ask leading questions to get her subjects to tell their own stories. She may ask challenging questions, but only ones her subject wants to answer. Since the Ayers interview she's returned to her original style, interviewing a comedian and a book author. But I can't help but wonder if each of these people has something to answer for too, and she's not asking about any of that. Permalink to this paragraph

I definitely sympathize with Ayers, I probably wouldn't have minded if she probed John McCain this way about his involvement in Vietnam. I'm sure he killed a lot more people than Ayers did. And that led me to the other, larger reason I'm unhappy with the interview -- she might not want someday to have someone say she "palled around" with an unrepentent terrorist who attacked his own country. In other words, she may be using us to protect herself. If that's the reason she drove Ayers so hard, I would much rather she had skipped the interview altogether.  Permalink to this paragraph

After all we've heard about him that's bad, didn't he deserve one chance to tell his story without being presumed guilty? And didn't we deserve a chance to hear that? FreshAir is the place I would have thought we would have gotten that story, and I think there's a good chance that cowardice prevented it. It certainly appears that way, and in journalism, it's hard to respect someone who allows such an appearance to persist. Permalink to this paragraph

It's going to be real hard for her to keep me as a fan. Either she adopts the gotcha style and goes after everyone, from clowns to reporters, and I'll tune out for the same reasons I don't listen to other reporters who use that style; or she stays with the softball style I like, but I'll never be able to stop thinking of her as a hypocrite for being so gutless with Ayers. Permalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

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