For 40 years now, Terry Gross has been meticulously getting to the bottom of the who, what, where, when and WHYY. The WHYY being the Greater Philadelphia public media provider through which the 64-year-old host of NPR’s Fresh Air makes it all come together.
In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, Susan Burton celebrates the quiet flair of Gross. At the top of the piece, she puts forth an intriguing idea:
Over the years, Gross has done some 13,000 interviews, and the sheer range of people she has spoken to, coupled with her intelligence and empathy, has given her the status of national interviewer. Think of it as a symbolic role, like the poet laureate — someone whose job it is to ask the questions, with a degree of art and honor. Barbara Walters was once our national interviewer, in a flashier style defined by a desire for spectacle. Gross is an interviewer defined by a longing for intimacy. In a culture in which we are all talking about ourselves more than ever, Gross is not only listening intently; she’s asking just the right questions.
The concept of “national interviewer” is an interesting one. On TV, it could be argued that both Johnny Carson and Larry King, in their primes, were also such figures. Today, on the small screen, it’s not so much a time of the “national interviewer” as it is of a more interchangeable “national interview.” Whoever lands the big get – most recently Diane Sawyer speaking with Caitlyn Jenner – is for that moment the focus of attention.
Read the full NYT magazine profile here.