NPR's Terry Gross Speaks Out
May 14 2009 12:00 AM ET
persona non grata?
An unlikely turn of
events, to be sure. But last week, the longtime host of
National Public Radio's
drew the ire of the gay blogosphere when she declined to air
the names of alleged closeted politicians in an interview with
director Kirby Dick. In an interview with
Gross speaks about her decision, her track record on covering
gay issues, and the politics of outing.
Advocate.com:Talk to us about the decision to omit names in your
interview with Dick.Terry Gross:
When the subject of
came up [during a production meeting], one of our producers had
seen [Outrage], and described it in detail, and we
agreed that we wanted to do something on the film because it
raises interesting questions. But that put us in a position
where we had to ask ourselves: Do we want to participate in an
outing when we honestly didn't know if it was true? So the way
I decided to conduct the interview with Kirby was this: Here's
your case for outing. Here's why you think it's important, and
why the mainstream media has ignored it. And then here's why
I'm personally uncomfortable going any further. I believe I put
my cards out on the table. You can judge me, and you can judge
our editorial policy.
Did Dick name names in the interview, and did you then edit
I recorded the interview with names in itâ€¦ Then I debated with
our staff over whether we should leave the names in. But as I
said on the show, I felt uncomfortableâ€¦ that once we put it on
our show, we're accepting responsibility for the outing of
those facts. When you're dealing with allegations about two
people sleeping together and one person denying it -- that's a
lot different than following a money trail or a paper trail. I
just felt like I couldn't vouch for it. It didn't rise to my
comfort level, and I put that out in the interview.
Did NPR have any input in the decision?
The decision made was our own, and any heat about it should be
addressed directly to us. The NPR policy in its ethics
guidelines is ambiguous. I think [it] leaves room for
discussion on the subject of outing, depending on the context,
the sources, the information, and the nature of the perceived
Do you doubt the film's accuracy?
I don't mean to challenge the credibility of [
founder and outing proponent] Mike Rogers or Kirby. We
interview a lot of investigative reporters who cover sensitive,
controversial stories. I don't fact-check all those journalists
because they have track records, and they're working under
layers of editing and fact-checking. Kirby would tell you that
reporting on this subject matter was new to him. But I thought
we had a fine interview, and it still raises the issue.
But by and large, investigative reporters in the mainstream
media have not delved into this subject matter. Now that this
documentary has brought attention to the topic, do you think
mainstream journalists should revisit their priorities? Is this
I think that when legislators are creating policy that affects
the personal lives of Americans, and a legislator in his or her
life is engaging in the activity that they are trying to
prevent others from doing -- this is hypocritical and
newsworthy. At the same time, when you are dealing with the
personal life of a public figure, or anyone, you have to be
careful about getting your facts straight, and not reporting
rumor and gossip.
This is complicated
territory editorially, and it is no surprise that different
journalists and journalistic organizations would have different
standards for deciding what reached the threshold of being
worthy of reporting.
In your own interviews with political figures, do you think
it's fair game to ask sensitive questions about their private
I don't interview politicians often on the show, but I have no
problems pressing people on areas where their public lives
don't square with their private lives. And I'm not afraid of
making people uncomfortable. I wasn't afraid of making Lynne
Cheney uncomfortable when I asked her whether it was difficult
for her to have a daughter who's an out lesbian seeing
how the  Bush-Cheney ticket was supported by the
Christian Right with money and votes. [Listen to
of Gross's interview with Cheney.] And at the top of their
agenda was a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Lynne isn't a legislator, but her husband was vice president.
So I thought it was fair game.
Florida governor and 2010 Republican senatorial candidate
Charlie Crist is a central figure in
. If you were to interview him on the show, would you ask him
about the allegations?
I never know what I'm going to ask, but I can tell you that I
certainly wouldn't rule it out.
In a review of
by critic Nathan Lee published on NPR's website last week,
editors stripped the names of several politicians who were
subjects of the film, based on a "long-standing" editorial
policy. What's your take on this decision?
I don't feel I can speak to that. Our show is produced in
Philadelphia, outside of NPR headquarters. It's an awkward
position for a film critic to be in, just as I felt we were in
a complicated position [at
]. Once you name the names, then you're participating in the
The editorial decisions made by NPR and
have angered many, as a quick perusal of any major gay blog
will attest. What do you think of the, well, outrage?
I can only speak for myself, but I think it's unfair. When
people get upset, you're disappointed because you know you
struggled with an editorial decision. It wasn't black or white,
and we had a series of long discussions. So I respectfully
disagree, and I don't think you could accuse us of
for Gross's interview with Dick, and interviews with outed
former Republican National Convention staffer Dan