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NPR's Terry Gross
Speaks Out

NPR's Terry Gross
Speaks Out


Gay bloggers were up in arms when NPR's Terry Gross declined to air the names of alleged closeted politicians in an interview with Outrage director Kirby Dick. Now, Gross is speaking out.

Terry Gross, persona non grata?

An unlikely turn of events, to be sure. But last week, the longtime host of National Public Radio's Fresh Air drew the ire of the gay blogosphere when she declined to air the names of alleged closeted politicians in an interview with Outrage director Kirby Dick. In an interview with The Advocate, Gross speaks about her decision, her track record on covering gay issues, and the politics of outing. to us about the decision to omit names in your interview with Dick.Terry Gross: When the subject of Outrage 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 them out? I recorded the interview with names in itaEUR| Then I debated with our staff over whether we should leave the names in. But as I said on the show, I felt uncomfortableaEUR| 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 hypocritical act.

Do you doubt the film's accuracy? I don't mean to challenge the credibility of [ blogActive 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 inherently newsworthy? 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 lives? 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 [2004] Bush-Cheney ticket was supported by the Christian Right with money and votes. [Listen to parts one and two 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 Outrage . 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 Outrage 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 Fresh Air ]. Once you name the names, then you're participating in the outing.

The editorial decisions made by NPR and Fresh Air 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 cowardice.

Click here for Gross's interview with Dick, and interviews with outed former Republican National Convention staffer Dan Gurley.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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