Terry Gross

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.

Gross, who has been host of Fresh Air since 1975, when it was broadcast only in greater Philadelphia, isn't afraid to ask tough questions. But Gross sets an atmosphere in which her guests volunteer the answers rather than surrendering them. What often puts those guests at ease is Gross' understanding of their work. "Anyone who agrees to be interviewed must decide where to draw the line between what is public and what is private," Gross says. "But the line can shift, depending on who is asking the questions. What puts someone on guard isn't necessarily the fear of being 'found out.' It sometimes is just the fear of being misunderstood."

Gross began her radio career in 1973 at public radio station WBFO in Buffalo, New York. There she hosted and produced several arts, women's and public affairs programs, including This Is Radio, a live, three-hour magazine program that aired daily. Two years later, she joined the staff of WHYY-FM in Philadelphia as producer and host of Fresh Air, then a local, daily interview and music program. In 1985, WHYY-FM launched a weekly half-hour edition of Fresh Air with Terry Gross, which was distributed nationally by NPR. Since 1987, a daily, one-hour national edition of Fresh Air has been produced by WHYY-FM. The program is broadcast on 566 stations and became the first non-drive time show in public radio history to reach more than five million listeners each week in fall 2008, a presidential election season. In fall 2011, Fresh Air reached 4.4 million listeners a week.

Fresh Air with Terry Gross has received a number of awards, including the prestigious Peabody Award in 1994 for its "probing questions, revelatory interviews and unusual insight." America Women in Radio and Television presented Gross with a Gracie Award in 1999 in the category of National Network Radio Personality. In 2003, she received the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Edward R. Murrow Award for her "outstanding contributions to public radio" and for advancing the "growth, quality and positive image of radio." In 2007, Gross received the Literarian Award. In 2011, she received the Authors Guild Award for Distinguished Service to the Literary Community.

Gross is the author of All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians and Artists, published by Hyperion in 2004.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Gross received a bachelor's degree in English and M.Ed. in communications from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Gross was recognized with the Columbia Journalism Award from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 2008 and an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Princeton University in 2002. She received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1993 and Doctor of Humane Letters in 2007, both from SUNY–Buffalo. She also received a Doctor of Letters from Haverford College in 1998 and Honorary Doctor of Letters from Drexel University in 1989.

Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

As a young man, Joe Biden was fixated on a singular goal: "On his first date with his future wife, he told her mother that he wanted to grow up to be president," New Yorker writer Evan Osnos says.

Osnos, who writes about the Democratic presidential candidate in his new book, Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now, notes that the 2020 election represents Biden's third bid for the presidency.

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NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg has spent decades covering major shifts in the Supreme Court and breaking major stories about the court. Watching Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Senate confirmation hearings, Totenberg was struck by the nominee's reticence.

"There was almost nothing she was willing to say about anything," Totenberg says. "Amy Coney Barrett takes the crown for unresponsiveness."

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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Last week baseball lost one of its most memorable players.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Our guest today is Gloria Steinem, who is having quite a year being portrayed on film and TV by various actresses. In April, FX on Hulu presented the miniseries "Mrs. America," a dramatization of the battle to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. And next Wednesday, Amazon Prime Video presents a new movie called "The Glorias" directed by Julie Taymor who directed the film "Frida" and the Broadway musical version of "The Lion King."

Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt says one of the most unusual aspects of the White House administration is the existence of people who are trying to stop President Trump from acting in a way that could hurt the country or break the law.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered schools and businesses and altered life across the globe, but journalist Alexis Madrigal says comprehensive, rapid testing might be the key to a safe reopening.

"The key problem in the pandemic is we don't know who's contagious," Madrigal says. "And because of that, it is very hard to really grind transmission down to nothing."

CNN correspondent Brian Stelter says President Trump's "cozy" relationship with Fox News is "like nothing we've seen in American history."

In his new book, Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth, Stelter describes the president as a "shadow producer" to Fox News host Sean Hannity — who, in turn, acts as a "shadow chief of staff" for Trump.

Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. As debates rage about voting access in the November election, we're going to recall another time, more than a half century ago, when securing ballot access could be a life-or-death matter. Right now PBS is streaming the documentary "Freedom Summer" about the movement in 1964 to open the polls to African Americans in Mississippi in an era of entrenched segregation.

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. Today's guest is Sister Helen Prejean, whose latest memoir, "River Of Fire," comes out in paperback this month.

You may know her and her story from her previous memoir, which was titled "Dead Man Walking." That book told how she became an activist against the death penalty. It was adapted into a film of the same name in 1995, starring Susan Sarandon.

Fresh Air's longtime language commentator Geoff Nunberg died Tuesday after a long illness. He was 75.

Geoff was a regular contributor to Fresh Air since 1987, when we made the transition from a local radio program to a daily NPR show. I met him even before that, when he was the usage editor at The American Heritage Dictionary, and I interviewed him about the new edition.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are frequently seen as opposing forces in the struggle for civil rights and against white supremacy; King is often portrayed as a nonviolent insider, while Malcolm X is characterized as a by-any-means-necessary political renegade. But author and Black Power scholar Peniel Joseph says the truth is more nuanced.

"I've always been fascinated by Malcolm X and Dr. King ... and dissatisfied in how they're usually portrayed — both in books and in popular culture," Joseph says.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Today, we're going into our archive to remember journalist Pete Hamill. He died yesterday at age 85 from complications following emergency surgery after falling and breaking a hip. Hamill was described in The New York Times as the quintessential New York journalist. Times columnist Dan Barry once wrote, if the pavement of New York City could talk, it would sound like Pete Hamill.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson says racism is an insufficient term for the systemic oppression of Black people in America. Instead, she prefers to refer to America as having a "caste" system.

Wilkerson describes caste an artificial hierarchy that helps determine standing and respect, assumptions of beauty and competence, and even who gets benefit of the doubt and access to resources.

"Caste focuses in on the infrastructure of our divisions and the rankings, whereas race is the metric that's used to determine one's place in that," she says.

Growing up in Texas and Mississippi, author Robert P. Jones was a very active member of his Southern Baptist Convention church. Between youth group, Bible studies and prayer services, he spent about 6-7 hours each week at church or doing church related things.

But in all that time, he never really heard about the church's history — including the fact that Southern Baptists split from the North around 1844 because the Northern Baptists opposed slavery.

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Donald Trump's estranged niece, Mary Trump, has long been uncomfortable with her last name.

"It's not a very common name," she said in an interview with Fresh Air on Tuesday. "If I paid with a credit card, I invariably got asked if I was related [to Donald]. And I always said no."

Before her uncle entered politics, that's usually where the conversation ended. But Donald Trump's political career changed things. "It was a bit of a shock, you know, to hear my name being mentioned dozens of times a day," Mary Trump said.

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Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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On Feb. 9, 1950, Joseph McCarthy, a junior senator from Wisconsin, stunned the nation — and stoked the paranoia of the Cold War — when he alleged that there were 205 spies working within the U.S. State Department. It was the beginning of a four-year anti-communist, anti-gay crusade in which McCarthy would charge military leaders, diplomats, teachers and professors with being traitors.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross.

The killing of George Floyd has ignited protests and inspired conversations — and changes — across the globe.

Author Susan Burton says food has been the site of her anxieties for as long as she can remember. For decades the editor at This American Life struggled with eating disorders.

Through therapy, Burton connected her disordered eating to her parents' divorce and not getting emotional needs met. She says that one of the reasons she was so preoccupied with food was that she was hungry all the time: "Hunger was something that I believed protected me and gave me power," she says.

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