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Terry Gross doesn’t care about Edward Snowden

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The other day I listened to NPR’s “All Things Considered” for an hour and a half and was bowled over by the amount of trivia I was forcefed on a day when serious issues should have commanded attention– from Egypt to the detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner for 9 hours at Heathrow.

Well yesterday I caught Fresh Air, the popular interview show on NPR and reflected that the same evasion is at work there. Terry Gross’s show says that it’s a “weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues,” but I went back through the Fresh Air archive over the 10 weeks since the Snowden story broke and only found glancing references to the case. None to Bradley Manning, and scarcely a word about the Arab Spring and the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. (If I missed anything, I urge readers to inform me; I’ll amend.)

So what are the contemporary issues? The politics on the show are of a banal or backward-looking character, to liberal generational triumphs of yesteryear. Anti-authoritarian politics, activist politics, human-rights politics all plainly make Terry Gross uncomfortable. She avoids them. 

Generally speaking, the show is about television. She spends 47 minutes interviewing voice over artists. She can’t get enough of “Breaking Bad” or “showrunner” Jenji Kohan of the TV prison drama “Orange is the New Black.” 

The show’s politics are assertive when they concern a time when things were black and white:

Journalist Seth Rosenfeld spent three decades pursuing government documents about the FBI’s undercover operation in Berkeley, Calif., during the student protest movements in the ’60s. His book details how the FBI “used dirty tricks to stifle dissent on campus” and influenced Ronald Reagan’s politics.

Or when the issue is not culturally divisive:

New York Times correspondent Elisabeth Rosenthal is spending a year investigating why American medical bills are so much higher than in other developed countries.

Or when nobody really cares:

A new investigative report from Reuters special enterprise correspondent Scot Paltrow details how the antiquated and error-ridden payroll system for the U.S. military is erroneously cutting soldiers’ paychecks and causing terrible hardship

Or it’s cultural politics, and diversionary:

“Bracing For Google Glass: An In-Your-Face Technology.”…

William Masters and Virginia Johnson became famous for their studies of human sexuality.

On June 19th, Gross did address Snowden— the case has “stirred great controversy”– but the treatment was off-topic, and appeared from the summary to offer a justification for the abuses Snowden exposed:

Shane Harris, an author and journalist who covers intelligence, surveillance and cybersecurity for a number of publications, says that the revelations about the NSA from Edward Snowden are nothing new, and that such programs have a significant recent history in the United States.

In fairness to Gross, who I regard as a very smart person whose political views have been undermined by generational complacency and the need to please a crowd, there were these more serious bits. July 22:

As the Cairo bureau chief for The New York Times, David Kirkpatrick has covered events in the region since January 2011. He says that the toppling of the democratically elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi throws the changes of the Arab Spring into question.

Another one I wished I’d heard:

Writer and scholar Reza Aslan converted to Christianity when he was a teenager, but found that as he grew older, he was far more interested in Jesus as a man than as a Messiah. His new book, Zealot, considers Jesus in the context of the time and place in which he lived.

But then we’re right back to Gross’s meat and potatoes:

Jeff Daniels… stars in Aaron Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom, playing an anchorman inspired to give up fluff pieces and return to hard-hitting journalism.

Or this, sadly:

A new film from Sofia Coppola is based on the true story of a group of California teens that broke into celebrities’ homes.

Sex and television, neoliberal bubble gum: 

Amy Schumer talks a lot about sex — so much so that her Comedy Central special was called simply Mostly Sex Stuff. But her comedy is about much more than that. On her show Inside Amy Schumer, as well as in her stand-up, she tackles racism and awkward moments, and yes, sex, too. Also sex.

This guy probably mentioned Snowden but it’s very meta:

Whether it’s logs of phone calls or GPS data, commentator Geoff Nunberg says it still says a lot about who you are: “Tell me where you’ve been and who you’ve been talking to, and I’ll tell you about your politics, your health, your sexual orientation, your finances,” he says.

I believe Gross doesn’t want to take on these authorities because she doesn’t really have a problem with them. That’s the neoliberal crisis. So she puffs media figures like herself. These guys got the whole hour, right after Snowden story broke.

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg met as adolescents on the Vancouver bar mitzvah circuit — and soon after began writing the script for what would become the movie Superbad.

I find this deeply dismaying. The 70s counterculture has wound up on an island of self-congratulation, revisiting our triumphs. And that island is rapidly diminishing.

The other day Justin Amash, the Republican congressman from Michigan who is linked with the Tea Party, held a town hall meeting in Marshall, MI, that was on C-Span and credited Edward Snowden with setting off the national conversation about government surveillance, which Amash is doing his best to oppose. That is of course a reflection of the curious politics of the issue. Leftwingers and libertarians have had to work together. Snowden himself once supported Ron Paul. And the mainstream is afraid to bring the issue up. Gross would probably write off Amash as a Tea Party Republican and Snowden as a Ron Paul libertarian, when the actual narrowness is hers.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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22 Responses

  1. seanmcbride on August 23, 2013, 11:40 am


    Do you ever listen to Tom Ashbrook’s On Point on NPR?

    He is a much more substantial mind and person than Terry Gross — and probably the best interviewer in the mainstream media (much better than, say, Charlie Rose). He is incredibly smart, knowledgeable and articulate — and doesn’t hesitate to ask tough questions — to break china left and right.

    See a list of recent programs here:

    A feast. I have no idea how he is able to cover so much intellectual ground on a daily basis — fully informed about every topic he addresses. He can certainly run circles around me.

    • annie on August 23, 2013, 1:20 pm

      i’m listening now, re assad opposition: host: “there is talk of ties to AQ” landis, and all the analysis (the opposition is questionable militias, oh no!) is at least 6 months old by msm standards. and here’s from tom’s reading list:

      the typical ‘assad used chemical weapons’. never mind this:

      Whenever there is some international action with regards to Syria, a United Nations security council meeting or a G8 conference, the Syrian insurgents create and/or propagandize some “massacre” that they allege to have been perpetrated by the Syrian government.

      On Monday UN chemical weapon inspectors arrived in Damascus to investigate some older claims of chemical weapon use. Just in time a new incident happens with the insurgents alleging use of “chemical weapons” by the Syrian government just some 10 miles away from the inspectors hotel…. It would of course be totally irrational for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons just the moment that chemical weapon inspectors arrive in the country. But it makes a lot of sense for the insurgents and their foreign supporters to create such an incident, as the did previously, and to use it to renew their propaganda campaign against the Syrian government. It is therefore no surprise that the British government immediately jumped all over the case.

      perhaps you could direct us to a program you personally thought was particularly prescient.

      • seanmcbride on August 23, 2013, 1:45 pm


        Ashbrook always takes care to present opposing sides on all issues, and gives opponents ample space in which to express their views.

        What I like most about On Point is that it covers most of the topics and issues that I think are most important in America and the world at the moment. I often disagree with particular points of view on the show, but they are presented calmly and intelligently — listeners are free to draw their own conclusions.

        Ashbrook, for instance, has interviewed Glenn Greenwald at length on the Snowden/NSA controversy. (Can you picture Gross doing that?)

        Other topics: Syria, Egypt, China, global warming, food supplies, Internet technologies and their social impacts, Wall Street corruption, Obamacare, wealth inequality, brain and cognitive sciences, race relations, immigration policy, civil liberties, the great bee die-off, Wikileaks, toxic chemicals, etc.

        Terry Gross would be unable to carry on an intelligent conversation on most of these topics — she is mostly a fangirl of musicians and actors — not a thinker. Sometimes a bit of an airhead.

        I mostly listen to On Point in a disorganized way when I am driving — but I always come away with valuable information.

  2. Stateless American on August 23, 2013, 12:38 pm

    From the list above, Gross doesn’t seem very interested in interviewing goyim.

  3. Donald on August 23, 2013, 1:07 pm

    “Or when the issue is not culturally divisive:

    New York Times correspondent Elisabeth Rosenthal is spending a year investigating why American medical bills are so much higher than in other developed countries.”

    Well good for her. That is one of the single most important issues in American domestic politics. We’re talking about the waste of gigantic sums of money. Or maybe good for her–I don’t know how good a job Gross did.

    And not culturally divisive? You gotta be kidding me. People who were in favor of single payer were screaming without being heard about how poorly the issue was being covered back a few years ago, during the health care legislation debate. The simple fact is that countries with the dreaded socialistic government health care spend much less money than us and achieve comparable or better results. But that simple fact was virtually absent from the mainstream political debate.

    Don’t get tunnel vision, Phil. The I/P conflict isn’t the only one where the press does a suspiciously bad job on the issues. This Rosenthal series is superb, but it should have come out years ago, when it really might have made a difference.

  4. Chu on August 23, 2013, 1:11 pm

    NPR is an opiate for an older white generation.
    It lulls people into a somber state when they drive home from work.
    They are losing listeners with their dull programming.

    the chart shows the falloff.

    • Ellen on August 23, 2013, 2:36 pm

      Average age of radio listeners 49. That says a lot.

      I will never forget being in the US fairly recently and listening to Terry Gross go on and on and on and on interviewing someone about some fringe and forgettable grunge rock musicians of the past in her breathy gee whiz voice as if she were interviewing someone about a major episode of influence in Western cultural history.

      It was pathetic. Embarrassing, vacuous. And then all the talk about TV.

      • Chu on August 23, 2013, 4:03 pm

        She’s lame indeed. But listen to the Gene Simmons (of the band Kiss) interview with her. Funny how crude he is and then he realizes she is part of the tribe. The beginning 10 minutes is awkward, to say the least.

    • Krauss on August 23, 2013, 7:02 pm

      This is true.
      NPR is, together with the New York Times, the de-facto preferred media outlet for the white liberal establishment that is running the country.

      When they fired Juan Williams, of whom I am no fan of, they fired their only non-white journalist. Although there seems to be a bit of a mini-revival of NPR among the younger, liberal and educated crowd. 70% of their listeners are college-educated and I know that their podcasts are pretty popular to have in your mp3player and/or your smartphone among my friends.

      Their foreign policy focus in the Middle East is basically all about “Yes but what’s good for Israel?”. Every single major editor in charge of Mid East policy is an aging baby boomer Zionist Jewish male. No women, no goys, not even younger Jews. No Jews of color, no person of color at all, no anti- or non-Zionists.
      Only white male Jews with a Zionist perspective. That’s it.

      Overall, there’s a lot to be said about implicit white (liberal) ethnocentrism. Like, why is the media to this day so utterly white despite the fact that polls shows that about 90% of all national journalists and editors have left-wing(more like liberal centrist) sensibilities? Shouldn’t this mean that they are supposed to be more open to non-white candidates than conservative media outlets where the base is so white that they don’t even have to excuse their all-white newsrooms.

      Over 90% of all immigration stores is written by white journalists. Same is true with frontpage stories. Black journalists rarely get to write about anything other than nische stories that are seen as “black stuff” like the upcoming MLK speech anniversary. Prominent Asian journalists with national exposure are just very rare to begin with.

      I did read an interesting piece by a black fan of indie music who pinpointed this implicit white ethnocentrism among a crowd that is supposed to be liberal and enlightened. One young white woman even went up to him and angrily asked what he was doing there and why he wasn’t at a Jay Z concert.

      I mean, we often talk about the issues with (white) conservatives who have their ethnocentrism on their sleeve, but white liberals have much more power and their ethnocentrism/disinterest in other stories than their own obsessions, is rarely understood or even investigated and NPR is a very good case to study that.

  5. Citizen on August 23, 2013, 1:29 pm

    I heard Big Bird attended the last AIPAC annual meeting. He felt he had no choice. He clapped when everybody else did, just as if he was a US normally flighty congressman, and for the same reason as most of them.

  6. Henry Norr on August 23, 2013, 2:18 pm

    Terry Gross was the focus of Curtis White’s classic 2002 essay “The Middle Mind” and his follow-up book of the same title. The essay is now behind the Harper’s paywall, but it was nicely summarized just this past May in an essay by Andrew Hartman called “The Middling Mind of Terry Gross.” Here some excerpts from White’s essay quoted by Hartman:

    The Middle Mind attempts to find a middle way between the ideological hacks of the Right and the theorized Left. Unlike Middlebrow, the Middle Mind does not locate itself between high and low culture. Rather, it asserts its right to speak for high culture indifferent to both the traditionalist Right and the academic Left.

    The Middle Mind is pragmatic, plainspoken, populist, contemptuous of the Right’s narrowness, and incredulous before the Left’s convolutions. It is adventuresome, eclectic, spiritual, and in general agreement with liberal political assumptions about race, gender and class. The Middle Mind really rather liked Bill Clinton, thoroughly supported his policies, but wished that the children didn’t have to know so much about his personal life. The Middle Mind is liberal. It wants to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and has even bought an SUV with the intent of visiting it. It even understands in some indistinct way that that very SUV spells the Arctic’s doom. Most importantly, the Middle Mind imagines that it honors the highest culture, and that it lives through the arts. From the perspective of the theorized Left academy (of which I confess myself an ineluctable member—with reservations), the Middle Mind’s take on culture is both well intended and deeply deluded.

    Fresh Air is not merely a promotional vehicle for the Middle Mind, it is itself a prime example of the Middle Mind in all its charm and banality.

    Here is an interview program that claims quite earnestly to be for intelligence, for the fresh and new, for something other than regular stale network culture, for the arts and for artists. But anyone who much listens to the show knows (I certainly hope that I’m not the only one who has noticed) that: 1) Terry rarely interviews an artist or intellectual that real-deal artists and intellectuals would recognize. 2) She has no capacity for even the grossest distinctions between artists and utter poseurs. Many of the “writers” she has interviewed recently have been writers for TV series and movies. People who can with a straight face say, “Seinfeld is a great show because of the brilliant script writing” love Fresh Air. Now, Seinfeld may be a cut above the average sit-com, but it’s a sit-com! 3) The show is a pornographic farce.

    From my perspective White’s critique reflects a lot of elitism, and as best I recall the essay (I haven’t read the book), it was focused mainly on Gross’s treatment of the arts doesn’t go into much depth about her politics. I don’t remember it even mentioning the show’s pronounced Judeo-centrism, nor certainly its barely concealed Islamophobia. Nevertheless, it’s a classic take-down, up there with Matt Taibbi on Tom Friedman.

    • MRW on August 23, 2013, 7:39 pm

      My facepalm was Terry Gross interviewing Jack Black twice within six months and calling him a comic genius. She is mediocrity at its finest. Her low, for me, was tittering and yukking it up with three Jewish comedians whose schtick is mocking hiphop artists and blackness from their perch of cultural superiority.

  7. munro on August 23, 2013, 3:27 pm

    Thanks for the link. I had the same reaction to Gross’ Sarah Polley interview.

  8. Kathleen on August 23, 2013, 7:01 pm

    When Terri decides to cover politics she often hits it from an indirect angle. Interviews folks who have written feel good books about Israel feel bad books about Iran etc

    I miss Talk of the Nation all though it was going off the international track, breaking segments down into small portions and filled with more nonsense.

    Awhile back was thinking that the Rehm show had had more guest on who opposed the invasion in late 2002 early 2003 but Neil Conan’s Talk of the Nation turned out to have more guest on who were questioning the validity of the intelligence before the invasion. Checked through quite a few months of their archives. Going to to do that again just to verify what I am thinking about that period of time/

    Not listening to NPR as much as I used to due to what seems to be more superficial leanings and shorter stories.

    Still would like to find out whether the story that I read about and heard Juan Williams verify that when there were quite a few cases being taken to court by former NPR employees claiming that there was ” persistent cronyism” at NPR especially when it came to who received host jobs or able to climb the ladder that there was an outside group called into investigate the validity of any of these claims. Supposedly there was a report and the findings were never released to public

  9. gingershot on August 23, 2013, 7:37 pm

    Cass Sunstein, husband of ‘born again zionist’ Samantha Powers, has made top draft pick for President Obama and James Clapper’s ‘NSA Review Committee’

    Uh Oh

    Here’s Glenn Greenwald on Cass Sustein:

    ‘In 2008, while at Harvard Law School, Sunstein co-wrote a truly pernicious paper proposing that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-”independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites — as well as other activist groups — which advocate views that Sunstein deems “false conspiracy theories” about the Government. This would be designed to increase citizens’ faith in government officials and undermine the credibility of conspiracists.’ (Sunstein’s article downloadable from link within above link)

  10. just on August 23, 2013, 7:57 pm

    Terry Gross has a good, warm chuckle– that’s about it.

    I do listen to “On Point”– it’s really pretty darn good.

    Otherwise– ‘Car Talk’, ‘A Prairie Home Companion’, ‘People’s Pharmacy’, ‘Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me’ are my listening choices. Diane Rehm has proved disappointing for quite awhile now……….

    • just on August 23, 2013, 8:10 pm

      Used to very much appreciate Harry Shearer’s “Le Show” when it was broadcasted in my neck of the woods…..

  11. irishmoses on August 23, 2013, 9:57 pm

    Before Tom Ashbrook came along, Terri Gross pretty much had the mid-morning NPR talk show time slot to herself. Back then she was interviewing a lot of current event political folks. Ashbrook seemed to take away a lot of the interviews she used to get. I think she decided to give him that field and concentrate on cultural interviews. I don’t know who I find more annoying, her or Rachel Maddow. Both talk big but are essentially gutless on critical issues, particularly I-P.

    Ashbrook is definitely better but he doesn’t have the ability or guts to go for the throat and really pin down an interviewee. In a lot of interviews he ends up being little more than a foil for them to spout their positions. Still, he’s better than Charlie Rose and much better than Terri Gross.

    Personally, I’ve gotten away from listening to these talk shows. The substance just isn’t there and the deference to call-in questions makes the total package even worse.

  12. Denis on August 24, 2013, 12:49 pm

    Thank you, Phil. Thank you Stateless American. Thank you Ellen. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Somebody’s gotta’ say it and if an embittered old goy like me does he’s gonna’ get busted for anti-S’tism. But Terry Gross is a banal, intellectual light-weight parading as some sort of sapient radio-spirit/guru. Once a person – even liberals – sees that, no TG program will ever be the same. Ellen’s phrase – “in her breathy gee whiz voice as if she were interviewing someone about a major episode of influence in Western cultural history” – deserves to be recorded in the Internet hall of fame for future generations. OTOH, when Gross is on her game — which is way too rare — she has no equals.

    In 1987 Reagan scrapped the FCC’s “Fairness Doctrine” and vicious conservative talk radio exploded. I believe Gross was part of NPR’s attempt to provide some middle-left counter-weight, but the conservatives beat up on them badly as government funded propaganda — a thread they carried into the Big Bird debacle of the last election. By the 1990’s the conservatives succeeded in turning NPR into a whipped dog that is afraid of its own shadow. NPR then went so far in the other direction as hiring an Islamophobe like Juan Williams to “balance” things a bit. Well, we saw how that went.

    The individual liberal’s problem w/ respect to NPR is recognizing that he/she holds the nuclear option right at the end of his/her right arm. It’s called “forefinger.” Just take that forefinger and punch the on/off button when NPR drones on and on with one its insipidly banal, mindless articles. You can do it!

    It took me years to work up the courage but it works! Forefinger forcefully applied to the button and you will be rewarded with wonderful silence and some room in your mind for your own thoughts to bounce around. For some reason liberals feel they have a moral obligation to continue listening to NPR crap all the way home, and then sit there and do that drive-way thing.

    No! You have a mind, you have options, you have a forefinger! Use them!

    • Kathleen on August 24, 2013, 11:05 pm

      More and more over the years I have turned NPR off. Usually just listen to hear what they are and are not covering and their guest list

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