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A Bill Ayers Interview Actually Worth Your Time

by Cally Carswell 

Tags: Media, media criticism, Election 2008, interviewing, Bill Ayers, Fresh Air, Terry Gross,

Terry Gross comicNow that the election is over, the great scapegoat of ’08, Bill Ayers, has emerged from hiding to embark upon a grand media tour. He made his post-campaign coming-out on Good Morning America, gave speeches in Washington that drew ample coverage in the mainstream press, and has been popping up in countless other news outlets, including Democracy Now! and Salon.

The substance of the Ayers coverage may not warrant the amount of time it consumes. But if there's one Ayers interview actually worth paying attention to, it's the one he gave to Fresh Air host Terry Gross on November 18, according to James Fallows. Fallows says Gross’ interview with Ayers exemplifies how good she is at her job—and how bad so many other professional interviewers are at theirs. Here’s why he thinks Gross is so great:

…[W]hat she shows brilliantly in this interview, is: she listens, and she thinks. In my experience, 99% of the difference between a good interviewer (or a good panel moderator) and a bad one lies in what that person is doing while the interviewee talks. If the interviewer is mainly using that time to move down to the next item on the question list, the result will be terrible. But if the interviewer is listening, then he or she is in position to pick up leads ("Now, that's an intriguing idea, tell us more about..."), to look for interesting tensions ("You used to say X, but now it sounds like..."), to sum up and give shape to what the subject has said ("It sounds as if you're suggesting..."). And, having paid the interviewee the respect of actually listening to the comments, the interviewer is also positioned to ask truly tough questions without having to bluster or insult.

If you have this standard in mind
is the interviewer really listening? and thinking?you will be shocked to see how rarely broadcast and on-stage figures do very much of either. But listen to this session by Gross to see how the thing should be done.

Image by BlogjamComic, licensed under Creative Commons.