Who’s the best interviewer on TV or radio? Charlie Rose? Larry King? Please. To some extent it’s a subjective question, your answer possibly skewed by your preferences in guests. For me, the answer lately has been Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. Her bio talks about her empathy with her guests, and that’s certainly a big thing, but the thing that is key to her success is a palpable curiosity that is rarely matched by television and radio personalities. Nothing is more disturbing then listening to an interviewee say something super-interesting, and the interviewer goes down to the next question on their little piece of paper, as if they had cotton in the ears. I’ve seen Charlie Rose actually cut people off sometimes (and here I’m not talking about political interviews, when cutting people off is not done nearly enough, at least in this country). Gross is right there with a spot-on followup question, inevitably better then the one I was hoping she’d ask. Too, her interviews have a satisfying quality, such that when she does 18 minutes with someone, she almost always seems to have gotten the best 18 minutes out of that person there was to get.
Her choice in guests in my opinion over-relies on the film industry (and I just flat don’t understand why she doesn’t regularly feature contemporary visual artists), but otherwise it is pretty excellent. She doesn’t do political figures, but frequently features experts who have vital information that ought to be factoring into our political decisions.
A few recent Fresh Air segments I do not recommend to be missing:
- James Bamford on the National Security Administration, including how the NSA refused to share information with the CIA before 9/11, about absurdly misused computer technology, and on systematic eavesdropping on conversations between soldiers in Iraq and their wives.
- Jane Mayer on the Bush administration’s anti-terror policies.
- Your man Krugman taking a bow for his Nobel and breaking down the deal with the Current Financial Crisis (although in this regard almost better to check out Another Frightening Show About the Economy on This American Life).
- Michael Pollan on food and US food policy.
Some older things I’ve recommended previously: