NEW YORK — The ombudsman for National Public Radio has determined that Terry Gross was unfair and biased in a recent interview with conservative Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly for her radio show “Fresh Air,” and that she indeed seemed to be “carrying the water” for O’Reilly nemesis and liberal political satirist Al Franken.
The tough critique by Jeffrey Dvorkin, released and posted on NPR’s Web site late last week, came in response to numerous listener complaints about the O’Reilly interview, which was taped Oct. 8 and aired on Gross’ nationally syndicated show the next day.
“In my opinion, Terry Gross did a very tough interview. It was quite unlike many interviews on NPR where the tone is civil but often unchallenging of the guest,” Dvorkin said. “I believe the listeners were not well served by this interview. It may have illustrated the ‘cultural wars’ that seem to be flaring in the country. Unfortunately, the interview only served to confirm the belief, held by some, in NPR’s liberal media bias.”
O’Reilly, host of the primetime “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News, abruptly ended the session with Gross midway through, saying Gross was being hostile and unfairly hard on him, while going easy on Franken during an interview for “Fresh Air” two weeks earlier.
Gross commenced her interview with O’Reilly by asking him about Franken’s bestselling book “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right,” in which Franken criticized and satirized conservatives.
O’Reilly went on Gross’ show to promote his own bestseller, “Who’s Looking Out for You?”
Dvorkin said he agreed with listeners who complained about the tone Gross took with O’Reilly.
“That put O’Reilly at his most prickly and defensive mode, and Gross was never able to get him back into the interview in an effective way. This was surprising because Terry Gross is, in my opinion, one of the best interviewers anywhere in American journalism,” Dvorkin said.
By coming across as a “pro-Franken partisan rather than a neutral and curious journalist,” Gross did nothing that might have saved the interview, Dvorkin said.
“By the time the interview was about halfway through, it felt as though Terry Gross was indeed ‘carrying Al Franken’s water,’ as some listeners say. It was not about O’Reilly’s ideas, or his attitudes or even about his book. It was about O’Reilly as political media phenomenon. That’s a legitimate subject for discussion, but in this case, it was an interview that was, in the end, unfair to O’Reilly,” Dvorkin said.
Dvorkin said he was most disturbed that Gross went ahead anyway and read a negative quote about O’Reilly’s book from People magazine after O’Reilly walked off the set.
“That was wrong. O’Reilly was not there to respond. It’s known in broadcasting as the ’empty chair’ interview, and it is considered an unethical technique and should not be used on NPR,” Dvorkin said.