In the past, I've indicated my preference for NPR over conservative talk radio. There's more real content, less of the shouting match that you find on both conservative radio and cable news station shows, and mostly real commentary informed by real research and careful thought processes, with people from many backgrounds and occupations and issues along a wide spectrum of interest. My one caveat showed up in spades yesterday on Terry Gross's "Fresh Air". Most of the people at NPR just seem to me to be out-of-touch with mainstream America in a few important ways (though not at all on others, and maybe they capture the others better than the other shows I was comparing them with). It wasn't just the sense that she was out-of-touch, although that came through. She seemed to me to have a clear political agenda driving her attempt to force a sound byte for her own view from a well-known and much liked conservative.
Gross was interviewing Lynne Cheney, and I came in at what seemed to be the end of a fairly congenial and enjoyable discussion of how she views herself as a mother of a lesbian and what she thinks about how she as a mother of a lesbian reflects on homosexuality. I caught just the tail end of that, but that's what it sounded like, and both of them seemed to be in good spirits. Then Gross committed two serious journalistic no-nos, and Cheney was really uncomfortable, which made her third gaffe, which was minor in itself, seem much worse than it really was. In the end Gross just seemed unprofessional, something I rarely perceive in her no matter who she's interviewing. I guess something about this issue just caused her to lose her professional demeanor and journalistic integrity. It is very close to her, even though she's not gay herself.
The first thing she did started out fairly innocently, but it's what she did with it that became a problem. She asked Cheney about her attitude toward the gay marriage amendment the president has supported. Not surprisingly, Cheney simply reiterated the stance she's taken in the past. She's opposed to the amendment and thinks it should be kept as a state issue. Gross kept pushing, wanting her to answer more specific questions about what she thinks the right policy would be at the state level (though I don't think the way she worded it made that clear). She did this at least three times after Cheney had said that she wanted to leave it at opposing the amendment and not discuss it further.
After a few of Cheney's attempts to state that she doesn't want to take a public position on the issue, Gross asked her if it was hard for her to disagree with the president on this, and Cheney was pretty mad at this point, so she just flat-out said that she'd just disagreed with the president publicly about six times in the last minute or two, so it's not that hard. I can understand why she was short with her. She had said quite a few times that she didn't want to talk more about it. Each time Gross continued to push her on it. Finally, she just abruptly stopped talking, and Gross had nothing to say either. It took her a few stumblings to find words even to begin another line of questioning, and she sounded really awkward. The whole thing was just so throroughly unprofessional that if I didn't know better I would have thought this was Gross's first interview.
The second element was what leads me to say Gross is completely out-of-touch. In the midst of all this, Gross mentioned the president's support for the FMA. When Cheney seemed unmoved that she might hold a position in contrast with the president whom her husband is serving as vice-president with, Gross said something about how Rove had used it as a major wedge issue in the campaign, and how it had gotten all the evangelists out to vote. I wish I had the exact quote, but she did use the word 'evangelists'. If she doesn't know the difference between evangelists and evangelicals, then she knows very little about the religion of church-attenders in the U.S. A serious journalist, particularly in the aftermath of the 2004 election given the commentary about evangelicals, should not make that mistake. It's not just insulting to evangelicals, though it is. It shows that she doesn't care enough about evangelicals to know the correct word to describe them. Mostly, though, it just shows ignorance, and that's not something I would expect to be true of someone who interviews the high-profile people she does.
There was also one minor thing that gave the impression that she was just digging herself further into the hole her first two gaffes had begun. After finally conceding to Cheney's wishes to talk about history and children's books, which was what Cheney had been led to believe the interview was going to be about, Gross asked her about a novel she'd written that was no longer in print. She hadn't read the novel, because she couldn't get ahold of a copy. Usually she shows careful research of everyone she interviews, and the one time she couldn't do it happened to be the one time she was already doing a poor job with the interview. She introduced the novel she wanted to ask Cheney about as a novel with a lesbian character. Cheney immediately corrected her, interrupting her in mid-sentence to say that it doesn't have a lesbian character in it. It does have someone who isn't clearly lesbian but has an ambiguous relationship that other characters in the book suspect is lesbian, but the book never settles it.
Gross was dumbfounded, because people had told her that the character was lesbian. Unfortunately for her, she probably didn't have any way to know better, but this just made a bad situation look even worse. I don't blame her for her error in facts. I do wonder why she chose to introduce this back into the discussion when Cheney had explicitly told her that she didn't want to discuss those issues anymore and wanted to focus on history and children's books. Overall, Gross's integrity as a journalist and reputation as a careful researcher have dropped a notch or two as a result of this interview. It's too bad, because most of the time her interviews are very good.
Just for the record, conservatives and/or evangelicals can be out-of-touch and politically misinformed, e.g. thinking environmentalists are all tree-worshiping druids, feminists are all man-hating lesbians who think my wife's sexual advances count as me raping her, gays all have some agenda to control our school systems' ideology, intellectuals are all ivory-tower social isolationists who don't interact with the real world, and pro-choicers want to increase the number of abortions.
People of all sorts can be out-of-touch. In Gross's case it combined with her desire for a pro-gay soundbite, from a conservative who has given every indication in earlier intereviews that she won't give such a soundbite, to show gross unprofessionalism, no pun intended. I think if she had really understood the conservative reasoning behind wanting to keep marriage a state-level matter, she wouldn't have assumed she could draw out a deeper moral condemnation of social consevatives' views, which may just be a result of not being in touch with the main views on this issue that are out there. I hope she learns from this for future interviews that deal with conservatives on homosexual issues.