According to James Fallows, Bill Ayers’ interview with Terry Gross for NPR’s Fresh Air is the best of them all. Here’s why:
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.
Three years after McCain was shot down over Hanoi while on that bombing mission, [Bill] Ayers by his own admission participated in a bombing of a New York City police station, and went on to bomb the Capitol and Pentagon in the next two years. Each action came in response to a specific escalation of the Vietnam War. There were no casualties, and Ayers was never convicted of a crime. He denies that the bombings were acts of terrorism and points out instead that the war in Vietnam was a war of terror. (During this time, by the way, the 11 to 13 year old Obama was living in Indonesia and Hawai’i.)
Bill Ayers like many of his generation was a follower of Martin Luther King before joining the SDS then some of its spin-offs which (like many in the New Left) parted company with the doctrinaire non-violence they perceived as ineffectual. But consider his background. While studying at the University of Michigan in 1965, he joined a picket line protesting an Ann Arbor pizzeria’s policy of refusing service to African-Americans. (18 years later, when I studied at UM, such racist exclusion was unimaginable. How the world had changed because of people like Ayers!) He participated in a draft board sit-in, punished by 10 days in jail. He worked in progressive childhood education. These are the kind of rebellious activities that enraged the white supremicists (then far more respectable and mainstream than now), the kneejerk anticommunists, the reactionaries terrified by rock ‘n roll and the youth counterculture. But what’s there to damn here, for those who aren’t misled by a washed-up generation of racist uptight bigots?
People over 50 remember that period very well, and many much younger people view it with envy and fascination. After all, today’s youth listen to the Beatles, Stones, Doors, Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead, considering them their own. (We in the ’60s rarely listened to the music of the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.) College students flock to courses on the ’60s, viewing that decade as one of turmoil, excitement, and progressive change. The verdict’s in: the war was wrong, segregation and all racism was wrong, sexism and homophobia were wrong—and the limited social progress as we’ve seen since the ’60s is largely rooted in the tireless efforts of the activists of that decade. The ’60s were good!