A commenter pointed out that I failed to credit Fallows on this. Truth is, I didn't even see it till I went through the comments. I'm kind of flattered that I independently came to the same conclusion as Jim--Terry Gross is a beast. He's right that it's totally conventional to say that. But sometimes the crowd is right. I spent last summer hawking my book across the country and did a lot of radio. After a while, you start to be able to see who's really, really good at it. I thought Terry pushed just hard enough, without grandstanding. Someone mentioned the Bill O'Reilly interview. I actually don't like that one much. I thought she lost control.
Anyway here is a nice excerpt from Fallows:
At the most obvious level, Terry Gross succeeds in this interview simply by avoiding the two most common, and laziest, styles of today's broadcast interviewers: surplus aggressiveness, long ago made familiar by Mike Wallace and now lampooned by Stephen Colbert; and lapdogism, most recently on display in Greta Van Susteren's sessions with Sarah Palin and the default mode of Larry King Live. Both of these extremes reflect the confusion of toughness of manner -- do you interrupt, are you scowling, are you borderline impolite -- with toughness of inquiry, which is something altogether different and can happen under the most polite and civil auspices.
She also avoids the common pitfall of highbrow public broadcasting-style interviewers: giving in to the temptation to show off how much she knows and how smart she is in the set-up to the questions.