Terry Gross may seem to have a mild-mannered demeanor based on her soothing NPR voice, but the longtime radio personality, who stopped by the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon Thursday, can throw shade with the best of them.
Gross, who has hosted NPR’s “Fresh Air” for upwards of 30 years, got candid about her process preparing for interviews (Fallon showed a photo of her dog-eared copy of Bruce Springsteen’s memoir) and the times when her interviews have fallen flat. One incident in particular still stands out in her mind.
“Oh yeah, that happens and people have walked out on me too,” Gross told Fallon. “Most famously, Bill O’Reilly walked out on me. I asked him a few challenging questions about whether he used the microphone to settle scores or to get even with people. Before I was even done with the question, he accused me of throwing every defamation in the book at him and then made a little speech about, ‘This is NPR, I know what this is. I know what you’re doing. Thirty minutes of defamation.'”
Gross didn’t seem perturbed by O’Reilly’s outburst, however. She then recalled how their interaction ended in a truly mic-drop moment. “And then he said, ‘If you think that’s fair, Terry, you should get out of this business.’ And I’m thinking, ‘One of us still has a program.'” (After 20-plus years on the network, O’Reilly was ousted from Fox News earlier this year following sexual harassment scandals.)
Gross had O’Reilly as a guest on her “Fresh Air” program in October 2003, ostensibly to chat about his latest book, Who’s Looking Out For You?, which was about, in part, the idea that America is in the midst of what he calls “a cultural war between left and right.”
The interview, which started with much tension, ended on an even tenser note, with O’Reilly storming out of the interview and accusing Gross of pitting NPR’s liberal bias against him and asking him “hostile” questions.
After telling Gross off, telling her she should be “ashamed of yourself,” he proclaimed the interview over.
“You’re gone,” Gross can be heard saying as the line goes silent on O’Reily’s end, sounding stunned before she begins laughing. “OK. I guess that’s the answer to that question.”