Terry Gross v. Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has had a rough time in interviews since her book — Hard Choices — came out this week. So seeing NPR’s Terry Gross on the schedule might’ve seemed like a home game. It wasn’t.

The two sparred today ( entire program here) when Gross asked Hillary Clinton to explain her change in position on same-sex marriage, after Gross opened her line of questioning with the innuendo that it was only for political reasons.

  1. Listen Terry Gross, Hillary Clinton spar over same-sex marriage support

    June 12, 2014

This is basically what her answer was.

“I changed my mind for the same reason lots of people changed their minds on this issue, which is what allowed same-sex marriage to become legal in places like Minnesota. Society changes. I change and while I realize people think it’s a weakness for politicians to change their minds on an issue, that’s how society moves ahead.”

But that wasn’t her actual answer because Clinton — a lawyer — makes life hard for herself by overanswering questions.

Gross’ somewhat clumsy follow-up — have you evolved or have the American people evolved? — was plainly weird. And her dismissal of the fact that Americans feel much differently about same-sex marriage now than they did in the ’90s, seemed design to bait the likely presidential candidate. Only 27 percent of those surveyed by Gallup in the mid-’90s thought that gay marriages should be recognized.

“The vast majority of Americans were just waking up to this issue,” Clinton said. “It has been an extraordinarily fast change in political terms and we should celebrate that instead of plowing old ground.”

Good answer, to which Gross replied, “I’m pretty sure you didn’t answer my question.”

“I said I was an American. Of course we all evolved,” Clinton said.

“So you’re saying your opinion changed?”

“Somebody is always first, Terry, and thank goodness they are. But that doesn’t mean that people who join later… are any less committed. You could not be having the sweep of marriage equality across this country if nobody changed their mind,” Clinton said.

“So that’s one for… you changed your mind?”

(forehead slap)

At that point we were off and running and the “Clinton snaps at interviewer” headlines were written.

Called out by Clinton, Gross walked back her questioning, saying what she really meant to ask was whether Clinton always believed in same-sex marriage but didn’t support it because it wasn’t politically feasible to do so?

That would’ve been a good question for Gross, normally a very precise interviewer, to actually ask. No matter. Few of the critics discussing the exchange are bothering to notice that it was precipitated by a really badly presented question.

“So what’s it like when you’re in office and you have to do all these political calculations to not be able to support something like gay marriage, that you actually believe in. Obviously you feel very committed to human rights and you obviously put gay rights as part of human rights but in doing the calculus you decided you couldn’t support it. Correct me if I’m reading it wrong.”

Beyond that, the interview carries a significant message: Politicians in the coming elections — especially Democrats — are going to have to answer for their past positions on same-sex marriage, the same way politicians of days-gone-by had to answer for their views on race and segregation.

In politics, it won’t be enough that you feel differently on this issue now — something that might’ve been celebrated around here a year or so ago. You’ll now be held accountable that you ever felt differently on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Related: Wis. clerks could face charges over gay marriage licenses (Minnesota Public Radio News).

  • Gary F

    Hillary has had a tough week. The mainstream media has been covering her for years tossing her underhand softball pitches. They actually asked her a tough question. OMG.

    Are they toughening her up for 2016 or are they trying to take her down so to get the Democratic bench warmed up?

    Benghazi, Bergdahl, Iraq, are really going to weigh her down. Add the age factor, and possible Heath issues, and she is not that strong a candidate.

    Maybe they are doing the Dem Party a favor by weeding her out?

  • Jack

    Won’t listen to this interview – in my 30+ years of being a public radio listener, Terry Gross is one host that I can’t listen to.

    I prefer my presidential candidates to be younger and I’m not that old. I have yet to see a good candidate raised by any of the parties.

  • Bethjock

    I was really disappointed in this short segment of the interview. Terry wasn’t hearing the answer that Clinton was giving her, or didn’t want to accept it. I think many people have evolved in how they see gay rights as more people stopped hiding the fact they are gay. Once you find that your family member, or school mate or co-worker is a gay person it’s difficult to demonize them because they seem so normal. Which of course they are.

  • John O.

    Ms. Gross has exhibited the same habit that has afflicted other journalists (mostly on the broadcasting side) with overinflated egos: she wants to BE the news as much as she wants to REPORT the news.

    I would think, however, that while her handling of the Clinton interview may have generated some short-term buzz, I would seriously question whether she will get another chance to interview her down the road–regardless of whether she runs or not. The Clintons are always going to find their way into the news cycle.

  • MrE85

    Bengayzi?

    • Gary F

      You still sticking with the YouTube video lie?

  • Cubana Loca

    This reporter tried to play a big game of Gotcha and it didn’t work. I almost couldn’t finish listening to it because the reporter was so doggedly and incorrectly stating things that Clinton clearly did not say. Her position changed, and she clearly said so. What’s the big damn deal.

    • joetron2030

      Terry Gross is not a “reporter” by any stretch. And that’s coming from someone who’s generally a fan of the program.

  • John Peschken

    Terry Gross’ refusal to accept a straight answer was annoying. At least it wasn’t the far more usual problem of a (usually non-NPR) reporter easily accepting a non-answer and obliviously moving on to the next question on their list.

  • Nicholas Kraemer

    I think the real pitty is that Terry Gross did not ask a follow up question to this statement from Hillary Clinton: “No, I don’t think you are trying to clarify. I think you’re trying to say that I used to be opposed, and now I’m in favor, and I did it for political reasons, and that’s just flat wrong.” I would have liked Terry to ask this: “If you weren’t opposed to gay marriage for political reasons, why were you opposed to it?”