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Speaking Freely

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TERRY ANDERSON SET THE TONE FOR THE talk show he launched in February in his first hour on the air when a caller phoned to rant against a prominent political figure he chose to call Slick Willie. “Hang on,” Anderson, 48, admonished. “We may not like him, but he’s the President of the United States. We don’t call names, and we don’t shout at each other.”

Anderson knows too well the dangers of extremism fueled by unbridled rhetoric. It has been five years since the former Middle East bureau chief of the Associated Press was released by militant Shiites who had held him hostage in Beirut for a harrowing 2,454 days—the longest captivity of any American. Once a subject of the news, he’s now happy talking about it, albeit in his own style. “I listen to talk radio, and I find much of it offensive,” says Anderson, a liberal whose favorite topics range from the Middle East to race relations. “I thought, if I’m going to do it, it has to be reasonable.” That approach has worked. His weekly program, Common Sense, is a hit with listeners of New Rochelle’s WVOX in a suburb of New York City. “He made an almost instant connection with the hearts and minds of our listeners,” says William O’Shaughnessy, the station’s president.

While the show and a weekly syndicated newspaper column are naturals for Anderson, personal adjustments have been difficult. “I didn’t think we’d make it,” Madeleine Bassil, 46, says of her husband’s stressful first year back. But once they moved into a new house—a four-bedroom colonial on two wooded acres in Yonkers, N.Y.—”everything fit into place,” she says. Relations are improving between Anderson and his sister Peggy Say, who lobbied tirelessly for his release and later expressed disappointment at his aloofness. “There were expectations on both sides that didn’t always match,” says Anderson, who now speaks to Say occasionally by phone. And he has had to work at building a bond with his daughter Sulome, a fifth grader, born three months after he was taken hostage. Now, he jokes, “it’s a perfectly normal relationship…. Like any 10-year-old, she can drive you crazy in about 30 seconds.” Though Anderson travels often for speaking engagements, Bassil says, “I like him to go away sometimes—doesn’t every woman? But knowing he’s coming back—that’s the best part.”