Sure, Anderson Cooper is cute and young, but get a grip, CNN
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
The Anderson Cooper cult of personality must end.
That may be difficult, given that he's the Poster Boy Anchor and Future of Broadcast Journalism, so perhaps merely containing him would be a start.
This much is certain: CNN, looking to exploit the post-Katrina face of caring, personal, passionate, youthful, hip, modern and really good looking journalism, has now further marginalized Aaron Brown and nearly ruined Brown's show, "News-Night," by throwing Cooper into the mix.
This isn't really Cooper's fault. Even before he turned Katrina coverage into his own personal mission, he was quickly becoming the It anchor. Speaking truth to power and, at times, crying in the face of heartbreaking human suffering only endeared him to viewers and sped his arrival.
But foisting him upon Brown and "NewsNight" is yet another in a long line of terrible CNN decisions. Worse, it appears that Cooper hasn't exactly tamped down the rising tide of Anderson mania at CNN and, in the moments he's paired with Brown, it all seems a bit me-centric.
It's also cringe worthy, an upper-management tactic that has lessened "NewsNight" even more from the first ill-advised rejiggering of content, when it took Brown's folksy-if-eccentric take on the news of the day and turned it into a kind of hybrid magazine show. Now it's something else entirely, and it's clear that something is a work in progress.
Result so far: It's not working.
When Cooper began guesting recently on "NewsNight," it made sense. Katrina was still the major story of the day, and Cooper, as noted above, was CNN's emblematic, relatable, demo-friendly representative. He had also done fine work there. It should be noted that just as one should not cling to the supposed glory of the old school, it's justifiable and necessary to embrace the new. Cooper is a new kind of New Journalism. Some of the hype is making him out to be Walter Cronkite 2.0.
And Cooper wears modernity very well. It's just that now he's on a show where he doesn't belong and, fresh from the flood waters of his own good ink, is perhaps being a bit more Anderson than need be.
Last Friday was really the nadir in this experiment. Cooper -- who, by the way, has his own nightly show on CNN called "Anderson Cooper 360" -- has apparently taken up permanent residence on "News-Night." He appears to be the co-anchor. And in what was hopefully an experiment since tossed in the bin (Monday's "NewsNight" was less gimmicky, though not by much), CNN added all kinds of cute and unnecessary elements to the "News-Night" program, significantly reducing the accuracy of the show's title.
There was lots of standing. News producers believe standing is fresh and new. It trends young. There was lots of forced mingling between Brown and Cooper, which may have been meant to show chemistry, but instead showed Cooper's suits are more fitted and a tad more stylish than Brown's. (Brown, it should be noted, has at least on camera played this about as professionally as anyone could expect. He has yet to have that look that asks -- with a cynically raised eye that regular viewers know Brown to possess -- "Who is this interloper, and why is he on my show?")
Friday's show had a pointless and inappropriate poll about what was the most popular story on CNN.com -- sell the brand! -- and a story about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. A story on meth labs followed that concluded with Cooper saying, "I have a number of friends, actually, who've started using it and their lives have been ruined."
How very boho of you, Anderson.
At that point in the broadcast, even people half asleep must have noticed Cooper's most annoying trait: his relentless use of the first person. Never mind whether it's wise to admit that your friends are meth heads. But must there be so much me in your media? This point was driven home, painfully, when Cooper introduced a segment (since banished to hell, one hopes), called "Awkward T.V. Moments," complete with a silly television graphic. The news (loud cough) was that sometimes things go sideways when you're on the air. Gratuitous shots of Cooper doing his job proved this. Those images of him -- sell the cult, sell the cult! -- were preceded by this sentence: "You may have seen me out in Times Square last night."
Wait, what happened to the people in New Orleans?
Anyway, "Awkward T.V. Moments" -- now there's an apt title -- concluded with Cooper showing how, um, he turned his back to the camera to fiddle with his ever- present laptop computer. "I decided at the last second that I just had to have my laptop. Smooth move, Columbo."
Yeah, well, aside from the fact that this proves no editors are actually employed on "NewsNight," it was a perfect moment to check out Cooper's backside. Nice, that. Maybe the ratings spiked.
If that's a cheap shot, this one isn't: Cooper apparently learned nothing from his incessant need to toy with the laptop. Because he does it all the time now. Opening it, shutting it, typing on it. Is he instant messaging Death Cab for Cutie? Reading Achenblog?
If you haven't been hit with the Steinbeck-size hammer on this one yet, folks, here's the hidden metaphor: Anderson Cooper is wired. He's tech savvy. Which means he's young (premature gray notwithstanding -- and, by the way, that only makes him look authoritative in his handsomeness) and connected, a Wi-Fi news guy.
Conversely, the message on the new "NewsNight" says that Brown is, if not old, then old school. He doesn't have a laptop. He has a coffee cup. He can be seen sipping from it as they go to a break, while Cooper, often standing, is surfing the Web. Whether he knows it or not, Brown has been routinely self-deprecating about his own age. And why shouldn't he be? This pairing is uncomfortable. Brown is allied closer to the Icon Anchor era of Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and the late Peter Jennings. As they have left our living rooms, Brown -- mysteriously underused by CNN -- has been the next closest link.
Cooper has links to Channel One, news geared for junior high and high school classrooms; reality show "The Mole"; then a string of far-flung news jobs at ABC that have strengthened his career. This is no knock on Cooper. He has worked hard and successfully at becoming a seasoned reporter and anchor. But hey, does Brown have any links to "Rock the Vote"?
This is just to say these two are from different planets, journalistically, and you can argue all night about who has more gravitas. The fact is, Cooper already has his show. He should stay on it. Because when Cooper says, as he did Monday on "News Night," that he's got "a quick download for you," it's painfully clear that CNN thinks saying "update" is sooooo Edward R. Murrow.
Here's hoping CNN downloads some sense and does a 180 on the idea of sharing "NewsNight."