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Anderson Cooper on Deconstructing Photo-Ops and Causing International Incidents

Columbia Journalism Review
BY Brian Montopoli April 02, 2004

Anderson Cooper is the anchor of "Anderson Cooper 360," which appears on weeknights on CNN. He is the former chief international correspondent for Channel One News and anchor of ABC's "World News Now," and he moderated the "Rock The Vote" Democratic presidential debate in November. He spoke to Campaign Desk from the CNN New York bureau, part of our ongoing series of interviews with reporters and commentators about the election.

Brian Montopoli: What do you think of the campaign coverage so far? What could reporters be doing better?

Anderson Cooper: I think a lot of the problems that always existed still exist, and I'm not sure they're solvable. A big one is how it's easier to follow the horserace than follow the issues, of course. But that's a perennial problem -- I don't see it more this year than in other years. Overall, I think coverage has been pretty good. It may be more intense this year than it was in an earlier time. People are making more of an effort to fact-check ads, for example -- something we've started doing on our show recently. We're also trying to make an effort deconstruct what actually end up seeing -- step back and deconstruct the photo-ops, for example. Just literally deconstruct how a photo-op works.

BM: You seem to be viewed by CNN as the anchor who best connects with young people. Is the news -- and campaign coverage specifically -- often presented in a way that turns off young people?

AC: I would never sell myself as the person with the best connection to young people -- some other people seem to think that, but it's not how I'd present myself. But in general, I think news in general doesn't really connect to young people. It's a question of where the interest level lies. Young people traditionally don't come out to vote in large numbers. I do think there's a way to cover news -- and politics -- in ways that connect to young people. But you're not seeing a lot of it out there.

BM: Do you think reporters tend to cover the horserace because it's easier for reporters, or because it's what the people want?

AC: I think it's more a little bit of both. And there's a third thing -- the horserace is often the most compelling story out there. Conflict is inherently compelling, and so a political race is going to be inherently compelling.

BM: When you're on the air so often, is it difficult to keep your opinions out of the political coverage?

AC: I don't think it's hard. There are a lot of people whose mandate is to not keep their opinion out -- it's to wear it on their sleeve and shove it down people's throats. I've always prided myself on being a blank slate. I revel in the opportunity to do that. I think there's a role for people who are just there to ask hard questions to both sides. I think of it as a point of pride, not a particular challenge.

BM: We're curious, could you see yourself working on the other side -- being a White House press secretary, for example, or working in public relations? Does that hold any appeal?

AC: If I was a PR guy I think I'd hang myself from the rafters. I have a very difficult time doing stuff I don't necessarily believe in -- I'm just not very good at selling things. And as for being a press officer, I don't think that would go well. I think I would make a few snarky comments and invariably end up causing an international incident.

Mr. Anderson Cooper, Superstar

BY Choire Sicha March 11 2004
The day before his first vacation in a good while, in a jewel box of a West Chelsea teahouse, Anderson Cooper sat reading The New York Times beside a small reflective pool. Sleek in his near-black pinstriped suit, he looked like a commercial. The teahouse was otherwise empty, except for a waitress busy arranging these extraordinary flowers. The titanium-haired CNN anchor was drinking from an obnoxiously tall glass of juice with humongous chunks of fruit in it—and he was pulling it off with élan.

This vision of high Manhattan privilege—Gloria Vanderbilt’s son, no less—could easily be one more do-nothing playboy, his nights spent leering for Patrick McMullan at Lizzie Grubman–sponsored Marquee parties, his Sunday afternoons on the Sag Harbor yacht, mixing up that first cocktail just a little too early in the day. He does have the icy good looks, but Mr. Cooper isn’t wired for fey leisure. The vacation, in fact, was presenting something of a problem. "My plan had been to go to Haiti for a couple days," he said, "but CNN suggested I should try and take a vacation."

Yes, Haiti in mid-coup: how very relaxing.

"My last vacation, which I ended up not taking, I was going to go to Baghdad for a week."

He ended up in L.A. instead, visiting old friends for a few days, but he sounded restless on his return. "I don’t know if I’m ever really refreshed. I’m somewhat refreshed," he said, back in New York. In his fourth-floor Time and Life building office (not quite as well-placed as Paula Zahn’s), a jumbly wardrobe of shirts and ties hangs from the back of the door, and framed messes of press passes decorate the walls—nearly all of them real. Paper was taped over the intra-office windows around his door, and he had changed in his office into Levis (button-fly), a gray T-shirt and New Balance sneakers after the 10 a.m. morning production meeting. He looked less near-robotically perfect and shiny, nearly a normal guy with his feet up on the desk. "My job is an extension of what I care about in my off time," he said. "Work does not really feel like work. The down side is that play doesn’t feel like play."

Two origin myths of Anderson Cooper are propagated; both are true. In the news-world version, he’s a scrappy youngster who paid his dues with a borrowed camera on his shoulder. He slept on hotel roofs and worked the Third World crisis tour until someone would put him on TV. He’s a hard-core news man with the blood on his Betacam to prove it, risen to CNN anchordom all the way from Channel One fact-checker and ABC News reporter (and, just for some pop-culture cred, a stint as a reality-TV-show host). "From the time I was very little on," he said, "I wanted to be independent and wanted to see great things and take part in important events, and I didn’t really know how at the time. I didn’t know in what way."

On air, he shows his news chops: Last week, Mr. Cooper did a live phoner with exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and he nailed Mr. Aristide’s balls to the wall on his claims that the U.S. forced him out of Haiti.

Then there’s the Page Six version of Anderson Cooper: flashy Manhattanite in sharp tailored suits. Dalton fed him to Yale. Not only is his mom the designer-jean queen, his great-aunt Gertrude founded the Whitney Museum. He writes for Details, for chrissakes. All this means that Mr. Cooper is, in fact, the epitome of the East Coast media elite that Fox News and their gang harp on. "I’m sort of guilty on all those counts—I’m from New York and went to an Ivy League school. I do think how one is born and how one chooses to live one’s life are often two different things—or should be two different things," said Mr. Cooper. He seems in his chronically polite and understated way to be saying by this: Fuck off.

Last September, CNN plunked down the contradictions of Mr. Cooper in the middle of their evening lineup and threw a buttload of money into advertising, promoting his elite face in a 7 p.m. show that consciously traffics in the meanings of his double life. The show is self-conscious and self-referential, very nearly MTV-styled. It begins in breaking news and ends with just-shy-of-cruel digs at pop culture. Mr. Cooper is far from traditional anchor material, which makes the show inherently interesting. For starters, Mr. Cooper’s voice is one organ pipe shy of nasal—it’s only casually authoritative.

But as far as numbers go, the experiment hasn’t worked yet. In the cable ratings war—if it can still be called that—CNN has been thrashed. Mr. Cooper pulls a bit under half a million viewers. In the same slot over on Fox News, Shepard Smith gets around three times that. Still, focus-group research released in house at CNN last week shows Mr. Cooper testing strongest of all their anchors, a CNN source said, and the hope at CNN is that ratings will follow.

Never mind: At a time when cable news is a cesspool of partisan shit-stirring, rehashed war feed and cheery, white-toothed weatherman smiles, Mr. Cooper distinctly stands out. He’s turning out to be something even more unexpected—and much more compelling—than the Gen-X sex symbol/anchor of his do-me CNN marketing: the return of the TV journalist as humanist.

And that’s the problem with his job. Every hour Anderson Cooper spends anchoring tarts him up with another layer of celebrity—and Mr. Cooper seems rightly worried about becoming a star. As he sees it, "reporting and anchoring are at odds with notoriety." He admits, however, that "there are some advantages to being more well-known—better booking—but at the same time, part of what I liked about being a reporter is a certain amount of anonymity, and the ability to run in just for a glimpse." Soon enough, Mr. Cooper’s deal with the devil of anchoring could ensure that he’ll never get that glimpse again.

Like seemingly everyone at CNN, 360 executive producer Jim Miller is a raving Cooper fan. "There’s lots of people who have confidence and ambition, and many of them don’t manage it that well," said Mr. Miller, a gruff-voiced machine of a man who wouldn’t look out of place in a Park Avenue South banker bar. "They’re reeking of opportunism. And it’s an egocentric world—all the time, it’s about them, them, them. I had a dinner party at my house one night for Anderson. I realized about two-thirds of the way through the dinner he hadn’t even used the pronoun ‘I.’ He was so interested in other people’s experiences. How many people do you meet that are confident and want to work hard in their careers, and at the same time they don’t make it about themselves?"

Last spring, Mr. Miller—formerly of ABC and USA networks, and co-author of Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live—was brought in to build CNN a new night from the giant smoking crater that remained after the cancellation of Connie Chung’s famously tabloid evening show. Paula Zahn was anchoring that 7 to 9 p.m. slot; last fall they put Mr. Cooper, her frequent sub, in permanently for the first hour. "Having Anderson be a field reporter for another anchor would be like driving a Porsche 40 miles an hour," Mr. Miller said. 360 always reopens its second quarter hour with the jarring guitar chords and cowbell of Iggy Pop’s "The Passenger." But instead of scary old Iggy singing "I am the passenger, I stay under glass … ," we have Mr. Cooper safe—maybe too safe—in his glass box jutting from the Time and Life building. The studio (temporary quarters, as the show will move to the glass tomb of the new Time Warner Center in June) is no bigger than a really rich person’s dining room. Outside on Sixth Avenue, beyond the orange gels covering the windows, tourists wave for the cameras inside. But like disenchanted TV viewers, they soon enough get bored and wander off.

When Mr. Cooper was a boy, he spent a summer waiting tables at Mortimer’s, the late Glenn Bernbaum’s monstrous uptown society restaurant. Just a few years later, he took his first press pass—a fake—and hopped a troop transport to Somalia from Kenya.

He filed his first aired piece of foreign correspondence for the in-school network Channel One from Baidoa, using only a home video camera and two paid gun-toting guides. The video as cut is about seven minutes long. In it, young Mr. Cooper’s hair is a plain dirty brown, done in a sort of 80’s ski-enthusiast cut. His nose is still slightly too big for his face. He looks insanely out of place, like Alex P. Keaton in an abattoir.

The seven-minute-long report is astounding, intensely graphic, but without any tear-jerking Sally Struthers–style appeal. "On the sides of the road, the animals and humans lie rotting where they fell," the young Mr. Cooper voice-overs quietly. "I tried to distance myself. Tried to find ways to forget the sight, the smells of the dead and dying." And later: "You want to grab someone and get them to help, but there’s no one around. There’s nothing you can do." ("It’s a little overwritten," the adult Mr. Cooper apologized.)

The video ends with footage of a father using his last remaining water to wash his dead son’s body. The boy’s already-skeletal face is clearly visible through a cloth.

What compelled him to file this story? "To me, the question is not why, the question is always why don’t more people want to do it? It seems to me a privilege to be able to do it, and a privilege to be able to go to Sarajevo during the war. Why wouldn’t you want to go? Why wouldn’t you want to see these things that are happening and bear witness to what is going on?"

Bearing witness, of course, can be a dicey proposition; portraying global horror does not necessarily engender assistance, or even understanding. But Mr. Cooper’s personal motivations make the picture more complicated. This video was shot in 1991, just a few years after the 1988 suicide of Mr. Cooper’s brother.

"I was feeling a lot of pain inside and wanted to go places where that was O.K., where other people understood pain, and where I could learn from other people about how they survive and why some people survive and other people don’t—and why good people die and bad people survive and thrive," Mr. Cooper said. "People don’t talk about issues of survival in polite conversations," he added dryly.

Mr. Cooper’s brother’s suicide took place at Ms. Vanderbilt’s Manhattan apartment, a decade after the death of her husband Wyatt Cooper, the boys’ father. At the time, Anderson Cooper was nearly finished at Yale. "A lot of the questions about why do people survive were raised by his death and all the questions surrounding that. And you want answers to questions, and you go out seeking them wherever you can."

Gloria Vanderbilt was the original poor little rich girl. She suffered through a child-custody battle between her mother and her Aunt Gert that set a new standard for tabloid reporting. Over her career, she’s made fortunes in designing and licensing fashion and merchandise, and—like many women of her generation—had large pieces of those fortunes stolen by managers. She married four times in impressive succession, and it’s said that she found the love of her life in Wyatt Cooper.

Ms. Vanderbilt sent the young Mr. Cooper to Dalton "because it was seen as being sort of liberal, and I think it was sort of the reverse of the schools you see in movies," Mr. Cooper recalled, "because actors and artists were on top of the heap, and the athletes were lower in the high-school caste system."

Mr. Cooper just recently revisited Dalton, to give a speech to the students—just as Barbara Walters had done when he was a student. The suggestion, however, that he may end up as the next Barbara Walters seemed to throw him. "I have a long way to go before I can walk in her Manolo Blahniks," said Mr. Cooper. "I have a huge new respect for people who have longevity in the business. You know, Barbara Walters has been at the top of her game for years—it’s pretty incredible." There is a popular impression that top-rated news stars can do whatever the hell they want, which Mr. Cooper is quick to dismiss.

"I think she works harder than most people," he said. And, tellingly: "A correspondent at ABC once said to me, ‘No one ever gives you the ground.’"

At Dalton, Mr. Cooper applied early to college and didn’t get in, so he took off for his last semester to drive around Africa. "They were sick of me," he said of his classmates. He was undoubtedly sick of them. "I think there’s nothing more boring than meeting someone I went to high school with who works with their parents, and they’re still here and haven’t really done much."

During his early reporting, Mr. Cooper said with a bit of machismo, he "was always eating network dust—and CNN always had the vehicle." Seemingly, no one ever gave him the ground. It’s odd, perhaps, that the fancy young Mr. Cooper would have this aggravated outsiderish sense. But it goes well with his self-deprecation. Take the night a few years back that he talked on-air about the inevitable (and deeply misguided) offer from Playgirl to pose nude: "The last thing America needs to see is my pale skinny little chicken legs running around. Maybe I could pose for American Poultry." Funny stuff, coming from a man whose hot-and-heavy devotees have littered the Internet with ga-ga fan pages.

CNN is a real dog pound of anchors now—some you’d love to adopt, and some you wouldn’t mind drowning in the river. There’s young Miguel Marquez, who’s getting more air time from the L.A. bureau these days as he works patiently backstage toward becoming the next prime-time hunk. There’s Aaron Brown, who as the air-filling day anchor of Gulf War II might be that war’s second-most-hated personality, right after Chemical Ali.

There’s the rising star of Soledad O’Brien, billed on her bio page as a member of both the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists—and who in 1998 was also named to Irish America Magazine’s "Top 100 Irish-Americans" list.

During Mr. Cooper’s L.A. vacation, his anchor qualities were actually made more apparent with the guest-host presence on 360 of Ms. O’Brien’s partner on American Morning, Bill Hemmer. The affable, white-bread and strangely youthful-looking 39-year-old anchor’s red tie was a bit too wide, but there was nothing wrong with his anchoring. It was smooth and competent—but it was tonally unvaried.

Jim Miller—not speaking specifically of Mr. Hemmer—notes the trouble with temps replacing Mr. Cooper as well. "When people sub in, they say, ‘Wow, this is a tough show.’ And there’s some people that can feel really out of place with it. This is meant to be something that’s for Anderson."

Mr. Cooper is a good anchor, and it’s because of his ear for tonal range. "To me, the important thing is to not cover the Grammys with the same sense of urgency" as the hard news, said Mr. Cooper. It’s the anchor pitfall—like the famously mocked "poetry voice," there is anchor voice. While it may be as comforting as codeine cough syrup, eventually it becomes a sick stream of meaninglessness stridency, death made palatable over America’s Lean Cuisine dinners.

Anderson Cooper’s greatest conflict is now against himself, against whatever craving for security compelled him to take this anchor job. It is against the marketable appeal of his extraordinarily pretty eyes and his pitch-perfect sense of how news should be delivered. It’s with the stardom issue—isn’t that obviously the ratings plan? Ted Turner at CNN always insisted that the news came first, no matter who spat it out on air, but in the later reigns of Walter Isaacson and now Jim Walton, there’s no namby-pamby crap about the uncleanness of telegenic faces becoming big names to pull in big numbers. It’s easy enough to fame up Mr. Cooper: He’s pretty close already. On the streets of Manhattan, at least, he doesn’t go unrecognized.

Mr. Cooper recently purchased an apartment on West 38th Street, on what he calls "sort of this weird wholesale-buttons street" in "a little parasitic neighborhood on top of the garment district—like the little fish that sucks on the shark." He’s happy there. "I didn’t know there was such a button industry," he said, "but literally, like on a Sunday morning, the button stores are packed with random people searching for buttons. I don’t know who these people are, I don’t know if they’re buying single buttons. And now the porn stores have moved into the neighborhood. I miss that neighborhood feel. But for now, at least, it’s the least fashionable place on the planet."

What, one wonders, does Mr. Cooper do on the weekends? On a recent weekend past, he was at his house in Quogue, busy not watching TV. "I didn’t really leave the house much. I have all these books that both my mom and my dad and my brother and I grew up with. Thousands and thousands of books. They’ve been in boxes in storage, so I’ve been putting them on shelves and reading them."

There’s a picture of Anderson Cooper as a baby, his face filling the whole frame of a soft black-and-white shot. It was taken by Diane Arbus, and it’s on view now at N.Y.U.’s Grey Art Gallery. Looking at it now reminds you that the adult Mr. Cooper still conveys a sense of little boyness, alone, but not lonely: a preternaturally grown-up child in a fancy suit, sitting erect and absolutely still on endless airplane trips. Mr. Cooper, even with his natural sexual charisma permanently set on high-beam, brings out an unusual parental urge in the people around him.

Mr. Cooper was very excited about a planned trip to Baghdad earlier this month, but his surrogate parents at CNN now won’t allow it. "I think that he should go if it makes sense. If it doesn’t make sense in terms of security, we’re gonna postpone," Jim Miller warned in February. Yesterday, CNN confirmed that, after a month of negotiations, they’ll allow send Mr. Cooper to go to Afghanistan in the next few weeks.

The complications of Anderson Cooper dissolve when he talks about field reporting, and his face changes and comes alive—mostly with sadness. Finally, finally, his highly controlled and reflective surface, his dirty adoration of the ironies of celebrity culture, his gorgeous suits, his very anchorness, all that is overwhelmed by his conception of the role of journalist as conduit for the endless story of human inequity.

From his time in Sarajevo, he said, he learned that "the person who lived a life of dignity and culture was reduced to panhandling their watch in the marketplace. And the person who knew how to put two wires together and run a gas line becomes president." In other words, he can’t forget what’s real: that life is chaotically unfair, and that news reporting is the flawed medium we use to try to make sense of that.

"People I enjoy interviewing the most are people caught up in circumstances—and not necessarily a world leader or a politician. It generally tends to be people who are just sort of very real, very human. The interviews I’ve learned the most from have been in Sarajevo, during the war. I met a girl at a water pump and she brought me back to her home, and I met her grandmother and her father.
"It was an interview which was not earth-shattering, and there was no discussion of geopolitics. She went to another room and put on makeup. She had a little baby. It turns out her husband was missing from the front and she was hoping he was alive, and her grandmother told me really that he was dead but she was just in denial about it. The grandmother served me coffee and the last of the rations. It’s in these little tiny moments and these … just these glimpses of reality. That was an interview, which to me … I will never forget, she said to me: ‘Paradise is a tomato,’ because they had this one tomato they’d been saving for a long time. Those are the interviews I enjoy."

One wonders if Mr. Cooper will ever have these essential experiences again—ever get to confront the world just like in the badass old days, crappy camera dangling from one hand, maybe broken-hearted but at least not bound into a pinstriped suit, tethered to the island of Manhattan. In the meantime, Anderson Cooper is a media control experiment, a new kind of specimen—crisp, cool and intelligent—being displayed within the confines of CNNs hermetically sealed glass. Will he ever be allowed to run free again?

Chris Matthews: MSNBC's best shot at staying in the game

February 22 2004
[USA TODAY Online]
The new chief of also-ran cable news network MSNBC, Rick Kaplan, brings with him two decades of broadcast news experience at ABC and, more recently, three years of cable news work at CNN. But the first point Kaplan made after being appointed to the beleaguered network last week was that he didn't plan any quick fixes. Although his prime-time talk show lineup — Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Deborah Norville and Joe Scarborough — places a distant third behind CNN and top-ranked Fox News, Kaplan said it should have time to grow. The brightest light on Kaplan's roster is Matthews' Hardball. This rough-and-tumble political chatfest is increasingly must-see TV for a small (443,000) but driven number of viewers whose thirst for politics extends far beyond what's in the newspapers and on the evening news. Lately, with Democratic primaries at the top of the national agenda, Hardball has been making inroads against CNN's young contender Anderson Cooper (455,000) in a battle for second place in 7 p.m. ET/4 PT cable news — though both are far behind the king at that hour, Fox's Shepard Smith, who draws 1.3 million. In Matthews, a former top aide to the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill, political junkies have a kindred soul. Matthews, who also hosts a successful syndicated weekend public affairs show, lives and breathes politics. "On Hardball, we assume that issues are important to the American people. What America does in the world, what kind of government we have, all that stuff is damn important," Matthews says. "But we also know that politics, in addition to having incredibly high stakes, is not always on the level and that what politicians say about why they do things and what they say about interest groups and what they do to win votes is not the truth. You have to wangle that from them." As such, it's no surprise that Matthews delights in describing how he got Howard Dean, who dropped out of the Democratic presidential race last week, to admit that during Vietnam he went to an Army induction center with a letter from his doctor and X-rays "hoping to get out of the draft. He was never going to tell me that, but I got it out of him. You've got to rattle the person." Doing so can be revealing, Matthews says, such as when the Democratic front-runner, Sen. John Kerry, told him his favorite movie is The Blues Brothers and his favorite philosopher is Yogi Berra. "There was a certain kind of condescension in that," says Matthews, a movie fan who recites lines from his favorites. "I thought it was a serious question. A lot of people identify with a politician based on who they believe in, what actors they care about. We have a popular culture." (By contrast, Kerry's rival Sen. John Edwards named The Shawshank Redemption as his favorite flick, and Matthews approved: "It's something an average middle-class guy would say.") Former Clinton spokesman Jake Siewert says Matthews, like NBC's Tim Russert, ABC's George Stephanopoulos and Fox's Tony Snow and Bill Kristol, "has spent enough time in politics and campaigns that he actually knows what he's talking about. That reservoir of practical knowledge separates him from a lot of the airbags out there in the cable wasteland." Democratic political adviser Mandy Grunwald, media consultant for Sen. Joe Lieberman's presidential campaign, agrees. "Chris doesn't put up with bull, which is the tough thing about doing his show. If people try to get away with just doing their talking points, he'll interrupt and say, 'That's ridiculous,' or, 'Come on, answer the question.' It makes for very good TV, but can be pretty high risk for the guests. If Chris wants to go after someone, he can make politicians look like they're full of it faster than almost anyone on TV." Not everyone is so enamored by Matthews or Hardball, now in its seventh year. Jim Miller, who produces CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 opposite Hardball, notes that even during this highly charged political season, Cooper's 5-month-old program continues to win. "I'm not worried one bit," Miller says. (On Thursday, 360 trounced Hardball, 450,000 to 299,000 viewers.) And Miller says that although Matthews may make inroads in this election year, 360 is all about exposing "viewers to a lot of things, whether it's a political year or not." Matthews, no shrinking violet in the ego department, does credit his regular ensemble guests — MSNBC political talkers Pat Buchanan and Scarborough, Ron Reagan and former Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi — with making Hardball stronger of late. These days, Matthews seems less prone to shouting, a former trademark — regularly lampooned on NBC's Saturday Night Live— that might have scared off some viewers. "Am I getting mellow?" he says. "I listen more." But, he adds, "I still love stirring the pot. I love to take on people who come on with what they think they have gotten away with 50 times before and stop them in their tracks. When I get that delight, I'm a happy troll: I catch the guy coming over the bridge and I'm waiting to bite the ankle."

Anderson Cooper Reveals What TV Newscasters Watch When They Watch TV

February 2004
[Paper Magazine Online]

We hope it's not unprofessional to confess our love for CNN newscaster Anderson Cooper. He brings intelligence and wry wit (not to mention a sexy, salt-and-pepper sophistication) to a news world that is sadly shallow. When we profiled Cooper for our 2002 Beautiful People issue, he told us that TiVo had changed his life. This month we asked him what programs are currently featured on his TiVo lineup. His show, "Anderson Cooper 360°", can be seen weeknights at 7:00 PM (ET) on CNN.

Law & Order: SVU "It's my favorite of all the `Law & Order' shows, although I am sad that Alexandra `Alex' Cabot (Stephanie March), my favorite A.D.A., is now in the witness protection program. I'm hoping she will return."

Law & Order: Criminal Intent "I don't love this one as much as the others, but I'm a `Law & Order' junkie, so I still need my fix. It should be noted I also TiVo all reruns of `Law & Order' on cable stations, thus eating up a lot of my TiVo memory."

Law & Order "Who doesn't love Jerry Orbach? I like to try to predict the pithy one-liner he will mutter before the first commercial break."

The Office "This BBC America program can be painful to watch, because some of the characters are so pathetic. But it's the funniest show on television."

Curb Your Enthusiasm "This is the second funniest show on television."

Sex And The City "I think they are smart to end the show on a high note. I've been TiVoing old episodes. It's interesting – the show just keeps getting better, and the women look better and better as they get older."

Six Feet Under "The writing is so clear and human. I can't wait for the new season."

The Sopranos "Bada Bing."

Anderson Cooper 360° "I know it seems egotistical to TiVo yourself, but you have to occasionally watch your own program to figure out what you want to change. The first day my name popped up on TiVo, it was kind of surreal."

60 Minutes "A great newsmagazine with great storytelling."
Primer Impacto "It's a Spanish language news program on Univision. I don't speak Spanish, but I like watching the daily astrological forecast given by Walter Mercado. He's like a psychic Liberace. It sure is fun to watch."

Et Tu, Nightline?

By Jill Rosen
American Journalism Review
February/March 2004
[truncated version] click here for full article"

If anyone is taking the brunt of the blame for exacerbating the media's inability to know when to say when, it's the 24-hour news operations. When the subject is breathless reporting, everyone knows that those voted most likely to pant are over on cable.

So it could seem ironic to some that Anderson Cooper, host of CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," takes a few moments most weeks on his program to feature something in the news that he thinks has "been done to death." The segment's apt name? Overkill. So far they've cast a bored eye on such over-discussed topics as Christmas, Jessica Lynch and Paris Hilton. Oddly, no Jackson or Kobe, but the irreverent Cooper is more likely than most anchor types to crack the occasional joke at his profession's expense.

"On the first day of Michael Jackson, at the end of my program, after everyone had done the story to the nth degree, I joked there should be an obit for all the stories no longer being told because of Michael Jackson," Cooper says. "We try to keep it in perspective as much as you can. But this will probably be in the overkill hall of fame."

Joking aside, as of December, Cooper wasn't overly concerned that the Jackson soap opera was getting disproportionate play. The day that Jackson was officially charged, Cooper led his show with John Lee Malvo being found guilty in the 2002 sniper shootings. Next up was an update in the case of a U.S. citizen held as an "enemy combatant." Only then came the Jackson. But earlier, after the pop star's arrest, Cooper unabashedly showed, for 15 minutes, shots of Jackson's motorcade inching through the streets of Las Vegas.

"One of the biggest entertainers ever is about to be arrested and shown in handcuffs. I don't think it's crazy that people would want to see that. I see no reason to apologize for that," Cooper says. "I thought it was fascinating. People were mobbing his car, the window would roll down and this little pale hand would pop out and wave. There are live moments that happen to be fascinating whether or not it's earth-shattering."

Nor does Cooper think much of the decision by some of his fellow journalists to take a pass on some of the more sensational stories. Like Powers, Cooper sees snobbery in that attitude. "There's an elitist part of that that is unattractive," he says. "I think it's a mistake."

Hot News: It's CNN's Cooper

by Mary Pat Hyland
The (Binghamton N.Y.) Press & Sun-Bulletin
February 3, 2004

There's an interesting buzz going around these days, and its focus is a new genre of celebrities: infohunks.

Anderson Cooper is a perfect example. Yale-educated and the son of fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt, he began his news career on Channel One, the network broadcast into schools around the nation. How did he land that choice job? Cooper told Papermag that in 1992 "I just started going to wars. I took a video camera and went to Burma." The videos he made there and in Haiti, Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda impressed Channel One.

He joined ABC News as a correspondent for the overnight "World News Now." Even in this weak time slot, irreverently witty Cooper was able to build a devoted fan base.

Cooper currently anchors the CNN news show, "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees."
Fast facts
Age: 36.
28: The age at which he began working for ABC News.
Vietnamese: His course of study at the University of Hanoi.

Debate Club
What's it like to be one man juggling
a roomful of really desperate candidates?

by Anderson Cooper

February 2004

Presidential candidates don't sweat. I know, Nixon did in his debate with Kennedy, but that was 1960. Since then NASA or some top-secret lab must have developed a special antiperspirant, because when today's politicians take off their jackets, even if they're under hot lights and trailing badly in the polls, their shirts seem remarkably stain-free. I'd never noticed this until I moderated a debate of Democratic presidential candidates on CNN and my own personal floodgates opened wider than Albert Brooks' in Broadcast News. When you're drenched in sweat, you tend to be painfully aware of how dry everyone else is. Moderating a debate is like conducting an orchestra. No one pays much attention to what you are doing unless things go badly, and then it's your fault. To prepare, you have to bone up on every candidate's stance on every issue. With nine Democratic candidates, that's a lot of boning. Reforming international fishing regulations? Sure, it's unlikely the topic will come up, but just in case, you'd better know what all of them have said about it. The whole process is a little like cramming for a final. Every night for several weeks, I'd lie in bed reading position papers and transcripts of all the debates the candidates had already taken part in. That month, I didn't need any Ambien. If you've seen any of the debates, you know the problem. There are simply too many candidates to make a debate interesting or effective. And most debates are as highly orchestrated as campaigns: Where the candidates stand or sit, how many questions are asked, how long the response time is-these are all matters addressed with heavy input and feedback from the campaigns.



Tongue in Cheek, Hip On Camera

By Howard Kurtz

Monday, December 1, 2003

After devoting a good chunk of his CNN talk show to the Michael Jackson circus, Anderson Cooper told viewers to "say goodbye" to media coverage of such important subjects as Medicare and stock-market reform. "We'll miss you," he joked. Not that Cooper is exempting himself from his tongue-in-cheek indictment of cable news excess. "We do things with a wink and a nod," he explains. "If you don't include yourself in the critique, you have no business doing it." As CNN's youngest prime-time host, the 36-year-old Cooper is being positioned as the hip face of the network -- despite his protestation that he's not particularly cool and is, in fact, "kind of boring." But who else would report on an MTV reality show starring ex-teen sensation Jessica Simpson and her husband, calling them "pretty, ridiculously rich and comprehensively clueless"? Or do a week-long series on "Infidelity in America"? CNN may be hoping that some of Cooper's celebrity dust rubs off. He is, after all, the son of Gloria Vanderbilt (who made a pre-Thanksgiving appearance on his show), as well as one of People magazine's sexiest men of 2002. So far, he hasn't brought any ratings magic. "Anderson Cooper 360" has averaged 474,000 viewers in recent weeks. That's down 28 percent from CNN programming a year ago and well behind the 1.3 million viewers for Fox News's Shepard Smith, though ahead of MSNBC's Chris Matthews. But CNN executives point to a 15 percent rise in the coveted 18-to-49 age group. Cooper calls the three-month-old venture "a show that can go from what's going on in Baghdad to some ridiculous pop culture item." He says he takes hard news seriously but tries to bring "a sense of irony" to lighter segments, particularly a closing commentary called the "Nth Degree." Citing a poll in which nearly two-thirds of Americans think they'll get into heaven, he deduced that "heaven has an acceptance rate of 64 percent. That means it's easier to get into heaven than it is to, say, Harvard or the Augusta National Golf Course." After Pat Robertson, no fan of the State Department, said he'd like to "get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom" and "blow that thing up," Cooper observed: "In fairness to Robertson, he didn't specifically say he wanted to kill anybody, although nuclear bombs are well known for at least creating widespread inconvenience." Little wonder, then, that CNN picked Cooper to moderate last month's "Rock the Vote" presidential debate, which he began by playing back many of the candidates' sound bites to try to deter them from canned rhetoric. "I was really pleased with it," he says of the debate, while conceding it was "unfortunate" that a CNN producer planted the much-ridiculed "Macs or PCs?" question with a college student. Some CNN staffers were wary when the prematurely gray journalist was hired in 2001, because he had just finished hosting an ABC reality show called "The Mole," featuring 10 strangers and one secret saboteur. ABC tapped him from its overnight news show, said the New York Times, "for fairly obvious reasons: he is on the young side and good looking (a draw to those young women so attractive to advertisers)." Cooper insists, rather half-heartedly, that he doesn't regret his "Mole" period and that it was "a fun experience." Clearly, his upbringing as the son of a famous fashion designer was out of the ordinary. The Times once ran a picture of him shaking hands with Charlie Chaplin, one of his mom's pals. But he says he learned early on that those who have "fame and fortune" are "just as unhappy and screwed up as everyone else." First he paid some serious dues. In 1991, Cooper quit as a fact-checker for the school video service Channel One and, armed only with a video camera, traveled to such strife-torn areas as Burma, Rwanda and Somalia. Channel One started using his reports. "I was terrified," he says, and sometimes slept on roofs because the major networks had booked the available hotel rooms. But "for me, it was always about going to far-off places and telling people's stories that weren't being told." Cooper recently revisited his past in a painful way, writing in Details magazine about the death of his older brother, Carter, who in 1988 leaped from the balcony of his mother's penthouse apartment. "I'd sort of been writing it in my head for some time," he says. "It was the notion of linking the events surrounding my brother's suicide and the things I learned from being in a combat environment. It was not pleasant." Perhaps Cooper's subversive streak comes from his privileged background and the resentment he felt toward big-time television honchos when he was "eating network dust" during his Africa travels. "I very much do not want to become what I used to make fun of," he says. "The newscaster on 'The Simpsons' sadly is not that far off from what you see out there."

Washington Post