Like many observers, Media Nation has been heartened by signs that journalists are finally starting to push back against government officials, even if it took the worst natural disaster in American history to goad them into it. (Jay Rosen’s roundup is here.) CNN’s newly angry man, Anderson Cooper, is becoming more prominent by the day. Yesterday morning, Cooper got front-of-the-arts-section treatment in the New York Times. By last night, he was expounding on “The Charlie Rose Show.”
But is the media’s get-real moment, uh, real? Not to generalize; I’m sure most of what we’ve seen, heard and read is heartfelt. Yesterday, though, Drudge flagged a stray paragraph deep inside Michael Kinsley’s Los Angeles Times column that makes you wonder. Kinsley – who is reportedly stepping down today as editor of the Times’ editorial and opinion pages – wrote:
KINSLEY: The TV news networks, which only a few months ago were piously suppressing emotional fireworks by their pundits, are now piously encouraging their news anchors to break out of the emotional straitjackets and express outrage. A Los Angeles Times colleague of mine, appearing on CNN last week to talk about Katrina, was told by a producer to “get angry.”
Kinsley’s column is really about something else: the human instinct to ignore warnings about disaster until they actually occur. And his “get angry” line is tossed off in such a way that it doesn’t appear he attached much importance to it. But if this has become standard operating procedure at CNN rather than just an odd moment experienced by one of his Times colleagues, then it’s worth investigating further. Spontaneous anger and staged anger are two different things, obviously.
In a post on The New Republic’s website yesterday (sub. req.), Franklin Foer argued that Cooper is nothing but “a Yale-educated Geraldo Rivera.” After describing several examples of Cooper’s heart-on-his-sleeve reporting, Foer continued:
FOER: Cooper, who at times seems to posses a sophisticated ironist’s view of his business, must surely appreciate the dangers of this brand of emotionalism. The suits at TV networks swoon for tears and outrage because they draw larger audiences. (It’s the reason that Geraldo keeps getting hired.) But melodrama and sputtering outrage aren’t precisely the same as truth telling. In fact, they are often the enemies of it. (See Fox News for the obvious case in point.)
Obviously there’s nothing wrong with journalists asking tough questions of government officials, whether those officials are inclined to answer them or not. For too long, the Bush White House managed to avoid those kinds of questions. But to substitute fake anger for supine cravenness isn’t an improvement.
Please understand: I’m not saying that Cooper’s anger is fake. As best as I can tell, it seems to be genuine. But Kinsley’s tidbit suggests there may be something deeper and more disturbing going on at CNN. I’d like to know more.