The press has spent the past week congratulating itself for awakening from its long slumber. After years of credulously reciting administration talking points about WMD and candy-throwing Iraqis, the corpse-lined streets of New Orleans have spurred reporters to finally get feisty with mendacious officials and slippery politicians. The most celebrated hero of this resurgence is CNN's Anderson Cooper.
When Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu congratulated her fellow politicians for their poised response to Katrina, Cooper cried bullshit. Finally, you gasped, a reporter who understands the ridiculous artifice of TV interviews. But then you stayed tuned to the rest of his broadcast.
As the prematurely gray, preternaturally boyish Cooper walked the devastated streets of Waveland, Mississippi, he approached a woman named Pauline Conaway as she returned to her wrecked home for the first time. Cooper quietly told his camera, "I mean, people are just coming back, one by one, and finding their homes just completely gone, and it's devastating, I mean." You could hear the tears welling in Cooper, as they have done many times in the past week and in his career. Then he waved his hand abruptly in front of the camera. "[A]ctually, let's.…" He shut the camera off so that it couldn't record the rest of this intensely personal, intensely sad scene. Needless to say, you know about Conaway's misery and the correspondent's virtuous pose, because Cooper broadcast it all.
The moment encapsulates all that is admirable and annoying about Anderson Cooper. He seems to appreciate the grotesque nature of TV news, its invasiveness, its frivolity, the gaping moral hole in its middle. But, despite this awareness of the phoniness and vacuity surrounding him, he proceeds to broadcast the self-righteous footage and join in the debasement of his profession. While he has garnered a reputation as the heir to Rather, Brokaw, and Jennings, his work doesn't justify that talk. He is a Yale-educated Geraldo Rivera.
Franklin Foer is the editor of The New Republic.