Anderson Cooper Has Grown Into a First-Rate Journalist--In Part Thanks to David Gergen
"Larry King Live" can't hold a candle to "Anderson Cooper 360". Cooper's 10:00pm offering was also surpassing Lou Dobbs who recently resigned from the network. While the color tone of Larry King's hour keeps getting lighter and lighter (I think he interviewed Michael Jackson's family and friends during the entire month after Jackson's passing), Cooper's hour is a breath of fresh prime-time air, a return to hard journalism after an hour of the trivial and the banal. Cooper started out some years ago as the new pretty boy on the CNN block, a kind of news star for teenyboppers and twenty-somethings. But I think after having rubbed shoulders with the likes of Wolf Blitzer and many other heavy-hitters of journalism, both Cooper and his colleague John King are forging careers more and more reminiscent of Mike Wallace and David Frost rather than light-weights like Larry King and Matt Lauer. If you don't agree, consider that Cooper has even done assignments for "60 Minutes".
One of the strongest aspects of Cooper's show is the inclusion of David Gergen and Jeffrey Toobin as political commentators. Gergen may be the finest political commentator on the television airwaves, with Mark Shields and David Brooks of PBS right behind. (In fact, Gergen had been paired with Mark Shields at PBS before he had been asked to help at the Clinton White House in the early 1990's.) Gergen has an amazing insight into the psychology of the American political landscape that is just simply unmatched outside of print journalism. So you have to credit Anderson Cooper playing the same role as Jim Lehrer does on Fridays on PBS, asking probing questions to get to the meat of all matters political concerning current issues. While Gergen is certainly Cooper's cleanup hitter, Jeffrey Toobin and some of the other commentators also rank as top-notch journalist-commentators, particularly Carl Bernstein and Ed Rollins. (Although in an amusing moment, Toobin was caught watching a Boston Red Sox game on his laptop the night of the 2008 presidential elections! I don't think CNN was paying him to watch baseball.)
Anderson Cooper's stories are insightful, relevant, and he is not afraid to engage in field reporting which is where he started. Occasionally, he'll be on assignment in Afghanstan or Iran, plowing through the mud of the human experience to get the real story. That's real journalism, pure and simple, not just pontificating opinions at a studio desk with a microphone. (Anybody with half a brain and studio backing can do that.) Cooper engages both conservative and liberal commentators. I disagree strongly with some of the assessments made here that 360 leans left. David Gergen served republican presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, although he is declared as an independent. Ed Rollins, who is just about as conservative as they come, is a regular commentator-contributor. (Although if your idea of conservative is Bill O'Reilly, I have nothing further to say on the point.) Cooper has done well to balance on the center divide of issues allowing both sides of the political spectrum equal time. Whether this will eventually land Cooper a position as a television news anchor is hard to tell, but I don't think that's where his strength lies. Cooper is showing his meat as a relevant hard-nosed reporter striving to use journalism for what it was meant to do: inform to make a difference, not just entertain. How can the public possibly make informed decisions and evaluations about its leaders if it is not informed?
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