The Anderson Cooper effect

    Just last week I found myself falling asleep to a seemingly unending White House press conference about Egypt aired in its entirety by CNN. When I came to and switched over to the live feed on Al Jazeera’s website, I saw that the most-watched news channel on the Internet didn’t bypass its amazing coverage for the Robert Gibbs snoozefest. It merely condensed his talking-points-memo jargon into one concise meaningless sentence about “monitoring a fluid situation” and “reviewing our assistance posture” before moving on to better, more interesting things. I couldn’t believe an American cable news network had been topped so effortlessly. If anything, our TV news is supposed to be entertaining.

    CNN must have realized its airing of press conferences and Egyptian state TV wasn’t enough because this week everyone’s favorite intrepid broadcast journalist Anderson Cooper was live on the scene. And he didn’t waste any time making headlines. Less than three days after arriving in Cairo, Cooper and his crew were attacked by pro-Mubarak thugs in Tahrir square. Fortunately, he escaped without serious injury to steal attention away from the protests and looting of the Egyptian Museum, as Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri satirized:


    Stop the presses! Forget all that. This is Anderson Cooper we’re talking about here! THE Anderson Cooper, of CNN fame! Sure, the museum may contain manuscripts, but Anderson’s eyes contain volumes.

    I know the Egyptian Museum hosts valuable artifacts, but how does it look in a tight black t-shirt? They may have sphinx memorabilia. But Anderson Cooper is a real-life sphinx, shrouded in questions and mystery.

    The blue steel of his eyes is probably worth, like, eight hundred times all the lapis lazuli in the Egyptian Museum.

    Beneath this humor, however, are signs of a major strategic error on Mubarak’s part, which Petri also notes:

    Some Mubarak supporters punched him? If I had any vestiges of support for Mubarak, they are gone! How dare they lay hands on this shining tabernacle of manly virtue? Sure, he’s a news reporter in a volatile area, and that comes with certain risks. But he’s Anderson Cooper, a name which can also be rendered: “He Whose Porcelain Beauty Is To Be Handled With Utmost Care Wherever In The World He May Be Located.”

    Before Cooper was attacked, the mainstream media was having a hard time, as Dustin Howes put it earlier, “distinguishing the players” and instead “portrayed the events in a way that the casual observer might think that all sides are instigating violence.” But now that narrative can change. That’s what happens (or should happen) when a leader lets his thugs beat up one of America’s most recognizeable TV personalities—he loses any chance of garnering sympathy or benefit of the doubt.

    Unfortunately, Cooper isn’t the only journalist to have had a run in with Mubarak’s thugs. According to Democracy Now!, “Journalists with CBS News, ABC News, BBC, the Washington Post, Australian Broadcasting, Danish TV2 News and Swiss television were also reportedly attacked.” But, of course, they don’t look as good in a tight black t-shirt.

    So can Cooper’s star power help to prevent further injury to journalists? Perhaps not, as Cooper’s latest tweet, just two hours ago, indicates: “Situation on ground in #egypt very tense. Vehicle I was in attacked. My window smashed. All ok.”


    But Cooper and other journalists on the ground in Egypt can, through their bravery, show the world what ordinary Egyptians are facing and why their demands for a new and democratic state must be met. Perhaps such public awareness can sway the forces still holding Mubarak in power to action—not the least of which is our financial backing of the military. Is it time for that review yet?

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