Monday, December 29, 2008

The Worst of Anderson Cooper 360 In 2008

It's that time of year again. A time when media outlets everywhere take a gander over all the happenings of the previous 365 days and then squish those items into list form. I happen to have a special affinity for listicles, so this year I've decided that AC360 Review is going to get in on the action. In lieu of a normal post, the next two nights will be spent bringing you my picks for the best and worst of 360. The majority of the picks have been chosen by me, using my memory and a quick trip through my archives. I have also taken input from two other long-time 360 viewers.

I've tried to stick to issues only involving the show, which means these posts will be free of hologram and "BREAKING NEWS" mentions (the latter being something that I think is an issue of the entire network). But I'm sure a few items, specifically the criticisms, could still be applied to CNN as a whole or even the broader news media. Because I'd rather leave em' smiling than crying, I'm starting with the "worst" list first, items in no particular order. If you think I've left something out (and I've no doubt left out plenty) or disagree, feel free to chime in and leave a comment. And don't forget to come back for the follow up post where I give the show some lovin.

It was everything the media could have wanted in a news story: a major political figure, sex, hypocrisy, and it was important. The downfall of Eliot Spitzer was a completely legitimate story to cover. But unfortunately, once the true newsiness wore off, 360 couldn't let go. This led to a broadcast that consisted of an interview with a former pimp and a correspondent staking out a prostitute's apartment. Bizarre would be an understatement.

Every once and a while you run across a piece of journalism that is so abhorrent, it makes your jaw drop. This was one of those times. Drew Griffin's reporting on the community group ACORN left out pertinent facts and made biased insinuations. Everyone makes mistakes and I'd be willing to cut him some slack on this if the report was a one time thing (which is why I'm leaving off Tom Foreman's brief run-in with bad reporting). It wasn't. He continued the hackery all over CNN for days, taking much too long to finally get up to speed on the facts of the case. To add insult to injury, promised reporting of voter suppression, to my knowledge, never made it to air.

I'm not going to claim that 360 didn't cover the conflicts in 2008. That would be completely untrue and totally unfair. But the fact of the matter remains that the drop in coverage has been significant, with the lack of Afghanistan reporting being completely egregious. To my knowledge, the only broadcast in which Afghanistan was featured for most of the show, was when Drudge spilled the beans that Prince Harry was fighting there. The fact that it took a royal to get a light shined on everyone else is just shameful. That being said, in fairness I should point out that Anderson Cooper stated several times in 2008 that he was trying to get to Afghanistan. I have no reason not to believe him, so the effort should be noted.

Sometimes the media's tendency to go retarded becomes unbearable. The stakeout of Clinton's home when no one was even there falls into this category. They sure did fill up a lot of airtime with absolutely nothing. The Veepstakes coverage could also fall into this category. They just couldn't wait for their damn text message, could they?

I can't put my finger on exactly when (probably at about the start of the campaign), but at some point 360's broadcast shifted from being mostly fact-based reporting to sometimes majority speculative discussion. Given Anderson Cooper's tendency to note that he doesn't think viewers want to hear the opinion of a blow-dried anchor, one might wonder why he seems to think we do want to hear the opinion of a blow-dried pundit.

That's not to say the discussion is/was always bad. I am and will probably always be a huge fan of David Gergen, but the trivialities discussed and the amount of time given to this discussion every night is kind of ridiculous. And, quite frankly, lazy. There's a sense that they're just filling time instead of putting some effort into real reporting or even real interviewing. Compared to his colleagues, Anderson Cooper has barely conducted any real interviews this year. It's baffling. I'll be including one of them in the next post, but the fact that I had to reach back over six months to find it really says something.

This sort of overlaps with my last point involving the panels. So much speculation and just plain stupidness. Where to begin? Lip-stick on a pig? The dozens of, "can you believe that surrogate said that?" moments? Then there was all the hand-wringing about the polls when the election was months and months away. Oh my God, Obama isn't winning as much as he was before! He's doomed! There was discussion after discussion about demographics too. What does McCain have to do to win over taxidermists from Indiana who wear a size nine shoe? And let's not forget the narratives. Clinton has the nomination in the bag. Obama will take New Hampshire. The PUMAS will destroy the Democratic party! So much valuable airtime spent on making themselves look stupid.

My heading doesn't exactly convey what I mean to say, so let me explain. Objectivity in a journalist is unequivocally something to be admired. Anderson has stated before that he's proud of his stance and he should be. While he has always held his 'no opinions' beliefs, this year I have noticed that sometimes keeping with this standard has caused him to render himself ineffective as an anchor. Too many times I have witnessed a panel discussion in which a surrogate has been allowed to get away with saying something untrue because Anderson rarely ever challenges the guests. I realize there are time constraints, which in fairness should be pointed out, but asking a question and then presenting the answer (no matter how untrue or ridiculous it may be) to someone on the opposite side of the political aisle is not helpful to me.

As one of my friends says, "the job of a reporter, in many respects, is to ask the questions the viewers are unable to ask because they don't have access to the interviewee. That means questioning things at every turn, rather than being so "objective" all the time. Viewers have a sense of morality, and know damn well that sometimes there is a clear right and wrong. When Anderson fails to point that out, he's failing to speak for me, and thus failing to do his job. It makes me change the channel to someone who will ask questions for me."

I actually didn't want to include this item and initially thought maybe it was just my pet peeve, but I've had enough people bring up the objectivity issue to me unprovoked that I thought it relevant to mention. Regular readers might remember that I was particularly disturbed by Anderson's strive for balance when McCain and Palin (particularly the latter) were inciting violence at their rallies. Maybe I was being unfair in expecting anything more from him, but out of everybody, I figured he was someone who would get it. After all, he covered the aftermath of a genocide spawned by hate speech on the radio. I'm bringing this up again because Gary Tuchman (more on him tomorrow) actually went to some Palin rallies and did a good job at pointing out the hate speech without becoming opinionated. I think this is true in a lot of contexts--journalists are quite capable of calling people out or making points without becoming pundits. I wish someone would tell that to Anderson.

Yes, I feel a little bad about picking on Anderson twice, but such is the unfairness of life and he will get mentioned tomorrow. Almost exactly a year ago, our anchor made a little resolution in which he pledged to "blog much more often." His goal was to post every day. How'd he do with that? Epic fail! Over the past six months he's made a mere dozen or so blog posts, most of them in some way related to promotion. I was in no way going to hold him to daily blogging, but that's pretty bad. As for the live-blog, most nights we rarely get more than a "good evening," but really, I'm not going to complain about that.

I think asking him to chat with us and sometimes be on the webcast, all during his three minute breaks of broadcasting a live show, is a little much. I mean, should we make the poor guy stand on his head too? My one main beef with his live-blogging was when he would constantly say he was going to be blogging with us and then, uh, not. Don't be a fibber, Anderson. I don't think he does that much anymore and I don't think he should be made to participate. But the regular blog is another animal. I don't know what the deal is there. Brian Williams has the same stance of objectivity that Anderson does and I'm pretty sure he blogs almost every day. So...check in sometime, Anderson. We miss ya.


Blogger Anne said...

Hi Eliza,

A great post tonight, I have voiced some complaints to your previous blogs on the issues that you covered. The stakeout of the non-meeting was not a glorious night for the media. The panels have really worn me out. I agree with you, it's a time filler. After partially listening to Larry Elders last night, I say please stop the panels! I miss the Anderson that he was from a couple of years ago. Anne D.

6:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Drew Griffin's ACORN hackery needed to be called out. 360 needs to can him as their 'investigative' reporter, because of his obvious biases, it's always a major disappointment when he does a story on the show.

I actually enjoyed some of the political panels during CNN's election coverage and I understand why AC did as well, there were some good discussion and memorable moments between him and the various pundits and I liked Anderson's relaxed, humorous and serious demeanor as the ringleader, but they do not need to continue the format nightly on 360, it's time for a shake up and overhaul of the program. Anderson really does need to do more interviewing or at least more reporting on his own. I'm always shocked to hear his voiceover on a report because it happens so rarely.

One of the things that really irritated me was when Anderson repeatedly brought up Rev. Wright when discussion Obama and the campaign. Anderson constantly brought up the subject of whether or not McCain should use Wright as a weapon against Obama long after McCain had said he wouldn't do it, but AC kept at it to the point where it almost seemed like he was encouraging McCain to go after Obama with the Wright issue, although I realize that was probably not the case.

I completely agree that Anderson should lose the objectivity and neutrality when something is obviously heinous or wrong, no one would fault him for doing the right thing.

Anderson's reluctance to blog has been a big disappointment for me - I love his writing and his excuse that he doesn't always have time to do it doesn't really fly with me. How long would it take to weigh in on the blog at least once a week? I'd be happy with that. Anderson appears to be content to let Jack Gray do his blogging for him - I like Jack, but I miss Anderson's own posts. I have to say that the current mess going on with Anderson's comment about Rachel Maddow and her style of reporting might be one of the reasons he doesn't want to blog - he was completely misunderstood and his intent deliberately twisted to make it look like he was 'dissing' her - in that sense I don't blame him for not wanting to say much, but I still wish he would.

Good wrap-up Eliza, now if only CNN/AC could take your advice.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Pati Mc said...


6:49 PM  
Blogger Arachnae said...

I found the constant earmark coverage to be annoying. Just because spending is 'earmarked' doesn't mean it's wasteful or unnecessary. Yeah, Alaska didn't need that damned bridge (and could well have afforded to build their own, being oil-rich), but a Mule Museum might have been just the thing for that town that wanted one, heh. It would have created a few jobs and maybe fostered a tourist industry of sorts. Like things tend to cluster together - a Mule Museum may have caused someone to open a Country Crafts shop, and someone else to build a reproduction Old West downtown and voila - Family Friendly Fun in the West...

Frankly, at this point ANY government spending is good spending, as long as it pays people to make something useful and/or ornamental. 360's harping on the Evil Earmarks theme would lead one to believe they were disciples of Supply Side economics. I would hate to think anyone associated with the show was still drinking THAT particular flavor of Koolaid, but Drew? I strongly suspect he imbibes.

12:35 AM  
Blogger eliza said...

@Anne-Thanks. The panels have really changed the tone of the show. Hopefully now that the election is over, we'll see the discussion cut back to make room for more reporting. That is, if they don't layoff all the correspondents. *sigh*

@Anonymous-This was the year that I, unfortunately, lost pretty much all respect for Drew Griffin. I almost gave him his own category, but decided it would be less mean to just pick out his most egregious reporting.

The political panels could be fun sometimes. I actually enjoyed it when they had a thousand pundits in the Election Center after a primary election. My big issue was all the discussion about, well, nothing. They could have been using that time to cover other things.

I'm always shocked to hear an Anderson voice-over too. It happens so rarely.

You make a good point about Anderson's blogging, which I almost included in the post, but it was getting too long already. For whatever reason (and I'm sure some of us have a good guess), anything poor Anderson says is analyzed and picked apart by the gossips.

It's not fair and in that regards, I can understand his reluctance to blog. Not to mention that some of his fans are, shall we say, a little kooky. I'm still floored that people actually emailed him after he made an innocent joke about stalkers on the live-blog.

@Pati Mc--A woman of few words today, huh? Heh. Thanks.

@Arachnae--I agree. The earmark coverage often lacked context and made too many insinuations.

5:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eliza you called Dan Abrams out about his remarks about Anderson and the McClellan interview. Well he called AC out again on the Spitzer fiasco, by pointing out that Anderson stated that he had read the ads for the guy's escort service in magazines when he was a kid, sorry AC the guy didn't start the company until after 2000.

Talk about fact checking AC needs a new researcher.

9:19 PM  

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