The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Anderson Cooper on Egypt Pt 2: Our real position on lying lies

Mubarak Anderson Cooper hit the leaders of Egypt last week for repeatedly lying, in what seemed like a marked departure from the moderate tone we once expected on CNN. It was unusual enough to write about here on The Big Picture, as I detailed how the CNN host used derivations of “lie” 14 times in just one “Anderson Cooper 360.”

I noted in my post that it was “hard to find fault with what Cooper had to say” about Egypt’s authoritarian regime. After all, as I wrote, we had all seen evidence of the government’s deceit on live TV, as the crisis around Tahrir Square built before our eyes.

Out here in the blogosphere that mild commentary — and my opinion that Cooper, despite being correct, sounded a little one note — has been twisted into something quite different. Apparently, I've learned that I'm guilty of a flat-out denunciation of the cable journalist and his truth-telling. Further tortured recastings suggest I also have a problem with those who speak truth to political power. To which I respond…..huh?

It’s not worth figuring out where this all started. But I'll take a swing at setting the record straight:

The website Mediate may have gotten the revisionism rolling. It headlined that I accused Cooper of going “overboard” and asserted that I “somewhat cynically suggest” Cooper’s outrage must be based on some “simple ratings lust.” That’s just dandy, but not what I said at all.

I simply noted that Cooper had been tilting for some months in the direction of the commentary-heavy reporting made popular by Fox News and MSNBC. The old barriers between news and commentary are less and less discernible on cable TV--an observation that I think hardly anyone would refute.

 In this instance, Cooper’s accusations of lying seemed well supported by the facts and, therefore, not open to any sort of factual challenge. As noted, I found no fault in the reporting.

What I wrote related, instead, to degree and editorial approach. It was fairly apparent that Hosni Mubarak and his gang had been less than trustworthy stewards of Egypt for some time. Wouldn’t it have been more instructive, once that deceit had been reported, for Cooper to try to explain a few other things? For starters, how about giving viewers a primer on why the U.S. snuggled up to the dictator in the first place?

Yet another report, this one on Huffington Post, about my Cooper commentary clearly left some readers believing I disagreed with the CNN host in principle. That, in turn, provoked hundreds of comments and messages to me about how I (cowardly mainstream media hack that I am) didn’t want anyone trifling with my soul mates in the Egyptian autocracy.

The scolding included a Twitter rebuke from Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald: “Someone should tell the LA Times that pointing out ‘lies’ of powerful political leaders is what good journalists do.” (I wouldn’t have known.) Greenwald followed with this: “That said, I'd be more impressed with Anderson Cooper using such language with US rather than Egyptian officials.”

Thanks, again. That would be helpful, except it’s exactly the point already made in my original report. I quoted USC Annenberg journalism professor Marc Cooper (no relation to the CNN star) as saying he would like to see CNN's Cooper take it to the next level, calling out not just foreigners but “American politicians when they overtly lie.”
Not that anyone has to rely on original meaning in the cyber world. Why look at what someone actually said, when there are so many other versions out there that you can riff on. You know, what people said you said.

 Nuff said.

--James Rainey
--Twitter: latimesrainey

 Photo: Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian leader just forced from power. On CNN, anchor Anderson Cooper took the unusual step of calling out Mubarak and other leaders for lying. Credit : Amr Nabil / Associated Press





Comments () | Archives (12)

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"I simply noted that Cooper had been tilting for some months in the direction of the commentary-heavy reporting made popular by Fox News and MSNBC."

Translation: Mentioning lies is "commentary" not "reporting." A "real" reporter allows subjects to lie with impunity and wouldn't dare point them out. As David Greggory of "Meet The Press" said recently "That's not my job."

Apparently the only person in the media allowed that job is Jon Stewart. Now go stand in the corner, Anderson, and if you behave we'll let you have another interview with Lady Gaga.

On the bright side, I was driven here to the LA Times to read your column - and this follow-up, and the LA Times ads - by Greenwald's link. As the saying goes "As long as he spells your name right".

It does look to me as if you've become the unfortunate recipient of all the anger people feel over the unwillingness of news reporters and anchors to do their job over the last many years.

Greenwald keeps coming back to David Gregory's quote:
"I think there are a lot of critics who think that . . . . if we did not stand up and say this is bogus, and you're a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn't do our job. I respectfully disagree. It's not our role."

...when that is exactly their role. Journalism should have something in common with science: a search for truth and a job of revealing what is and is not true. No scientist would write a paper saying that rocks and lead weights were measured falling at the same speed, but Plato said the lead falls faster, please decide for yourself. The scientist would end the paper with "Plato was wrong". Period.

Instead we get 'journalism' that notes that Americans have prosecuted foreigners for waterboarding, and any competent lawyer -or layman- has to agree that waterboarding is not legal treatment under the language of the UN Convention Against Torture (US law since 1988 when Ronald Reagan signed it into law), but the Administration says it isn't torture, decide for yourself.

None of that is your fault, but we do have very polarized politics and anybody not clearly on one side is treated as being on the other. You might as well have gently chided an anchor or columnist for being a "one note" for repeatedly using the word "torture" when most others were saying "enhanced interrogation". That's just clearly picking a side.

This is at the heart of the "Truthiness" issue: the notion that facts should not be spoken of as basic, incontrovertable facts if somebody strongly disagrees with them. There was a point when evolution could not yet be said to be a fact. That point passed in the early 20th century. It is not responsible or professional any more to treat it as anything but a fact. The fact that Mubarak was lying was clearly established two weeks before Cooper's uncompromising attitude; it simply wasn't "opinion" or "commentary" of any kind to say so after that point, just as it is not "taking a side" to call evolution a fact in 2011.

...calling out not just foreigners but “American politicians when they overtly lie.”

OMG, how can you tell that a politician is lying...his lips are moving!

If you had aligned your implications with your statements then you wouldn't have this problem.

How is accurately reporting that certain Politician's statements are lies, connected, or having anything at all to do with commentary and/or editorial slant?

I just don't understand the purpose of your original post.

(a) His reporting was accurate;

(b) We're noticing that Cooper is starting to become a little bit more like FoxNews and MSNBC because he's injecting more opinion and commentary into his reporting;


I just don't understand the purpose of the first post?

I suspect it was because of the tone Anderson took, that he was animated. Like, some FoxNews and MSNBCs pundits.

When you write this,"What I wrote related, instead, to degree and editorial approach . . . For starters, how about giving viewers a primer on why the U.S. snuggled up to the dictator in the first place?"

Sounds like you're in CYA mode now.

Perhaps the miscommunications were the result of a poorly written initial article. When I first read it I had no idea what point you were actually trying to make. For instance, the comparison to Al Franken's book is very easily read as dismissing Cooper calling out lies as "not the actions of real journalists". Furthermore you explicitly make a comparison between he-said/she-said journalism with a commentary heavy approach. That implies that those are the only options available to a journalist - either handle untruths by presenting both sides or be labelled as adding commentary. This goes to the heart of what your readers were objecting to. There is nothing "commentary heavy" or "opinion based" about pointing out lies as lies. Instead that is what good journalism is supposed to be. It may very well be that you wholeheartedly agree with this but you could not tell that from reading the initial piece.

The problem with the first post, if this apologia is a fair account, is its resort to meta-analysis, which can be both misleading and uninteresting, compounded by unsettling contradictions. As an example of the latter, take these two sentences: "It’s not worth figuring out where this all started. But I'll take a swing at setting the record straight." Not worth it, but I'll do it.

With respect to the former, it is plain that many intelligent, good-faith readers took your several remarks about calling out lies not merely as comments on "editorial approach" about Cooper's "one-note" tone. (What? And several paragraphs quantifying somebody else's utterances of "lie" isn't monotone?) Readers heard more than a complaint about style or bias. The begged question, of course, is whether calling a lie a lie, even several times, is an indication of bias, rather than an exercise of journalistic objectivity. It's hard to square your gestures of agreement as to the substance of Cooper's remarks with your complaint about "commentary," as if it were so easily distinguishable from substance.

But if all you were really interested in was remarking on an unusual but verifiable word-count, as a matter of determining when a reporter crosses some threshold of journalistic propriety, then the discussion simply isn't all that interesting. Your readers have been charitable in their assumption that you intended more than that.

"I simply noted that Cooper had been tilting for some months in the direction of the commentary-heavy reporting made popular by Fox News and MSNBC"

Unlike Anderson Cooper in his "Keeping Them Honest" segments and his coverage of Egypt, you have not provided anything to substantiate this claim or to justify the implication that Cooper has been doing anything unprofessional or unjournalistic. The "Keeping Them Honest" segments truth checking claims of those in power is not by any means new, is not politically partisan, and is based entirely in fact and in basic accepted ethics for those in office (i.e. 100% appropriate ground for journalists, and not some far out "comment" thing). The coverage of Egypt has not been any departure or change for Cooper. It is very much in keeping with his reporting on Katrina, Haiti, BP, and other major events where he scrutinized the actions and statements of people/companies in authority and looked at whether those authority figures involved were hurting or failing the people. Even the light jokey Ridiculist segment isn't really a new development for him, because it is very like the Nth Degree segment he used to end the show with years ago.

"Wouldn’t it have been more instructive, once that deceit had been reported, for Cooper to try to explain a few other things?"

He did report on other things, along with his experts and correspondents on his show. You ignored them to focus on his accurate talk about the regime lying and treat it as something that deserved to be isolated out and put at issue.

Reporting on the regime's lies was important to providing understanding the regime which was trying to convince everyone it should stay in power for some further length of time wasn't trustworthy no matter that it has been helpful to America in the past, the way the regime has operated and stayed in power, the cover ups being attempted, the confusion and some of the actions of the Egyptian people who were not part of the anti-government protests and were reeciving false official information about them, the way the west and Israel and reporters were being characterized, etc. The regime was continually putting out new lies, so updates were appropriate. Also, it was useful to give a clearer view of the regime to Americans accustomed to hearing of Mubarak (if they've heard of him at all) as a guy who has mutual friendship with the US and to any Egyptian viewers (apparently the show can be watched in Egypt on CNN Interntional, and, of course, there are Egyptians outside of Egypt).

"For starters, how about giving viewers a primer on why the U.S. snuggled up to the dictator in the first place?"

I gather you didn't actually pay attention to the coverage, then? Or you only watched a show or two? 360 did show pieces about America's relationship with the dictator that explained that. It also came up in discussion. Unlike the lies coming from the Mubarak regime, the reasons America supported the dictator weren't continually coming in or changing during coverage so it didn't call for updates.

As Mr. Ehrenstein and others pointed out, this is a pretty sad attempt at a walk-back. No, you didn't outright say it was *wrong* for television reporters to call a spade a spade, you just openly mocked him for it. That's different, right?

"I simply noted that Cooper had been tilting for some months in the direction of the commentary-heavy reporting made popular by Fox News and MSNBC."

Yes, and you did so incorrectly. Commenters and bloggers complained that you were accusing a reporter of drifting into commentary simply because he reported on the Mubarak regime lies and the violence that resulted from them. You responded by protesting that you never said there was anything *wrong* with "TV commentators" (Anderson Cooper is not a commentator, so this was either a veiled insult or an obtuse error) calling out lies. That's derailing. The point isn't whether you argued Mr. Cooper was out of bounds, the point is that you argued he was drifting into commentary in the first place--or that you felt there was anything out of the ordinary with 360's coverage of these events at all.

The only thing you did wrong was a perceived "attack" on Anderson Cooper. Don't you know that something that's not done? He's teflon. He can do no wrong. His mother is a Vanderbilt. You can't criticize him, even when he does something wrong. He and he alone has been deigned to "keep them honest". In case you haven't heard, he's a superhero, he's the savior of the world. You can't post negative comments to his blog or twitter without being blocked. Do not send email that doesn't fawn either, you will get the nastiest response ever.

They only want fawning. Learn that now and no one will get hurt. I know, I don't get it either, if he's going to be in that business he should learn that sometimes you have to be held accountable for your actions, that sometimes things you do hurt people and you need to apologize to them.

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