The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Egypt: CNN's Anderson Cooper on lies and the lying liars who tell them

Andersoncooper It’s not often that American television news figures accuse government officials, foreign or domestic, of lying. But CNN’s Anderson Cooper made up for that, big time, this week. He heaped the pejorative on Egypt’s leaders 14 times in a single “Anderson Cooper 360.”

Though the Big Picture knows of no record book for declarations of mendacity, that must have been some sort of new high -- at least for mainstream American news. Cooper's accusations of “lies” and “lying” got so thick on Wednesday’s show that the host seemed to be channeling comic (and now U.S. Sen.) Al Franken’s 2003 book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.”

(Over on Fox News, meanwhile, Glenn Beck has decided the Egyptian revolution is about the worst thing that would happen to humankind. My "On The Media" column takes a look at his rants.)

The CNN star regularly devotes a segment on his show to “Keeping Them Honest.” Some critics have noticed Cooper's pronounced shift toward more opinion-making in recent months. One theory is that CNN -- which has hewed to traditional he-said/she-said reporting in the past -- may be trying to adopt the more commentary-heavy approach of its higher-rated competitors, Fox and MSNBC.

Cooper, who had been roughed up by thugs a couple of times during his recent visit to Egypt, made no bones at the top of his Wednesday night show about the direction he would take. “A lot happening tonight,” he told viewers. “We're again devoting nearly the entire hour to Egypt, the entire hour to debunking the lies the Egyptian regime continues to try to spread about what is really happening there.”

A moment later he described the efforts of “Egyptian government efforts to hold on to power by lying to Egyptians and lying to the world.” He was off and running. By the time his show was over, Cooper also noted that the government “continues to distort or hide the truth about how many people have been killed or detained in the demonstrations.” (Nice change-ups, Anderson, but those don't get logged on our tote board, because they aren't derivations of the verb “lie.”)

Cooper cranked out another five lie-derivatives in reference to an Egyptian anchorwoman, who had quit state-run TV because she was no longer willing to fib, prevaricate and mislead. Cooper also hit now-ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak and his government with a trifecta of deceit: for saying journalists had started the unrest, for claiming the only options in Egypt were chaos or totalitarianism and for charging protesters with resorting to violence. “Lies,” “lies” and “a lie,” Cooper declared, though not all in one breath.

The anchor also nailed the nation’s foreign minister for a whopper. The minister had claimed that a state of emergency in Egypt was necessary because 17,000 prisoners had been freed to the streets. “And it sounds almost plausible at first,” Cooper rejoined, “but then you remember that the Mubarak regime has been ruling under a state of emergency for nearly 30 years.”

Cooper handled most of the extraordinary truth-squading session all by himself. Though he did offer a video of the penitent Egyptian anchor, Shahira Amin, in evidence. She talked about how she had been told by the Interior Ministry to say that the Muslim Brotherhood had instigated the protests and also to blame “foreign agents” for fomenting trouble. Amin could not stand it any more. She resigned.

The CNN anchor noted that some viewers complained via e-mail that his unforgiving tone toward the Mubarak regime was “somehow personal, because I and my team was attacked by thugs on two occasions, that somehow I've lost objectivity.”

He moved to quash that notion: “Answer to that," Cooper said, "This is not personal. This is not to insult Egypt. This is about the truth, and all the reporters on the ground, and frankly all the people in that square and most of the people around the world have seen the truth in Egypt.”

Indeed, it’s hard to find fault with what Cooper had to say, though it did begin to sound a little one-note after about the sixth or seventh "liar, liar." We got the point a few minutes into the show. And its doubtless many in the audience didn't understand, since the evidence appeared right on our TV screens all week.

“I have no problem with this point-of-view reporting because it was fully substantiated and accurate,” said Marc Cooper, a veteran journalist and professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication.  “I applaud its honesty, even if motivated by commercial concerns. But it begs a monster question: Is CNN permitted to call only foreign leaders liars? How refreshing it would be to see that same piercing candor directed at American politicians when they overtly lie.”

-- James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: CNN's Anderson Cooper has had his fill of members of the Mubarak regime in Egypt. He let them have it with both barrels this week, repeatedly accusing the government of lying to its people and the world. Credit: Bryan Bedder / Getty Images


Comments () | Archives (56)

The comments to this entry are closed.

where were you during the bush "pants on fire" years, anderson?

Marc Cooper makes a key point. It would be nice to see AC call Mitch McConnell and John Boehner liars whenever they claim that giving tax cuts to the wealthy creates jobs. A lie is a lie.

Journalists have every right, indeed an obligation, to reveal lies and misbehavior by governments, politicians or other public officials.

But, this can and should be done the traditional way - through solid journalism. If Cooper descends into what is a copycat kind of opinionated "reporting," I frankly hope it bombs.

CNN may see this as a way to make more money by competing with Fox News and MSNBC. The facf remains that there is no substitute for objective journalism. The news doesn't have to be dumbed down for reasonably intelligent viewers to understand it.

James Rainey, you are a liar. Mubarak's "distorting the truth" or "hiding the truth" are INDEED derivatives of the word "lie and not "change-ups" as you try to twist. It might be time to get a new tote board. Haven't you heard of lies of omission? Look up "lie" in the dictionary before you call yourself a writer. It's embarrassing.

Marc Cooper, you too are a liar. Anderson Cooper DOES call out American politicians when they lie. Suggesting otherwise is a lie in itself... or sheer ignorance. Which is it? What do you think that "Keeping Them Honest" segment is about every night? Your ignorance is no excuse considering your position at USC.

The goal of every journalist should be to find the truth and the effort to seek verifiable, factual truth should be championed, not criticized. Your own lack of objectivity is showing. Shame on you both.

As for Anderson, his personal comments and opinions should be eliminated if he is going to be a true journalist. On that point I can agree.

Cooper is a grand standing joke. He has virtually no ratings, & he acts like a big sissy over a few punches. Did anyone see the beating those two Fox
reporters took from the police thugs?, they were nearly killed the other
day. Cooper is a wimpy version of Geraldo Rivera with with well monied genes & finishing school.

Uh - if we called out all the lying liars (whatever nationality, but politicians only) and the lies (on whatever subject) they tell, there would be no time to report any other news. Let's simply assume that as a given and go forward.

Kudos to Cooper for doing what is missing in much of media. i.e Exposing deceit and yes Lies. Don't be so flip about hearing the term 'lies' many times, like you're soooo tired of hearing about it sitting on your couch. People have their skulls cracked open because of one little 'lie ' told on State TV, which took maybe 15 seconds. But hundreds got their heads beat, including Cooper.
So be a little more respectful and understand that lies lead to deaths, and tragedy. And it is the absolute mission of reporters, journalists, anybody who has ANYTHING to do with media (TV, internet, radio), even making coffee for anchors, to stand up and expose LIES. Because ordinary people have no means to do it. It is the solemn obligation of those who control the airwaves to shut down lies, because if they don't , people will die, and the lies will only grow.

Totally agree about calling anyone out for telling blatant lies and spreading purposeful misinformation. Problem is everyone lies to themselves, about themself, someone or some thing for self-preservation. No one is immune especially in this competitive society. For a network to do this would expose their top executives to scathing criticism and shine a bright light on their blatant hypocrisy.

James Rainey makes a good point in stating how refreshing it would be if AC's "piercing candor" was directed at lying American politicians. CNN has been such a "he said, she said" news operation that it's largely lost truth and facts in politics.

With the occasional exception of AC, interviews with politicians -- especially so-called "conservative" ones -- seem like canned events where softball questions enable one talking point another. Blatant lies in response to these questions go unchallenged by on air talent like Wolf Blitzer and John King.

Too often, CNN covers and unwittingly gives credibility to fringe elements of society, staying in "he said, she said" mode while fact checking little or nothing. Although often accused by right wing radicals -- a more accurate description of most American "conservatives" -- of being liberal, CNN has helped make media stars out of Sarah Palin and a host of other nasty telegenic no nothings on the right wing.

Cooper is becoming just like those journalists/teleprompter readers that preceeded him. More opinions than factual news reporting. The new breed of reporters are more interested in becoming the news than reporting it.

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