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

February 12, 2011 |  8:11 am

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

 

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