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)

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It is a breach of journalism NOT to call out lies by any subject of an article.

This fundamental omission is one of the prime reasons that American journalism has become such an abysmal failure. The dominance of corporate ownership in the media has guaranteed that no one will find the real truth to the most important issues of our day.

You want the truth? I suggest getting a second or third opinion, preferably from an international source.

In what world is calling a "lie", a "lie", opinionating? (which, btw, is not the same as calling someone a liar, which indeed would be editorializing, and which Cooper did not do).

If anything, not willing to call out a lie as such, is taking a position. A reporter, by printing a lie in his article, and not pointing it out as such is embedding that lie as part of the official record.

One would have thought that after the Iraq war, and the Valerie Plame fiasco the reporting class would have done some soul searching, but it seems that was way too much to expect.

Mr. Cooper,

I would have a lot more patience with this if YOU had called the Bush people out on their les that cost our nation the lives of its youth and its treasure. It seems to me, that you are upset that you were "roughed up" a bit. With all due respect, while frightening and egregious, it is not in the same category as the experiences of our troops in Iraq. Where was your indignation then? The "high road" is easy to take when there is no one to offend. Please become a bit less self-righteous. The entire media apparatus was "in-bedded" (mispelling purposely done, btw) during the Iraq build-up and war. Treason doesn't erase with time and treason is what that was. SAY THAT on your program. That is the truth.

the last paragraph says it all for me. When does some one grow a pair and call a liar for what they really are

Rainey, how does it feel to be so thoroughly trounced by Glenn Greenwald?

Since when is a factual statement that something is a lie "point-of-view" reporting? Maybe a more antiseptic remark can be made that it is 100% false. Maybe it is OK to add "lie" when there is also evidence of deliberate intent to assert a knowing falsehood. But this is not behavior that should be criticized by media people - the far more common failing in the media is to report without comment stuff they know is not accurate or truthful. Or to report it without bothering to fact-check at all.

This article demonstrates a basic failing of media types - that they are willing to reprint without critical comment stuff they know are lies or are too lazy to fact-check, because to do otherwise is tainted "point-of-view" reporting. All that this does is make lying more effective since no effort is made to fact-check crap propaganda - it is aired as "he said-she said" reporting. It makes the media the tool of liars, who rely on the timidity of media in actually indicating that knowing lies are being spread.

Rainey needs to rethink his basic assumptions about his craft.

Uh, okay. So Cooper has veered into opinion, because he called lying lying. What a strange interpretation of him. But this is so typical of why I avoid the American media who have confused objectivity with balance or multiple perspectives, when these are different concepts.

It's nice that Cooper can call out the liars in Egypt, people who hold no power over him and are likely to be gone in weeks or days. It would be nicer if he would do that here in the US. Our political discourse has been polluted by lies and the lies that cover for other lies, and the lying liars that lie there lying.

Very odd criticism. Anderson Cooper is being criticized for actually engaging in journalism. The author of this article tried to backtrack on his statements in an interview today on NPR, basically saying he felt Anderson Cooper used one word too many times. That is like criticizing him because you do not prefer the color of his tie. The author of this article is the one making baseless criticisms with this article, not Anderson Cooper.

Are you seriously complaining that a reporter that it was boring for a reporter to tell the truth on the air? If it's your policy that lies shouldn't be called lies lest you lose your audience, is that also the LA Times policy? And what makes James Rainey think that Cooper reserves the practice of journalism only for foreign dictators?

What is your goal with this piece if not to add pressure to real reporters to not do real reporting?

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