Open Mic

Anderson Cooper's Heart Is in the Right Place, But as a Reporter, He's Made a Big Mistake. Makes You Wonder -- What's Going on With His Bosses at CNN? Catch-22

Chuck Ross Posted July 25, 2012 at 6:59 AM

Soon after the news hit last week that a gunman had killed 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., CNN’s Anderson Cooper was on a plane to that city.

He arrived in time to do both editions of his signature CNN show, “Anderson Cooper 360°,” live on Friday night.

Soon after the start of the 10 p.m. ET version of the show, Cooper made this announcement on-air:

“Before we go any further, I just want to say that I’m only going to mention the alleged shooter’s name a few times over the course of this next hour. Too often after a shooting like this the killer’s name becomes well known and months, even years later the killer’s name is recalled, but the victims, the survivors' names are not. I think that’s wrong. We’re going to tell you about the suspect -- all we know, all we can -- but we want to focus in the hour ahead on the 71 people shot or wounded last night, including the 12 who died.”

Cooper had expressed a similar sentiment during the first, earlier version of “Anderson Cooper 360°” on Friday night, but hadn’t formalized it as the policy of the program.

During that 10 p.m. version of the show, he repeatedly restated the policy of not publicizing the suspect's name. And most of the time, when it would have been natural for him or one of his colleagues to mention Holmes' name, they deliberately avoided saying the name, substituting the word "suspect" instead.

Cooper was still in Aurora on Monday, and he repeatedly restated the policy for his show at that time as well.

I did not see “Anderson Cooper 360°” last night.

During that 10 p.m. version of the show last Friday, at least once  -- when it came time for CNN’s Randi Kaye to give her update on the alleged shooter, James Holmes -- she delivered her report straight, using Holmes' name when appropriate and not shying away from using it.

However, by the time Monday rolled around, and a panel appeared on the Cooper program to discuss Holmes -- including New Yorker and CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin -- all were playing along with Cooper’s charade, and in at least one roundtable segment awkwardly didn’t mention Holmes’ name when it would have been natural and expected for them to do so.

I say charade very deliberately.

There is no doubt that Cooper’s sentiments about not using Holmes’ name are heartfelt. And most, if not all, of the victims of the shooting in Aurora, and their relatives, are pleased with Cooper’s policy.

But it’s not journalism. It’s not what a news reporter should be doing. A news reporter needs to deliver the news in as straightforward a manner as possible. And that includes telling readers and viewers the names of the people involved when it’s appropriate to do so.

Who is Cooper to say what the public should choose to remember about this tragedy and the players involved in it “years later”?

It’s ridiculous for Cooper to say -- as he has during the reporting on this tragedy -- that he would not mention the suspect's name in the usual course of reporting--except for a few times--because we know who the suspect is.

It’s a charade -- and it’s a slippery slope.

Let’s say, in the middle of Cooper’s broadcast last Friday night or this past Monday, he got word that Jerry Sandusky had just then been convicted by a jury of child molestation.

Taking Cooper’s decision about not mentioning Holmes’ name too often as Cooper’s now official policy about these kinds of situations --that is, carrying his idea out to its logical conclusion, wherein one would then never want to identify perpetrators of heinous crimes to the public -- Cooper would probably, at first, deliver the news straight, using Sandusky’s name.

But subsequently, during most of the show, as Cooper kept discussing this news, he’d have said, “In case you’re just joining us, the jury has returned a verdict in the case of the person accused of child molestation at Penn State. You all know who I’m talking about. I’m not going to mention his name, of course, because I don’t think it’s right that you might remember it. Ever.

“Now, about his victims who testified in court against the perpetrator, who convinced the jury to convict him, well … Hmm. Since child molestation is so sensitive, we’re not going to mention their names either, even though they are adults now. So all you need to know is that the guy who was accused of child molestation at Penn State recently was convicted.”

And where the hell are the folks who are supposed to be overseeing Cooper and CNN in all this? By letting Cooper continue his policy, we have to assume they agree with it.

With apologies to Joseph Heller, Cooper's policy reminds me of Catch-22.

There is only one catch, and that’s Catch-22, which specifies that a reporter delivering news in a straight forward manner is the process of a rational mind. Cooper and his on-air contributor colleagues know Sandusky’s name and should use it. But as soon as they use his name they are in violation of Cooper’s policy and shouldn’t use it. Cooper and his on-air contributor colleagues would be crazy not to mention Sandusky’s name and sane if they did, but if they were sane they couldn’t mention Sandusky’s name.

As Yossarian did before me, I marvel at the profundity of Catch-22.

It's a great catch, the best one there is.

It just doesn’t belong in a newsroom.