The Importance Of Being Anderson

In the San Francisco Chronicle today, Tim Goodman writes that Anderson Cooper's "career has yet to suffer the inevitable media backlash that comes with insta-fame…"

I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with Goodman. It seems to me that Cooper has experienced the ups-and-downs of "insta-fame" quite a bit already. Around the time of Hurricane Katrina, during which he conducted a confrontational interview with Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, Cooper was hailed as journalism's savior, a compassionate newsman who brought heart and outrage back into the news business. But once he was named as Aaron Brown's replacement at CNN – just about two months later – he had gone from the solution to the problem.

Consider the following:

Two pieces on popular media roundup site Romenesko today, the Chronicle piece above and one from the Boston Globe, suggest Cooper may soon become a has-been. "Just as 9/11 begat [MSNBC anchor] Ashleigh Banfield, so did Katrina create Anderson Cooper," Matthew Felling, media director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, said in the Globe. ''Which begs the question: Anyone seen Ashleigh lately?"

On Friday, Kay McFadden wrote in the Seattle Times that she loves Cooper as a reporter, "[y]et his weakness is providing analysis and perspective — precisely the skills most needed by an anchor." That same day, Paul Brownfield, in the LA Times, compared Cooper to journalistic whipping boy Geraldo Rivera. (A comparison also made in The New Republic by Franklin Foer, who, to his credit, beat the backlash by a good month.)

And here's some emails to the website TV Newser:

"Hearing the news that Aaron is being replaced by Anderson, I predict that it won't work for long, ratings will drop, and Anderson's youthful zest will not be able to carry it alone; he simply doesn't yet have the weight."

"Can anyone really believe that Jon Klein is replacing the gravitas of Aaron Brown w/ Cooper -- a former reality television host who has only been in the news business for 4 years and never even covered 9/11?"

"Great, now TWO overexposed, undertalented anchors at CNN -- Wolf [Blitzer] and Coop."

Now, perhaps the criticism isn't all that surprising, considering all the praise lavished on Cooper since Katrina. It was catnip to media critics and doubters who'd endured the his coronation weeks earlier.

Nonetheless – and this may be quixotic – but is it too much to ask that both sides cut down on the hyperbole? The problem with overblown praise is that, well, it's overblown. And by the same token, the backlash such praise invites can go too far in the other direction. Cooper will get a chance to show us who he is, and we needn't jump to measure him by his coverage of one storm or his stylistic differences with one peer.

Maybe it's possible in our hyper-stratified media world to speak of our newsmen without transforming them into either saviors or signs of journalistic decay. The Cooper rollercoaster, however, suggests that, perhaps, it's not.