Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Anderson Cooper's Stunt Journalism

From the Washington Times this morning a "news industry" look at Anderson Cooper's Planet In Peril. For the record we're going to depart from our CV and jump to Anderson's defense, that entire series was great conservation television:

Anderson Cooper is a fine journalist, which is all the more reason for CNN to stop trying to feed him to sharks.

Last night CNN ran its program "Planet in Peril: Battle Lines," which careened from continent to continent, crisis to crisis, anxiety to anxiety, in what can only be called porn for paranoiacs. Some of it was very well done, but the overall product, I fear, felt like stunt journalism, ranging from Lisa Ling braving the Nigerian backwaters to meet with gun-blazing militants to, most prominently, Cooper swimming with great white sharks.

First he swam inside a shark cage. Then -- Cooper in peril!!! -- he swam without the cage, among those mindless monsters, clinging to a rock at the sea bottom while they circled hungrily. You could almost hear Sean Hannity in the distance screaming "EAT HIM! EAT HIM!"

I found myself impressed more than anything by the CNN expense account. Cooper, Sanjay Gupta and Lisa Ling were zooming all over the planet, to remote deserts, an island in the Pacific, deepest jungle, the Andes, and so on, and documenting all manner of horrors and injustices. But it felt scatterbrained, showy and entirely driven by the visuals. Yes, it's neat to look at great white sharks up close, and to wonder if they'll devour the anchorman (to a cry of "Anchor away!!!), but what does that have to do with anything?

Here's the CNN Planet in Peril website.

And here's an exhaustive summary of all the amazing things that Cooper & Co. did to document the planet in peril.

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