Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Anchor as the Conscience of a Nation

NBC Nightly News's Brian Williams knows his place in the world of the press. After decades in the business, the man who occasionally calls his computer a typewriter said to the New York Observer's Rebecca Dana that there's no shortage of talking and opinion to nudge him into trading a news piece for it on his program. Williams said Walter Cronkite is accurate when he calls his show a "headline service" and a supplement to a daily paper.

But with the rising power of fellow reporters Katie Couric and wonderboy Anderson Cooper - whose blue eyes bump ratings every time they cry - is he right to staunchly reject jabber on the Nightly News when Cooper's "boyish elan" is markedly more effective than Williams' trusting visage? Salon's Neal Gabler writes:

The news is no longer regarded as a trust. It is just another competitor for viewers' time, another distraction in a world of entertainment, though what it is distracting the audience from is essentially itself ... CNN's innovation (unless you count MSNBC's halfhearted attempt a few years back with bespectacled Ashley Banfield) has been to turn the news into a backdrop for its handsome young star, Anderson Cooper.

Is Anderson Cooper the modern man representation of anchor, where content takes a backseat to the host for ratings?

Without saying a word, Cooper's tears are the gradual entrance of opinion into a mostly "direct" source of news - CNN. While it's common knowledge among journalists that all news has a filter, starting from the person who first reported it and the sources he or she first reported it from, most try their very best to report the whole thing, from all sides. Some have breakdowns over this ethical principle.

So when we watch Anderson Cooper, we get the news by Anderson Cooper, not the news with Anderson Cooper. To be rightly considered a visual reporter - and not a visual columnist - the man should be considered an anomaly in a job that, despite being visual, should aspire to be as transparent as a newspaper byline.

The news simply shouldn't tell you what to think. Even Walter Cronkite had to keep it together on reporting President Kennedy's death.

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