From Katrina to Crushing Coke Cans: The Dumbing Down of Anderson Cooper

Just two years ago post-Katrina, the New York Times gushed over Anderson Cooper, the "anchor who reports with a heart on his sleeve….he’s anything but slick and packaged."

I watched the last, interminable eight minutes of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 the other night.  After the inane banter between Cooper and correspondent Erica Hill (which concluded with Cooper crushing a coke can in an apparently scripted moment), my husband yelled from his office across the hall: "omg! it’s the news equivalent of vaporware!"

It’s not been a great week for news.

CBS parachuted Katie Couric into Iraq in a bid for ratings and credibility. Her Iraq-lite reporting - especially her little lecture to Syria’s President Assad, asserting that she was in Iraq and Bush was trying to "move democracy forward" - was more reminiscent of a Fox News Bush Administration infomercial.  No wonder Americans have turned to ABC’s Charles Gibson for their news.

When Couric finally got around to pitching President Assad a few hard balls, her reading glasses appeared and she seemed to be consulting the clip-board on her lap.

In the meantime, the real stars - including CBS’ Lara Logan and CNN International’s Michael Holmes - probably dragged themselves back to their fortified compound after a fire-fight. When we last spoke over dinner about a year ago, Holmes said that he and quite a few other journalists share the compound, far far away from the comfy (but increasingly dangerous) green zone.

For two decades, Holmes has covered most of the world’s hot spots, including Rwanda.  Rwanda was extraordinary, he said, because there were "bodies everywhere.  Piled everywhere!"  But he never felt personally threatened until Iraq where journalists are high-value targets.

Holmes and his cameraman have the names of their Iraqi body quards who died protecting them tattooed on their forearms. It’s understood (amongst themselves and their guards) that they will not allow themselves to be captured. They intend to fight their way out of a situation - or die trying.

Last night, BBC journalists were busy picking their way through the slums of Casablanca to report on the links between poverty, oppression and Muslim fundamentalism. CBS chose to focus on a feel good story about Syria’s effort to preserve the Aramaic language in small village outside of Damascus, conveniently overlooking the political oppression.

The state of our news is pretty dismal as Ted Koppel attested in a quite a rant at TCA last year.  I’m afraid Wednesday night’s AC 360 only proves his point. CNN bills AC 360 as "a provocative alternative to the typical network evening newscast, going beyond the headlines to tell stories in-depth and from many points of view."

But here’s how the "provocative" program shaped up:

After a segment featuring the new iPhone-emulating iPod, "I’s not a phone, Anderson," says correspondent Erica Hill.

"Its very exciting and everything but I feel like as soon as I get it, there’s going to be something better coming out," says Cooper

"Well, you know, that’s the chance you take," beams Hill

"I can’t commit to the iPhone because the second generation will be better," whines Cooper

"Well, it could happen and then you’re just a looser w/ the first generation," says Hill who is clearly younger.

Cooper holds up his thumb and forefinger in front of his forehead in the "L" sign.

Hill: and like, oooh, couldn’t update buddy? What’s wrong w/ you?

Cooper: Right, exactly. Oh you know, that’s a FINE, first generation iPhone.

Hill:  Does that thing still work?  It’s so heavy and large.

Cooper giggles, then says: "Large is the new small…oh, no, wait, it’s the other way around. Small is the new large..," he trails off.  "I don’t know…," then brightly, "it’s time for The Shot!  Check out this guy!!!  Bill Kasmeier!  When he’s not crushing kitchen pans….look at this!  He’s rolling a up a…"

"He’s rolling the pan!!" exclaims Hill.

"Yeah look at that," Cooper confirms, "he’s rolling the pan with his bare hands."

"Did he heat that up on the stove first!?" wonders Hill.

"I don’t think so," says Cooper, "he can pull trucks like that." (Kasmeier appears on screen in a harness pulling a truck.)  "He’s been crowned the world’s strongest man three times," reports Anderson. "He was at the opening of a YMCA in Pennsylvania.  The guy has forearms bigger than like, I dunno know, my,  um, thighs."

Hill: "I’m in awe, frankly."

Cooper giggles again.  "Yeah?  Well, you know what.  I’ve been working out a little.  Watch this!!!" Cooper dredges up a coke can and crushes it one fisted, on air.

(I’m thinking - you must be kidding. Somebody scripted this!?}

Hill: Ohhhh Cooper. Yeah!! Showin’ off the guns!! Who knew we were gettin’ tickets to the gun show tonight!?

Cooper holds up a forearm and  flexes a bicep, "You need a permit for this gun, baby!"

Hill:  yeahhh, well - I’ll work on the permit.

Hill retrieves a white plastic fork that she holds up on screen as the camera pulls back. "Aheeeeemm.  Have I mentioned that I lift a 20 pound child daily?" She holds up the fork, and breaks it in half with a sharp snap!

"Wooww!" admires Cooper. "This fork stood no chance," says HIll.

Cooper: you saw my crushed can and raised me.  Hill: I raised you a plastic fork…in two.

Cooper giggles some more than lapses into nervous silence. Hill swoops in for the save. "Never a dull moment here on AC 360!"

Seriously, I’m not making this up - and I can’t help but wonder if Anderson Cooper is a little miserable being saddled with crushing coke cans in primetime.  He said at TCA he’s spent a lot of time in Rwanda. He’s seen too much to be crushing cans on air.

And while he’s crushing cans, Current TV’s young citizen journalists - with their cameras and little more than chutzpah - brave some of the roughest places on earth to film really compelling, watchable stories. These people are passing the Courics and Coopers like a sling shot around the sun.