Anderson Cooper Heads Back to Haiti, Tries to Make People Care
by Hemal Jhaveri, posted Feb 9th 2010 5:07PM
Late Sunday, Anderson Cooper and fellow part-time hero / full-time correspondent Sanjay Gupta tweeted that they were going back to Haiti. Almost a month after a major quake destroyed the capital, most news crews and their high profile reporters have long since packed up and left. Haiti is no longer front page news and that makes Cooper's return all the more interesting.
It's no secret that CNN sees a spike in viewing during disasters, so is the network just milking the tragedy for ratings? Is it a genuine plea for a people forgotten by the news cycle? Or is it just good journalism?
For hardened media folks like myself, it's easy to view the choice to send Cooper and Gupta back to Haiti as a calculated ratings grab. While CNN didn't come close to beating Fox News (numbers wise) in the week following the Haiti disaster, they did double their average nightly ratings, which is no small feat.
According to the LA Times' Showtracker, Fox averaged 2.97 million in that first week and CNN came in a distant second with 1.26 million. Numbers like that don't bring CNN close to No. 1, but, they were still up a whopping 95% from earlier this year. In that vein, it only makes sense for CNN to send their hot-shot team back into the line of duty where they can wear tight t-shirts and cuddle adorable orphans. Anchoring from a devastated disaster area lends an immediacy to AC360 that it just doesn't have when Cooper is behind the desk.
If that sounds too cynical, and I know it does, here's Cooper addressing the question on Monday night's broadcast:
"We're here because the really important things happening here barely make headlines anymore and they rarely make the news nightly," Cooper said in a wavering voice.
During the second week of the Haiti tragedy, Cooper hit on this exact point that was first reported by the New York Times. He worried about what would happen to the Haitian people once viewers eventually lost interest in the story. Sanjay Gupta replied, "In part, it's up to you and up to us to make sure they don't forget."
In a 2005 profile of Cooper for New York magazine, Jonathan Van Meter wrote that it was Cooper's "raw emotion" and "honest humanity" during Katrina that set him apart from other TV talking heads. During the Haiti coverage, Cooper's special brand of emo-journalism has been equally earnest and gripping. His obvious emotional attachment transcends the invisible barrier between reporter and subject and makes viewers care.
Had Cooper not been so emotionally invested in preceding reports I'd be willing to listen to my pragmatic side and dismiss his return as a chance to boost ratings. But my bleeding heart sees the reporter's attachment to the Haitian people. It was obvious in the initial coverage and went above the dedication required to report a good story.
Plus, Anderson Cooper is just wasted behind a desk. He's a good anchor but he's most in his element out in the field. CNN sending him back to Haiti, or Cooper demanding to go back, isn't just good journalism; it has the added benefit of being really good TV.
Cooper and his team are doing great work out there, but, that's only part of the battle. It only works if they can get people to tune in. Sadly, whatever guns CNN pulls out, it's still not going to be enough to beat Fox News.
Update: Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta blogged about why they're going back.