On July 1st, Anderson Cooper — on his weeknight CNN program Anderson Cooper 360 — had this to report on new government restrictions on journalists covering the BP oil spill (transcript of pertinent bits after the jump):
Cooper is railing against
a new rule announced today backed by the force of law and the threat of fines and felony charges, a rule that will prevent reporters and photographers and anyone else from getting anywhere close to booms and oil-soaked wildlife and just about anyplace we need to be.
By now you’re probably familiar with cleanup crews stiff-arming the media, private security blocking cameras, ordinary workers clammin’ up, some not even saying who they’re working for because they’re afraid of losing their jobs. BP has said again and again that’s not their policy. And yet again and again, it has happened. We’ve seen it.
That’s BP. Now apparently the government is getting in on the act. Depsite what Admiral Thad Allen promised about transparency… “uninhibited access unless it’s a security or safety problem.” Well, the Coast Guard today announced new rules keeping photographers and reporters and anyone else from coming within 65 feet of any response vessel or booms out on the water or on beaches. 65 feet. Now, in order to get closer, you have to get direct permission from the Coast Guard captain of the Port of New Orleans — you have to call up the guy.
What this means is that oil-soaked birds on islands surrounded by boom, you can’t get close enough to take that picture. Shots of oil on beaches with booms? Stay 65 feet away. Pictures of oil-soaked booms uselessly laying in the water because they haven’t been collected like they should? You can’t get close enough to see that, and believe me, that is out there. But you only know that if you get close to it, and now you can’t without permission.
Violators could face a fine of $40,000 and Class D felony charges. What’s even more extraordinary is that the Coast Guard tried to make the exclusion zone 300 feet before scaling it back to 65 feet…. So keeping prying eyes out of marshes, away from booms, off the beaches, is now government policy.
Watch the video: Cooper goes on and on with totally appropriate outrage.
And now, what is Cooper’s response to this? After being live in the Gulf every night for weeks, Cooper is decamping to Haiti to report, starting tonight, on what has and has not been accomplished to recover from the devastating earthquake there six months ago.
Now, clearly the Haiti story is an important one, and absolutely needs to be told. But this really does look like Cooper is throwing his hands up and running away: The government told him he couldn’t report in any meaningful way on the BP oil spill anymore, and so he left.
Glenn Greenwald at Salon has called this contemptible move on the part of the U.S. government “true police state tactics” — and he’s right. And Anderson Cooper, who has been so publicly livid in his capacity as a journalist with one of the few bully pulpits left in broadcast news, should have the balls to call the feds’ bluff. If anyone is in the position to do so, it’s him and CNN. Let the feds arrest Anderson Cooper on national television. Let’s see President Obama defending to the nation the arrest of a prominent journalist. Let’s see the feds charge Cooper with a Class D felony for doing his Constitutionally protected job. Let’s see the CEO of CNN write a check for $40,000 on a prime-time newscast, and another for a criminal defense of Cooper in a court of law… and then let’s see CNN sue the Coast Guard.
It’s easy to see how journalists with limited resources working for small newspapers or Web sites or for local independent TV stations, with no big money and lawyers on retainer behind them, would be cowed by this new “rule.” But there’s no excuse for Anderson Cooper and CNN — or for any so-called journalist with major corporate money backing them — to be intimidated. Cooper and CNN should be forcing the feds’ hand, not conceding them the win.
What a bunch of fucking cowards. They don’t deserve to be called journalists.