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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

calling bullshit: on Anderson Cooper (and the rest of the corporate media)

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.

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  • Alli

    As a former journalist, I applaud this post. I’m very disappointed with the Obama administration though. What the hell are they thinking?

  • PillowCaseLaw

    What you, Cooper, and Greenwald are saying, without having the guts to say it, is that the “safety” portion of the 20-meter “safety zone” is a lie. Can you provide any evidence that shows that the safety zone is, in fact, an “overreaction” as another journalist put it? “I want to be there and take pictures” is not a compelling argument if there is, in fact, a safety concern – and with the number of people trying to get up close and personal to take those Pulitzer-winning shots, I don’t readily doubt that the safety issues are, in fact, real, imminent, and compelling. Until there’s actual evidence that there’s a political motivation behind the safety zone, I’d say there are a whole lot of butthurt journos whining and aiming Tea Party-worthy claims of conspiracy, but not a whole lot of reason.

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    Very well said MaryAnn.

  • MaryAnn

    What you, Cooper, and Greenwald are saying, without having the guts to say it, is that the “safety” portion of the 20-meter “safety zone” is a lie.

    Okay, I’ll say it: It’s a lie. If people were being hurt by not being kept 65 feet from the news, we’d have a slew of people hurt before the law went into effect. Where are all these hurt people?

    And yes, “Someone not in the thrall of the feds or BP needs to be there to take pictures because it is in the public interest, even if there is some danger involved” bloody well fucking *is* a compelling argument.

  • I agree on calling bullshit on Cooper and CNN. They talk a game but when it comes time to put their asses on the line they run away.

    Journalistic integrity would mean something if A) reporters did their damn jobs to report, B) reporters stopped sucking up to power players who merely use the media for their own propaganda, C) reporters upheld the TRUTH and ignored the wingnut cries of “ooo liberal bias.”

    /signed by UF Journalism grad (Class of ’92).

  • Jester

    CNN, show some bravery?

    Hee! Perhaps you are not familiar with the modus operandi of CNN.

  • JoshB

    This is way more compelling evidence of the death of journalism than the LeBron James/ESPN thing.

    In fact, Anderson Cooper getting arrested on TV is exactly the sort of thing that might make CNN relevant again. But no, CNN has once again confused milquetoastishness with objectivity.

  • LaSargenta


  • Erik

    I may be too much of a cynic, but I wonder if CNN would be tucking in their tails & running if this had happened under the Bush administration. I can’t help but think not.

  • Chris

    Seeing as the Hati story broke late Sunday, that being the story that almost none of the money given in donations is actually going to the rebuilding of Hati, I would say Anderson Cooper, CNN and the major media are completely justified in “relocating” to cover a different, but just as equally important story. It’s not as if CNN won’t have teams still in the Gulf, and it’s not like Anderson Cooper and the CNN camp are not trying to fight these new restrictions, they simply made a decision to move their focus elsewhere. If Anderson Cooper cant “get up close”, which is his trademark, then it makes little sense for Anderson to be in the Gulf while the media and the government fight over these rules. Instead he is simply focusing his attention to a story where he can actually do some investigative reporting. No one wants to watch Anderson Cooper or any other media personality bitch for weeks about how they should have closer access, and CNN of all networks cant afford the dip in ratings that would be caused by it. (Yes I realize that news networks really shouldnt be concerned with ratings, but hey thats just the reality of the times)

  • MaryAnn

    No one wants to watch Anderson Cooper or any other media personality bitch for weeks about how they should have closer access

    Agreed. So instead of bitching about it, let’s see him *do* something. Let’s see him go where he’s not “supposed” to go and let the feds arrest him. Journalism isn’t just talking — journalism is *doing.*

  • Knightgee

    Seeing as the Hati story broke late Sunday, that being the story that almost none of the money given in donations is actually going to the rebuilding of Hati, I would say Anderson Cooper, CNN and the major media are completely justified in “relocating” to cover a different, but just as equally important story.

    But see, that story involves people of color and the media doesn’t deem us and our problems worthy of attention unless we’re famous rich sports stars (See: LeBron James) or they can accuse us of acting negatively (see: the lack of coverage of Oscar Grant’s trial, but the surplus of coverage of the “riots” black people were going to cause over the verdict).

    I guarantee this Haiti coverage would have been put on the back burner had the government not blocked up-close coverage of the spill.

  • grasshopper

    It’s not over yet. The spill is still spilling and it’s been said Cooper is only going to be in Haiti for two days. Who’s to say he’s not going to go back to Louisiana and confront this thing head on. He’s only one man, he can only do so much.

  • Chris

    And risk losing his job at CNN, having a felony on his record and becoming a public spectacle? Why? He is established and works for one of the biggest news networks in the world. If you want to know why he doesnt “go where he’s not suppose to go,” go look at Geraldo Rivera’s career. Once one of the biggest investigative journalists in the world, he is now one of the biggest jokes in news, and he got that distinction by not knowing when to stop. Thats what you get for doing something like that. Its probably much easier to criticize his actions from a far and say you would do something different when it’s not your career and reputation on the line.

    He reported the story, he can follow up on the story from Hati, and he and CNN can fight these rules through the proper channels rather than doing something that isnt going to help overturn this decision. In fact he may do more harm to the general media’s complaint as his actions would probably give the government an example in courts that media always goes to far to get a story and that they may do more harm than good to the enviroment trying to get close ups of the disaster, simply because the media does not know when to stop, and thus the government needs to step in and set boundries for the enviorment’s protection. And before I am labeled, I actually do agree that the government denying the media some form of controlled close access is bullshit.

  • mortadella

    Yeah, I’ve been a full-time staff reporter/writer for almost 12 years and know investigative reporting has been de-fanged. Know what? Spineless mananging editors have a lot to do with it — and the owners who don’t want to spend a cent defending themselves from bullshit lawsuits.
    These aren’t the days of Hearst, when reporters were rewarded for breaking rules and spending a night in jail could enhance your street cred.

  • JoshB


    There’s a humongous difference between Geraldo’s buffoonery and Anderson Cooper making a stand for freedom of the press. You’re comparing idiocy to courage.

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