A Special Sort of Buzz

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A Special Sort of Buzz

For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of the Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

To anyone watching television in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it was obvious that of all the windswept reporters covering the chaos, Anderson Cooper stood out. He showed persistence, empathy and just the right amount of outrage toward the stumbling, prevaricating officials who kept claiming they were doing all they could.

Now, the silver-haired, 38-year-old Cooper has been rewarded by CNN, the network he joined four years ago. As of last night, Cooper became the sole anchor of the two-hour slot beginning at 10 pm, rounding out CNN's prime-time schedule on weekdays.

But the network's announcement did not once refer to Aaron Brown, whose NewsNight show was vaporized to make room for Cooper's new gig, and whose career at CNN is suddenly over.

"Brown wasn't mentioned anywhere not even a 'Thanks, and we wish him well in his future ventures,'" Kay McFadden wrote in the Seattle Times. "It's as if the man whose 9/11 coverage reverberated with viewers," she said, "&had; never existed."

Brown, a thoughtful, deliberate, 58-year-old veteran, was known for wrapping up his show with a look at the next morning's front pages. He seemed to have a particular affection for the weather predictions in the Chicago Sun-Times, accompanied by tiny chimes, as though Tinkerbell were hovering off-camera. That alone made him quaint.

Brown's low-key delivery was sleep-inducing, said Bob Zelnick, a former correspondent who worked with him at ABC News. Cooper, though, "is a highly stylized creature of the media," Zelnick said. "He's interesting and stimulating, not so much for what he says but in terms of his command over the medium. He's always been looked at as a guy who might be a bridge to the younger generation."

So in a world where being trendy matters, the telegenic Cooper is the new thing, punching up his stories on his laptop, jabbing his questions, impatient to get on with the next story.

In that context, Brown's ouster seemed inevitable, if a little heartless. When I spoke about it with Jonathan Klein, who heads CNN's operations in the U.S., he said the decision to show Brown the door had been reached "mutually," to which I say, Yeah, right.

Tom Goodman, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, said that "in his zeal to make Anderson Cooper the poster boy of cable news, Klein is taking a gamble that history is likely to reveal as a miscalculation. One man even one as talented and likable as Cooper does not turn around a news network."

Joanna Weiss, in the Boston Globe, said high ratings have not resulted from all of Cooper's high-wattage exposure over the last year. Anderson Cooper 360 has consistently drawn only about half the viewers of the Fox Report with Shepard Smith in the same 7pm time slot.

Klein's moves last week, Weiss wrote, followed his removal of Bill Hemmer from American Morning, and his canning of the afternoon staples Inside Politics and Crossfire.

Weiss said that among a certain urban set, "Cooper enjoys a special sort of buzz, centered as much on persona as resume." Blogs such as the media site Gawker.com "obsess, and sometimes fawn, over his salt-and-pepper hair, his social life, and the recent sale of his $1.8 million Manhattan loft."

Writing for Marketwatch, Jon Friedman said Cooper "comes across as Conan O'Brien to Aaron Brown's Johnny Carson."

Friedman wrote that Cooper "has pretensions to hipness and he's young (enough) and draws more of the choice demographics," while Brown "is erudite and droll and low-key in other words, say good night, Aaron. That act, straight out of the 1990s', doesn't fly in this pumping-up-the-volume decade, buddy. You want to be wry? PBS's studio is right down the street."

This is Nick Madigan of the Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan