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The disappearing anchorman

If Anderson Cooper were to switch places with Waldo this month, the search to find him would be over before it started. Anderson Cooper is a man not difficult to spot.The former pre-teen model, “Celebrity Jeopardy” contestant, “Iron Chef America” judge, host of ABC’s short-lived reality show “The Mole” and No. 3 on Playgirl magazine’s 1994 Sexiest Newscasters List has been making the cable news and entertainment chat show rounds promoting his upcoming book, “Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival.” Famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz shot the handsome mug of the current Details magazine, “Oprah Winfrey Show” and soon-to-be “60 Minutes” contributor and host of CNN’s annual New Year’s Eve broadcast live from Times Square for the cover of the June issue of Vanity Fair magazine. In his tome, Cooper writes about how the horrors of Hurricane Katrina “forced [him] to confront his painful past.” We’ll find out for sure when the book is released on Tuesday – but being a son of blue jeans designer Gloria Vanderbilt and a great-great-grandson of railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt presumably didn’t inspire his anguish. However, his woeful tale of posing in Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein duds for money at the age of 10 so he could provide for himself (despite the hundreds of millions in his family’s bank account) could understandably be enough to elicit manly “tears of fury” similar to those for which Cooper became celebrated while covering the ravaged shores of the Gulf Coast last fall. It occasionally feels as if Cooper’s well-documented watery eyes over the atrocities of Katrina’s aftermath receive as much attention as the storm itself. While being interviewed on “Larry King Live” this winter, Jon Stewart asked about Cooper, “Is he crying again? Did something happen?”Certainly Cooper isn’t the first journalist to wear his emotions on his finely tailored sleeve. Dan Rather twice broke down in sobs when he appeared on David Letterman’s “Late Show” in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Peter Jennings anchored ABC News’ nonstop coverage on 9/11 and admitted in subsequent interviews that he called his children and cried (off the air). Tom Brokaw choked up when he signed off on his final “Nightly News” broadcast in 2004. Walter Cronkite famously wiped tears from his eyes during the Nov. 22, 1963, broadcast in which he broke the news that President Kennedy died. Regardless of the freely shed ocular saltwater he has in common with the legendary anchors of the last half century, Cooper says the philosophy of the traditional anchor is “fading away, the all-knowing, all-seeing person who speaks from on high . . . I don’t think the audience really buys that anymore . . . [anchormen] have to be real and . . . admit what [they] don’t know.” He cites Kent Brockman from “The Simpsons” as his example of the type of news anchor out of touch with reality.Network newscasts may have been the original reality shows, but lately it’s par for the course for news about the people who deliver it to eclipse the information they’re delivering. Like Cooper and his new book. Of course, he isn’t the first newscaster to pen a book (John Stossell of “20/20” released one earlier this month), nor is he the first person to write about a bad year at the office (paperback editions of “The Devil Wears Prada” are due for release a week from Tuesday). But what happened to the role of the traditional anchor who only wrote a memoir after 30 years of reporting on storms, wars and famine? The infrequent tearful lapses of objectivity of Cooper’s predecessors garnered more respect than ridicule.If network executives think the pretty faces and public private lives of the Meredith Vieras, Katie Courics and Anderson Coopers are the answers to their ratings prayers, new brainstorming sessions might still be in order. Ratings have been down on ABC’s “The View” by 17 percent in some key demographics compared with last season. “Anderson Cooper 360” has lost up to 36 percent of the viewers most coveted by advertisers since it took over Aaron Brown’s time slot on CNN last year. And ABC’s “Good Morning America” has come within spitting distance of the Couric-lead “Today” show a handful of times over the past few years. Amazingly, numbers released this week show “The CBS Evening News” moved up to the second-most watched nightly network newscast for the first time since Aug. 3, 2001. Sixty-nine-year old grandfatherly Bob Schieffer has been anchoring the program since Dan Rather stepped down last year. Even more amazing? The only personal information Schieffer has made available about himself is his wife’s name – Pat.Hard news is good to find. Lately it’s become nearly impossible. Fingers crossed that the upcoming hurricane season brings more good drama and makes more careers.E-mail questions or comments to meredith_cohen@hotmail.com.


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