MEDIA

Anderson Cooper, CNN Tell Interviewers: No "Personal Questions"

Choire Sicha, who recently interviewed Anderson Cooper for the Los Angeles Times, posted on his blog an interesting tidbit: he was barred by CNN from asking any "personal questions" in the interview:

Also, now seems a good place to mention that access to Mr. Cooper through the network is dependent on their conditions that no personal questions be asked, whatever that means, and so I agree to their conditions, as stupid as they may be. UPDATE: Uh, wow, I phrased this really hastily and didn't say what I meant in the slightest.... What I meant is that CNN asks interviewers to ask no "personal questions." I really didn't mean to give the impression that I made an agreement with CNN, though that is somehow exactly what I said. Good grief. I don't make agreements before interviews, though it is often the case that people's representatives will suggest restrictions on lines of inquiry. I will however talk with subjects and their representatives about expected, general lines of inquiry for preparation.

What's interesting about this is not anything about Cooper's personal life, but rather that a journalist — America's boyfriend, no less — employs a strategy with other journalists that is more expected from a celebrity than a newsman. Even for Cooper's fans, it must be disappointing, in that it gives credence to Greta van Susteren and Keith Olbermann when they refer to him as a "marketing experiment."

Olbermann took Cooper on for this very point — refusing to answer questions about his personal life — in a 2007 New York magazine profile (pages 5 and 6):

The CNN anchor, Olbermann notes, recently told a Men's Journal writer that he wouldn't talk about his private life. "Don't tell me you don't want to talk about personal life when you wrote a book about your father's death and your brother's death," says Olbermann. "You can't move this big mass of personal stuff out for public display, then people ask questions and you say, 'Oh, no, I didn't say there was going to be any questions.' It's the same thing as the Bush administration saying, 'We're going to war, but you really aren't allowed to know why.' "

Olbermann checked his hair in the mirror just as a worried PR assistant materialized. But he wasn't done. "Don't tell me you can't talk about your personal life and then, when they send you overseas and you do a report that consists of your voice-over and pictures of you in a custom-made, blue-to-match-your-eyes bulletproof vest, looking somberly at these scenes of human devastation--like a tourist--and that's your report. Your shtick is your personal life."

And while Olbermann says Cooper's "shtick is [his] personal life," increasingly, AC360's shtick has been others' personal lives as well — the program Tuesday night, for instance, breathlessly tracked the whereabouts of Marcus Schrenker, the businessman who disappeared after faking his own death, and included a clip of Oprah discussing Kate Winslet's breasts (seen below).

If CNN wishes to take Cooper's program in this direction, that's one thing. But a news organization like CNN telling journalists that they cannot ask an anchor personal questions — an anchor whose very celebrity they've cultivated and who often delves into celebrity coverage himself — hardly seems like the commitment to journalism the network so often boasts about.