Silver (Crazy Like a) Fox (February 3, 2011)


Generally speaking, I have nothing but respect for Anderson Cooper, the superstar journalist and face of CNN’s cable news network (no matter what Wolf Blitzer may think). Despite being sired by the Vanderbilt, money as old as it comes clan, despite being privileged and ruggedly handsome and instead of contenting himself with the easy lifestyle of the East Coast aristocracy, A.C. has made a respectable name in his own right. Whenever you see a snug fitting black t-shirt and effortlessly tousled silver hair, look beyond the telegenic sexiness and you will see an honest, determined professional who is not afraid to get in the trenches.

While those of us couch surfing at home certainly appreciate the in-your-face, up close and personal gritty bent to Cooper’s quest for truth, I am beginning to wonder if the man isn’t a little touched in the head. The thought first occurred to me on Tuesday night, as Eddie and I hid from the blizzard, watching endless coverage of the Midwest winter storm. When CNN wasn’t breathlessly discussing the impact of “Snowmageddon,” the other big story of the evening, and in fact the last week, has been the populist revolt in Egypt.

What began as a mostly civilized, large scale and diverse turnout of Egyptians demanding immediate regime change has quickly devolved into the worst display of lawlessness and street thuggery. Someone (President Hosni Mubarak) seems to have recruited a brutal gang of armed responders in an attempt to crush the democratic protests of fed up citizens. Therefore instead of reasoned intellectual debate, or even impassioned demonstration, we are seeing images of Moltov cocktails, the resulting fires, beaten and harassed civilians splashed across our television screens. Cultural institutions such as the famed Egyptian Museum are suddenly in peril. The panic and pain of Tahrir Square has been frustratingly heartbreaking to observe.

Keeping more than just an eye on the situation throughout most of the week has been our man in the field, Anderson Cooper. Between dialing in to the network with reports throughout the day, appearing on late afternoon segments of “The Situation Room,” and continuing to anchor his own nightly program, “AC 360,” it doesn’t seem like The Silver Fox has had any time for sleep. And you get the feeling that Cooper is not out courting Pulitzers. His dedication is real. But at certain moments, you have to wonder about the man behind the serious gaze. As I said, on Tuesday night, I began to psychoanalyze A.C. a bit as he sort of carelessly informed viewers of his crew’s precarious situation. He chuckled more than once as he warned, “we may have to flee at any moment.”

So of course when I woke up Wednesday morning to the news that Cooper and his colleagues had indeed been mobbed and beaten in Cairo, my first thought was, “Well that was inevitable, wasn’t it?”

I realize that there are more urgent issues to consider coming out of the crisis in Egypt, such as its long-term effects on the stability of the Middle East region, the succession plan (if any) for President Mubarak, and the possible security fallout in Israel. But in times of great danger, it seems natural to wonder about those who go chasing it. Why exactly is Anderson Cooper the first to raise his hand when CNN needs someone to wade into a hurricane, wander into a war zone or pick a fight with powerful corporate and government interests? Fearless love of humanity or death wish – you decide.

What is biographically known about the famously guarded media darling suggests both Mommy and Daddy issues. His father, writer Wyatt Emory Cooper, died in 1978 when Anderson was 11. His mother, famed socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, paraded her son around on The Tonight Show and kept him occupied with high profile modeling gigs for Calvin Klein and Macy’s. So naturally at age 17, Cooper went to southern Africa in a “13-ton British Army truck” where he promptly contracted malaria and ended up in a Kenyan hospital. This appears to be the beginning of a well-worn pattern for A.C.

So I wonder, though I will never have the chance to ask Mr. Cooper, do you run toward tragedy to escape the pain in your own life? If so, I can sort of relate. Growing up in a terribly traumatizing home, I deflected processing my emotions by becoming the busy caretaker of everyone else. It was often a welcome, if damaging, distraction.

Last night’s edition of “AC 360” featured Anderson and his crew broadcasting from a secret, dark and dingy location, sitting on the floor, voices barely above a whisper. I pray for the safety of everyone in Egypt but I admit to a special concern for my favorite journalist. Because I suspect that even with all his fame, money and repute, he may not care much about himself.


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