Newscasters, sick of official lies and stonewalling, finally start snarling.

Media criticism.
Sept. 2 2005 5:36 PM

The Rebellion of the Talking Heads

Newscasters, sick of official lies and stonewalling, finally start snarling.

Anderson Cooper: no more Mr. Nice Guy. Click on image to enlarge.
Anderson Cooper: no more Mr. Nice Guy

A former deputy chief of FEMA told Knight Ridder Newspapers yesterday (Sept. 1) that there "are two kinds of levees—the ones that breached and the ones that will be breached." A similar aphorism applies to broadcasters: They come in two varieties, the ones that have gone stark, raving mad on air and the ones who will.

In the last couple of days, many of the broadcasters reporting from the bowl-shaped toxic waste dump that was once the city of New Orleans have stopped playing the role of wind-swept wet men facing down a big storm to become public advocates for the poor, the displaced, the starving, the dying, and the dead.

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Last night, CNN's Anderson Cooper abandoned the old persona to throttle Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in a live interview. (See the video or read the transcript.)

"Does the federal government bear responsibility for what is happening now? Should they apologize for what is happening now?" Cooper opened.

As if campaigning before the local Democratic Ladies' Club lunch, Landrieu sing-songed back, "Anderson, there will be plenty of time to discuss all of those issues, about why, and how, and what, and if." She went on to thank President Bush, President Clinton, former President Bush, Senators Frist and Reid, and "all leaders that are coming to Louisiana, and Mississippi, and Alabama, "for their help.

Her condescending filibuster continued: "Anderson, tonight, I don't know if you've heard—maybe you all have announced it—but Congress is going to an unprecedented session to pass a $10 billion supplemental bill tonight to keep FEMA and the Red Cross up and operating."

Cooper suspended the traditional TV rules of decorum and, approaching tears of fury, said:

Excuse me, Senator, I'm sorry for interrupting. I haven't heard that, because, for the last four days, I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated.

And when they hear politicians slap—you know, thanking one another, it just, you know, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now, because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours. And there's not enough facilities to take her up.

Do you get the anger that is out here? …

I mean, I know you say there's a time and a place for, kind of, you know, looking back, but this seems to be the time and the place. I mean, there are people who want answers, and there are people who want someone to stand up and say, "You know what? We should have done more. Are all the assets being brought to bear?"

Landrieu kept her cool, probably because she's in Baton Rouge, while the stink of corpses caused Cooper to tremble in rage all the way to the commercial break.

Yesterday, on NPR's All Things Considered, Robert Siegel didn't get medieval on Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, in part because the microphones there are specially fabricated to decant all emotion from the voices of their reporters. But Siegel aggressively blocked every escape route that Chertoff took to evade hard questions about "corpses" and "human waste" piling up at the city's convention center, where thousands were stranded without provisions. (Siegel gets tough at about minute four in the audio clip.)

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