The Leading Men: The 15 Most Influential Cultural Figures of the New Millennium
BY BRET BEGUN,PHOTOGRAPH BY LISA KERESZI
The Newsman: Anderson Cooper From the war-torn Middle East to post-Katrina Louisiana, the host of Anderson Cooper 360° secured his seat at the anchor desk one battlefield at a time.
In Anderson Cooper's office at CNN, overlooking the southwest corner of Central Park, sits a bust of . . . Anderson Cooper. This would be a douche move were it not for the fact that Cooper covers up the statue—a gift from Madame Tussauds New York, where he's enshrined—with a gas mask.
Being cast in wax suggests status—that you've reached the pinnacle of your profession, or at least close enough for a museum to charge tourists 29 bucks for a selfie with your likeness. But it might also suggest something a serious newsman would rather not contemplate—namely, that his fame is the result not of talent but of telegenics (a shadow that's followed every anchor since William Hurt portrayed the ultimate empty talking head in 1987's Broadcast News). But Cooper, 48, came by the wax homage the old-fashioned way: He earned it. The gas mask and the Tyvek suit he keeps on hand aren't for show. They're there in case he needs to go live at 8 P.M. from someplace where breathing the air could be detrimental to his health.
Cooper became the most famous anchor in the world by being there, on the ground, in whatever hellhole happened to be dominating the news cycle (combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, post-earthquake Haiti . . . Times Square on New Year's Eve). He's perfected the art of being in the right place at the wrong time, wrong for anyone but a field reporter turned network star—a rarity after news budgets were slashed and bureaus closed in the 1980s and 1990s (it was cheaper, the brass reasoned, to have the story come to the high-priced talking head rather than have the high-priced talking head go to the story). "Anderson is a throwback to a time when there were a lot of first-class field reporters," says former CBS anchorman Dan Rather. "There's a line that runs through Sir Henry Stanley—the journalist who located Dr. Livingstone in the wilds of the Congo and uttered the phrase 'Dr. Livingstone, I presume?'—and Anderson's in that line."
Cooper's path took him to conflict zones around the world, first as a freelancer and subsequently at Channel One News and ABC before he joined CNN in 2001. Then, on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the northern Gulf Coast. Three days later, in Mississippi, Cooper interviewed then-Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, eviscerating her for praising federal relief efforts. "I gotta tell you," he interrupted, "there are a lot of people here who are very upset and very angry and very frustrated, and when they hear politicians . . . thanking one another, 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."
Cooper's smackdown was prescient. He was taking on the role of "citizen journalist" long before the term gained cultural traction, even while on the payroll of a global news-gathering operation. At that moment, Cooper's outrage was singular. Expressing it connected him with viewers in a way TV newsmen rarely had before, and it conferred on him far more credibility than the hothouse plants under the studio lights in Midtown Manhattan. After the Landrieu incident, New York magazine reported that "bloggers lit up the Internet with Go Anderson! cheerleading."
You'd think the sometimes tough-talking anchor of Anderson Cooper 360° would find solidarity with the Twittersphere—a 24-7 exercise in speaking truth to power if ever there was one. But you'd be wrong. Going down that rabbit hole—reading what people tweet about you—is a form of narcissism Cooper says he's generally wise enough to avoid (though if you're one of the people who tweet pictures of the White Walkers from Game of Thrones at him, yes, he says, he sees the resemblance).
"You don't want a creeping sense of entitlement to take over. That's how 'anchor monsters' get made," Cooper says. "The one thing about this job: You can't be phony, and you can't lie. I think those are pretty simple standards to live by." Although he's too polite to name names, one needn't be an investigative reporter to conjure up recent media scandals. After all, you don't get immortalized in wax by melting into the background.
Photographed at Cooper's home in New York City on June 23, 2015. Styling by Justin Berkowitz. Grooming by Andrew Fitzsimons at abtp.com using Oribe.
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