Anderson Cooper is an articulate, handsome, well-dressed, charming 38-year-old bachelor who is very close to his mother. And he doesn't want to discuss what you're probably thinking right now. And he doesn't think he should have to.
"You know, I understand why people might be interested," the broadcaster told writer Jonathan Van Meter in last week's New York magazine. "But I just don't talk about my personal life. The whole thing about being a reporter is that you're supposed to be an observer and to be able to adapt with any group you're in, and I don't want to do anything that threatens that."
I like Anderson Cooper, and so does much of America. As CNN's current golden boy and host of Anderson Cooper 360°, this dashing, privileged son of Gloria Vanderbilt increased his following recently by dropping any pretense of politesse: Shaken by the ghastly fallout he'd witnessed from Hurricane Katrina, Cooper did what any compassionate soul would want to do and told off Sen. Mary Landrieu from Louisiana—on live television—for her sycophantic support of George W. Bush, zinging her with the disgusted inquiry, "Do you get the anger that is out here?"
This is the kind of moment that turns an admired television journalist into a powerful television newsperson. Indeed, ex–CNN head Walter Isaacson is quoted in the New York piece as saying, "If I were running one of the big networks, I'd make [Cooper] the next evening-news anchor." Before Cooper makes the jump he'll eventually make into the revered, now-empty Jennings/Brokaw/Rather void of Men Who Tell America Everything It Needs to Know, shouldn't he tell America everything it needs to know?
I'm not suggesting America needs to know Anderson Cooper's personal life, despite the fact that his personal life suggests itself (as New York noted, Cooper hangs with gay Scissor Sisters lead singer Jake Shears and has partied with fellow I-don't-want-to-talk-about-my-personal-life follower Barry Diller). I'm not suggesting that he begin each broadcast with his preference for boxers or briefs, nor that he end it with the statement, " . . . And that's the news for tonight. I'll be back tomorrow after a vigorous plowing that may leave me walking funny for a week. Courage." I'm suggesting that Cooper's visibility as a trusted reporter gives him the opportunity to proudly inform an ignorant nation of news that millions have already died or been killed trying to convey: that homosexuals can "adapt with any group [they're] in," that we have, in fact, adapted and are (horrors!) living among you—shedding the same tears, expressing the same moral outrage over an administration's inexcusable incompetence.
Hurricane Katrina will probably be the story of Cooper's life. I fail to see how one little "Yep, I'm Gay" will threaten him more than the storm he has already weathered. On the contrary, unashamed voices are what it will take to quell the gales that set Gov. Ahnuld to quaking and may menace a vulnerable Supreme Court into ruling that gay men and women aren't really citizens, that we aren't due the same rights as the rest of the nation we've helped build and will help rebuild. Does such a burden fall squarely on Cooper's impeccable shoulders alone? No, of course not. But doesn't he get the anger that is out here?