Flown the Coop

Richard Burnett
Every gay news junkie I know wants to bag gay CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. But can the next great network television anchor be an openly gay man? Which essentially is like asking could onetime CBS anchor Walter Cronkite - who famously broke the news to America that JFK had been assassinated - could Cronkite have become the legend he is if he was an openly gay man? The answer lies in the fact that Anderson Cooper is gay - but not exactly openly gay.
The mainstream media have had a hard-on for Cooper ever since he graduated from hosting duties on the old The Mole reality TV series to become a CNN anchor. Some may think because Anderson was born with a silver spoon in his mouth – he was, after all, born in June 1967 the son of heiress Gloria Vanderbilt and author Wyatt Anderson, and his 24-year-old brother Carter committed suicide in 1988 at his mother’s New York City residence – that the Coop didn’t earn his anchor duty stripes. But Anderson seems to have won over viewers, especially in the wake of the December 26 tsunami.

The New York Observer in its January 10 edition raved about Cooper who cut short his vacation in the Dominican Republic to fly to Asia, though its raves were decidedly heterosexual.

‘‘Mr. Cooper had an ever-ready furrowed brow, a shock of steely man-boy hair and the ability to wear a royal blue shirt open at the collar, stand windblown on a beach and project a scrubbed sexiness that imbued the increasingly terrible news with that television patina that can twist a reporter into being a bizarrely romantic figure,’’ Observer journalist Joe Hagan reported. ‘‘Mr. Cooper saw himself as not just a man who relayed the facts, but a witness to history in an epic, Herodotus-on-the-tube sense, even if he occasionally risked coming off as a wide-eyed naïf, Gloria Vanderbilt’s dappled lad who gazed quivering at humanity’s grief from the window of palatial penthouses. It was in hell holes like this one where Mr. Cooper had earned his stripes as a TV guy, first as a scrappy Channel One kid toting a Betacam around Africa, later as an ABC News correspondent.’’

Following the tsunami, Hagan noted ‘‘an inert anchor desk’’ a CNN prime-time slot, or maybe, who knows, even CBS Evening News ‘‘awaited him in New York.’’

Philadelphia Inquirer TV columnist Gail Shister weighed in with her two bits on January 13.
‘‘Nobody's talking publicly, but new CNN/U.S. boss Jonathan Klein is quietly exploring ways to significantly raise the profile of the silver-haired newsman, according to newsroom sources,’’ Shister wrote, noting, ‘‘Cooper's recent tsunami coverage, which ran for two hours nightly, drew high praise from critics and bolstered his in-house stock even further. Moreover, he’s the perfect poster boy for Klein’s vision of an authentic, storytelling CNN - he’s under 40 (36), smart, and hip. It doesn't hurt that he's wry, handsome, and never says no to an assignment.’’

CNN boss Klein went even further, telling reporters at the TV Critics Association winter meetings that the Coop ‘‘is a phenomenal talent.’’

‘‘He has authenticity that most anchors try to emulate on the air,’’ Klein said. ‘‘You sense there is a real human being who cares. It doesn’t detract from his sense of authority.’’

But would his being openly gay detract from his sense of authority? Would viewers tune in to watch a gay man Shister points out ‘‘is being groomed as the new face of CNN’’?

Well, that’s where Village Voice gossip columnist Michael Musto comes in. In a piece in the March issue of NYC-based Out magazine, Musto – no stranger to outing – reflects on this very question, asking about Cooper, ‘‘he in? Is he out?’’

‘‘Cooper once asked me out on camera,’’ Musto leads off. ‘‘At the end of a gossip segment in ‘03, the wry and charming CNN anchor mentioned that we should hang out sometime and I could fill him in on more dish. All right, I may have read too much into that. It wasn’t exactly a coming-out on the level of Jim McGreevey. In fact, it wasn’t a coming-out at all, just a polite remark that my Norma Desmond level delusions instantly turned into a marriage proposal.’’

Musto continues, ‘‘Actually, Anderson has only really been out in that he gracefully lives his life while never bothering to claim he’s straight. The child of complicated parents and a product of fame, class, and some darkness, he’s evolved into a fascinating paradox who’s reportorially (je ne connais pas ce mot-là. Est-ce une faute ou non ?) fearless about everything but himself.’’

Musto then goes in for the kill: ‘‘Sexuality-wise, he’s performed a delicate high-wire dance that most of the media have helped provide the silent accompaniment for (though the same scribes are not so timid about reporting on Christiane Amanpour’s marriage or Soledad O’Brien’s twins). Lengthy profiles have been written about Anderson that take pains to not mention anything romantic but this ultrapolite routine makes the loosey-goosier press so antsy that in ‘03, Metrosource magazine jumped the gun and called Anderson ‘‘openly gay.’’ (‘‘He is? I guess now he is!’’ I responded at the time in my Village Voice column.) And last year, when a CNN.com transcript said he’d referred on the air to gays as we, ‘‘it prompted a blogging fury of sheer glee, until the transcript was dutifully corrected to they and the world saddened.’’
The point of all this?

‘‘The more the fringe media want him out, the more the mainstream media conspire to keep him in,’’ Musto writes. ‘‘They’ll even address his brother Carter’s tragic suicide in ’88 – Anderson himself has discussed it on the record – but not Anderson’s sexuality, and Anderson carefully goes along with that proviso, preferring to cover rather than be the story.’’

If Cooper preferred flying below the radar he’s about to discover that America is about to finetune its gaydar, thanks to Musto and Out magazine who are both getting a lot of publicity out of this.

In fact, it appears someone over at Out deliberately leaked Musto’s column to the New York Daily News whose gossip columnist Lloyd Grove breathlessly asked in the March 7 edition, ‘‘Does it matter if Anderson Cooper is gay?’’ Grove continues, ‘‘Out magazine seems to think so. The CNN anchor wandered into a perfect storm Thursday when he attended a reception for the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists’ Association, on a floor of the swank new Time Warner Center, where he shoots his daily program. One of the hosts — who didn't show — was outspoken Village Voice columnist Michael Musto. The longtime outing champion, who has quarreled with Rosie O'Donnell and Liz Smith over their sexuality, has written an article criticizing Cooper for being closeted. I asked Cooper if he had been contacted about the story, which comes out next week. ‘‘No,’’ he said, digging his hands into his pockets and looking at his shoes. Any response to it? ‘‘No.’’

Musto poured fuel on the fire, telling Grove via Eemail, ‘‘I did a piece for the next Out about how wonderful Anderson is, but also examining why he stays publicly closeted.

CNN, naturally, had no comment about the personal lives of any of their talent.’’

While I don’t have a problem outing folks like Cooper — who by all accounts seems to be a genuinely nice person — somewhere along the line the tenor of this dialogue went from outing Anderson to who was the first to out Anderson.

Musto quips in Out, ‘‘Metrosource magazine jumped the gun [in 2003] and called Anderson ‘‘openly gay.’’ (‘‘He is? I guess now he is!’’ I responded at the time in my Village Voice column.)’’

In my Feb 10 Three Dollar Bill column in Hour magazine, the Montreal alt-weekly newspaper where I work, I also dubbed The Coop as ‘‘openly gay.’’

But the only real newspaper article I could dig up about Cooper being ‘‘openly’’ gay ran in the November 7, 2003, edition of The Washington Blade.

Blade reporter Brian Moylan leads off matter-of-factly, ‘‘Gay civil rights issues took a front seat on Tuesday when eight of the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president attended a [Boston] town hall-style debate sponsored by Rock the Vote, a group that strives to engage young Americans in the political process.’’

Moylan then writes, ‘‘Aired live on CNN, the questions were posed by young voters both in the audience and via e-mail. The program was moderated by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who has in the past publicly acknowledged that he is gay.’’

Has in the past publicly acknowledged that he is gay?
Apparently not. Or not enough.

Either way Cooper Anderson is about to embark on the most personal story of his career.

Richard Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill can be read locally in Montreal’s Hour magazine as well as on the web at www.hour.ca.