I’ve never met the Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist and TV talk show host Anderson Cooper. Yet, he’s revealed so much about himself over the years, and especially on his new syndicated TV talk show “Anderson,” that I feel he and I (everyone in TV Land) could almost be his BFF.
We know that Cooper’s father died when he was 10; that his 23-year-old brother committed suicide in 1988; that Cooper’s dog is named Molly; that at age 11, he hung out with his mother Gloria Vanderbilt and Michael Jackson at Studio 54; and that, as Cooper told Sarah Jessica Parker when she was on his show, he believes his giggle is like that of a “13-year-old girl meeting Justin Bieber for the first time.” This week, we watched Cooper and his mom on “Anderson” talk openly about the losses their family has suffered.
Yet, despite all of his up-close-and-personal revelations, Cooper, who along with hosting his new show, anchors the news program “Anderson Cooper 360″ on CNN and reports part-time for “60 Minutes” on CBS, still withholds the big reveal: his sexual orientation.
The likelihood that he’s gay is an open secret. In 2007 “Out” magazine named him one of the 50 “Most Powerful Gay Men and Women in America.” The Washington Post has mentioned Cooper’s “undetermined sexuality.” Even my 84-year-old stepmother Jean, an avid Cooper fan, living in a small town outside the LGBT community and media buzz, seems in the know about Cooper’s queer quotient. “Anderson’s good looking and talented,” Jean told me over the telephone. “He’s gay, I like him!”
Still, Cooper remains closeted. “I just don’t talk about my personal life,” he has told interviewers. “The whole thing about being a reporter is that you’re supposed to be an observer and to be able to adapt to any group you’re in, and I don’t want to do anything that threatens that.”
If Cooper were an actor, athlete, famous chef, musician or other type of celebrity, I wouldn’t call on him to disclose his sexual orientation.
It’s wonderful (and often brave) when entertainers, sports figures or others in the public eye come out. Even if they do so sometimes to get publicity. By coming out, they help straight folks get to know us and are role models for LGBT youth. But even as I watch the out lesbian Jane Lynch host the Emmys, I know that it’s often still far from easy, famous or not, to be open about being queer.
Yet people in the entertainment industry — whether in Hollywood, on Broadway or TV or in sports aren’t under an ethical obligation to come out. Their job is to entertain us. Through the work, they strive to amuse us, to move us, to engage us, to enthrall us. When we see their movies, go to their concerts, attend their ball games, or watch their TV shows, we expect these entertainers and athletes to put on a great show — to play a good game. We don’t expect them to report the truth about our world to us.
But truth-telling is what we expect from journalists. No matter the medium (print, TV, radio or the web), or whether the reporter is a “working” journalist or a celeb like Cooper, we look for journalists to report the facts. As the renowned columnist Walter Lippmann said, “There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth.”
As journalists, we prod our sources to reveal their true stories — even if this means revealing personal matters that sometimes aren’t comfortable to disclose. We strive to tell the truth about ourselves.
Because he is a journalist, Cooper has an ethical obligation to be open about his sexual orientation. As a reporter and interviewer, he works to break down secrecy and obfuscation.
Isn’t it time for Cooper to report the truth about himself?