No two ways about it, the Fourth Estate is on life-support -- and the public is eager to pull the plug. Once regarded as the noblest of professions, journalism has toppled from the heights of David Halberstam to the muck of Judith Miller.
Still, there's one decidedly silver lining in this clouded sky -- Anderson Cooper, the prematurely gray, ultra-soigné Anderson Cooper, whose award-winning coverage of everything from Bosnia to Katrina has been heralded as creating a new genre of journalist: the "emo reporter." Capable not only of dealing with disasters both natural (New Orleans) and man-made (Somalia), but doing so with something resembling identifiable human empathy, this feisty yet elegant man-about-the-globe has quickly become the sine qua non of reportorial style. And what complements a celebrated style better than a celebrity scent?
In June, deliciously disreputable tabloid gossipeuse Janet Charlton scooped the known universe with the news that designer, decorator and fashionista at large Tom Ford was hot to create a new cologne for the "Anderson Cooper 360" host and Sesame Street "special correspondent."
Initially Cooper turned him down, but Mom (that's Gloria Vanderbilt to you) thinks it's a swell idea. And being the Marie Curie of celebrity product placement, she certainly knows what she's talking about. So Cooper is reportedly going to give it some thought.
And he should. Not just because the cyber-faithful of his most popular online fan club "Gunmetal Grey" (http://members.tripod.com/~Ringa/) have modestly declared him "a God among men," but millions of people who don't even know that his Welsh springer spaniel is named Molly want to sniff a whiff of his je ne sais quoi.
More important, an atomizer ofAnderson Cooper might well give his ailing profession a much-needed spritz in the arm.
Just what is it about Anderson Cooper that makes him so special? Many are born to wealth and privilege, but few can boast baby pictures taken by Diane Arbus for Harper's Bazaar. At the age of 3, he made his television debut accompanying Mom on "The Tonight Show." In his preteen years, he modeled for Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Macy's. And while at college, he spent two summers as an intern at the Central Intelligence Agency.
Yes, I know that last detail made you spit coffee on your newspaper. But beneath a surface that suggests he'd rather not venture out of the lobby of the Algonquin, Cooper has always been possessed of serious ambition, and the smarts to go along with it. Part of those smarts is an awareness that you don't get anywhere in today's mainstream without "branding" yourself -- creating a public persona that's not only recognizable but user-friendly too. Barbara Walters once read the news, now she runs "The View." Meredith Vieira hosts both the "Today" show and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" in the same smooth style.
And so it's in no way unusual that a man who has thrown himself into danger-filled conflicts the world over has appeared on "The Mole" as well as "Live with Regis and Kelly" and other shows. In his book, "Dispatches From the Edge," he writes heart-rendingly of the pain he has encountered both in his reporting and as a result of personal family tragedies. But on his own show, Cooper's private life is nowhere to be found. In the age of Paris, Lindsay and Britney, this is rather becoming. A branded toiletry would only complement this arm's-length message discipline.
"Simply slapping a star's name across a bottle doesn't guarantee success," CNN/Money staff writer Parija Bhatnagar has noted. "Especially not when the market is already crowded."
But something tells me that Cooper would be more than just a smell in that crowd.
"He could care less how he looks, his hair and makeup," producer David Perozzi, who worked with Cooper at ABC News, told the New York Times in 2005. "He's just being himself," CNN President Jonathan Klein has told reporters.
Ah, but what a self! Glamorous and "real" at the same time. Emotional yet distant. Yes, that's why every carbon-based life-form from Key West to Katmandu longs to say: "I love the smell of Anderson Cooper in the morning!"
David Ehrenstein writes on Hollywood and politics at fablog.ehrensteinland.com.