On Monday, a group of Penn State student leaders went to New York City to participate in a town hall-style forum about the Jerry Sandusky scandal on Anderson Cooper’s daytime talk show, Anderson. Below is a rundown of the day.
Everyone arrived at the HUB at 7 a.m. to catch the bus to New York City. The event was billed to me as a discussion with about twenty Penn State students on Anderson Cooper’s primetime show, Anderson Cooper 360. As I saw close to 120 people file into the HUB, I quickly realized that this was not the case. Some other people were in the same boat as me, but others were expecting the big crowd. Not a big deal, though.
As we all started to gather at the HUB, we were greeted by a Production Assistant who was organizing the event. Throughout the day, she stressed two things:
- That we could not tell people on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media that we would be appearing on Anderson.
- That we were encouraged to be emotional during the taping–and yes, that means crying, yelling, and getting angry.
We arrived at 12:30 and found out that our taping was delayed from 1:15 to around 3:30. While we were waiting to go on, the PA walked around the lobby we were waiting in and asked people if they had anything in particular that they wanted to speak about. Again, she stressed that we should be emotional, explicitly telling us to cry and shout and show our disgust. As she sought out students, she would write their names and ages on a blue piece of paper and take a picture of them.
Once 3:00 rolled around*, the PA started to organize us. She gave a few Very Important People With Valuable Insights yellow pieces of paper, which allowed them to line up and get into the studio first, presumably because they would be the primary people called upon during the hour-long taping. By 3:50, everyone was filed into the studio.
*While all of this was happening, two sophomore girls approached Onward State writer Dennis McNamara and said that he looked like Bradley Cooper. If either of you are reading this, Dennis would like you to email him.
Before the taping, Anderson Cooper addressed the crowd and thanked everyone for coming. He said that he wanted this show to be an open town hall where we could voice our opinions and frustrations. He added that he wanted to focus more on the victims and less on Paterno. Great! I thought, that’s just what I was hoping for! Unfortunately, the reality of the taping was different than how Anderson described it.
The show started with five guests on stage, with two more added after the first break. The guests included Jess Sever, one of the organizers of the candlelight vigil; a parent and Penn State alum who picketed the Nebraska game (he even brought his sign!) and wants everyone in the football program to be fired; a mother of a Penn State student who was a victim of abuse herself when she was a child; someone who used to work with Second Mile; a Joe Paterno reporter; a child abuse victim; and a former Second Mile camper. The first topic discussed? Joe Paterno, of course.
Throughout the show, Anderson Cooper interviewed people in the audience, including the couple who started Proud to Be a Penn Stater, a former Penn State football player, and a professor from Cardozo. During the hour-long taping, only about five students were allowed to speak, and whenever any of us were called on, Anderson would pivot whatever they were saying to the question, “Do you think that Joe did the right thing?” The PAs would constantly motion over at the students to get angrier during the breaks between segments. The taping ended at around 5, and we were on our way back to State College shortly after that.
This whole experience confirmed many of my pre-existing thoughts on the state of cable news. We were bussed to New York City because Anderson Cooper and his producers wanted us to get angry, wanted us to cry, and wanted us to lose our cool. This much is evident from his preview for the show. They were uninterested in hearing our real stories–when a student wanted to showcase WeStillAre.com, the PAs didn’t care. They had no interest in showing how students have come together in light of atrocities, and one PA even laughed when a student suggested that we demonstrate our pride in Penn State (I understand that the PAs were mostly not at fault for the show’s directions and were likely following orders from their producers).
Instead, they were interested in showing outrage. Why? Because, like Joe Paterno, outrage equates to ratings, which equates to money. They had no intention of getting our real reactions (unless they involved shouting or lying), and when they discovered that a group of some of Penn State’s finest were calm, collected, logical, and not inflammatory, they pivoted toward more emotionally-charged guests, giving students the shaft. And it’s all in the name of ratings, prestige, and cold hard cash. It’s irresponsible journalism at best, and irresponsible entertainment at worst.
Televised national news is in a sad state, and it’s a damn shame.
An earlier version of this post was published with the headline “Anderson Cooper Taping Highlights Failures of Cable News.” It has since been modified.