When President Obama spent the day with Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser last week, the President gave the parish president an order: if anything goes wrong, call the White House before you call Anderson Cooper.
That alone signifies the extent to which Cooper, who has made disaster coverage his trademark, has owned the coverage of the BP oil spill.
"I was surprised to hear that, but it's nice to know the White House is watching," Cooper told the Huffington Post by phone from the gulf region Wednesday. "Billy's been an incredibly important voice on this in terms of raising people's awareness. I think it has less to do with me and more to do with the power of Billy Nungesser and the power of his voice and the importance that he has given to all this."
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Cooper, who canceled a planned vacation to remain in the region this week, said the feeling on the ground is one of anger, but not desperation.
"Anger is rising," he said. "People continue to be just incredibly frustrated and angry, all of which is very understandable. I think the magnitude of this is becoming more and more apparent. People here have figured it out much sooner than a lot of people elsewhere in the country and maybe around the world. But I think that the magnitude of really what lies ahead is becoming increasingly apparent to people....it's stunning to think that this thing could go on until August, as BP says it might."
And Cooper says that while there's a feeling that Obama's "heart is in the right place," the anger is directed equally at the government and at BP.
"Among the local officials that I talked to, there's the feeling that...a lot of them believe [Obama's] heart is in the right place," he said, "but they've been frustrated by the command control structure that's been in place, they've been frustrated by the lack of information that BP gives out, and they've certainly been frustrated by a lot of the federal response."
He said his role in the gulf is strictly to hold people accountable.
"My job is to hold BP accountable, and to hold public officials accountable, and to go out and see for myself what's happening, and what isn't happening, and hold that against the statements being made about what should be happening," he said.
Cooper memorably rescued a bloody young boy while covering the earthquake in Haiti (which some critics used as an example to argue that he'd gotten too close to the story), and while he says he doesn't regret doing so, he notes that the oil spill is different from the earthquake in terms of its immediate human toll.
"It's rare that you find yourself in a situation where a little boy is bleeding and can't get up, and is in a very dangerous situation and he's right in front of you and you can easily scoop down and help him," he said. "So that's a rare situation one is in and when presented with it, frankly I think anyone would've done what I did. I certainly have no regrets on that, nor, frankly, did I hear much flak. My job down here is not to go out and find birds that need rescuing; there are people here who are working very hard to do that, and are experienced with it and know what to do."
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He added that the best thing people who want to help can do would be to support the gulf economy by visiting and spending money.
"I certainly think it's important to support the economies of all these places all along the Gulf," he said. "And also to realize that beaches are still open, people shouldn't cancel a trip to New Orleans because they heard there's oil on some beaches. New Orleans is open for business, the restaurants are amazing as always, there's fish in the restaurants. I ate fish last night, and I had raw oysters off an oysterman's boat last week. People should come and continue to support the industries down here and have a great time in all these Gulf communities."
Cooper, who turns 43 on Thursday, said he won't do anything special to mark the occasion.
"I pretty much worked on every birthday I've had as an adult so it'll be no different than any other day for me," he said. "I'm not a big fan of birthdays."