While all eyes were on that pathetic non-debate on CNN Monday night, and all ears were listening to the network's smarmy self-congratulations for staging the You Tube non-debate the rest of the week, another more important debate is going on in the smoke-filled rooms at CNN headquarters in Atlanta. I'm talking about Blitzer vs. Cooper. Who should be the moderator-general for the remainder of Campaign 2008?
The anchor/ host/ MC, whatever you call him, has become a major factor in these non-debates, the strongest figure on the show, the one who seemed most qualified to be president. Even with the interjection of videos from the YouTubers, he is still the one who is the focus of the political drama or sitcom, however you view the farce unfolding every couple of months.
The moderator is the traffic cop, directing the questions to the challenger, the enforcer blowing the whistle when a candidate violates the rules, as vague as they are. He is the coxswain with the megaphone setting the pace, prowling the stage in front of his team of candidates standing for office.
Behind their podiums, the eight or 10 challengers look like penguins. They stand still, as if frozen statues carved in ice for a fancy bar mitzvah. The cryogenic penguins look like they are eagerly waiting for a fish (a question) to be thrown their way. When the moderator hits them with a fish, they become animated, then lapse into silence again.
The format infantalizes these men and women of power. They are not allowed to make faces, or roar in outrage, suppressing their urges to strangle another penguin who is misstating a position, lest the cameras or mikes pick up sign of human emotion.
Traditionally, Wolf Blitzer was the debatemeister, the whip-snapper in the trained penguin act, a job he had taken over from Bernard Shaw. The former signature voice of CNN, Shaw had been the debate and other major news anchor so long he had barnacles. Until that day in 2001, when they said to him, "Wake up Bernie, it's time to go."
Blitzer had turned the first two debates this year into episodes of his "Situation Room." It was as if he had eight or 10 guests dropping in to chat with him about the day's big stories.
Not everybody liked "The Wolf Blitzer Show," as I saw the debates, as much as CNN management and Blitzer himself. Some didn't like his tendency to be pompous, as if he had been elected president already. Others didn't like his beard, his raspy voice, his clothes, his smugness.
He reminded me of the Polish poet who quoted an epigram attributed to an old Jew of Galicia: If someone is right half the time, he should thank God and be well. Sixty percent of the time begins to look suspicious, 90 percent of the time, no way. Anyone says 100 percent, he's worse than a scoundrel. Blitzer has all the answers.
The subtext of the "revolutionary" YouTube /CNN pathetic non-debate was the launch of the Anderson Cooper boomlet for debate moderator.
Cooper's main job is as the host of Anderson Cooper 360. He was hired in the waning days of the Walter Isaacson- Jamie Kellner administration's attempt to glitz up the news. Cooper was the major plank in the effort to youthanize the news at CNN, which was perceived as the old fart news network.
Coop was 27 with "the ardent look of a Gap model," as one reporter said of his appearance on the scene in 2003, ignoring the fact that he was undoubtedly wearing Gloria Vanderbilt-designed outfits. He was the glamorous son of two celebrities (Gloria Vanderbilt and Gary Cooper), somebody who could appeal to a new generation of news viewers. CNN managers forgot that 18-34s traditionally did not watch news, as his show's early poor ratings proved.
Cooper had immediate impact. One target audience at the 2003 homecoming of recent graduates at Lock Haven University voted Anderson Cooper the best looking and dumbest newsman of the year.
In the start of his campaign for the moderator job Monday night, Cooper was better dressed than Blitzer, clean-shaven and funnier. And he could be as tough as Blitzer. He cut off the start of real debate between Gravel and Obama on special interest money. He also could be autocratic, murmuring, "stick to the question" or "stay on the topic" once or twice.
Where Wolf scares candidates to stay in line, Anderson charms them,
There are those who even before the debate thought that Anderson Cooper would be the voice of the New Generation, like Walter Cronkite was the voice of the old folks. His work in the YouTube debate did nothing to dissuade supporters of the Cooper for Moderator movement. The way the media idiots are hyping the YouTube format as the biggest things since Demosthenes put marbles in his mouth to improve his rhetorical style, Cooper is getting the credit by association.
The young man about CNN is already expected to be the master controller at YouTube 2 on Sept. 17, this time holding the Republicans feet to the fire.
By the time the second YouTube debate is finished, the brainiacs in the backroom in Atlanta will be saying this format is far superior to the traditional style pathetic debate moderated by Blitzer. It's more talked and written about, more lively, getting more young people into the pool. Gresham's Law of debating -- bad drives out good -- will prevail and who better than Cooper to handle the cudgel. By September, Wolf will be vieux chapeaux, a representative of Ye Olde News.
You don't think Wolfie will be taking all of this lying down! He or his people will be pointing out that Cooper is inexperienced in the news game, a flighty gad about, flying around the world in his fashionable outfits at the drop of a crisis.
They don't call CNN paranoia central for nothing.
But getting rid of Wolf Blitzer? You still can't believe it.
Keep in mind that CNN got rid of Aaron Brown to make room for Anderson Cooper at 10. Brown was only the best anchorman on all of cable news networks before he jumped or was pushed from power.
And now the network is thinking of dumping that other CNN legend, Paula Zahn. The only newswoman who has a permanent smile on her face -- surgery some say -- is a nice person, but dumb as a suitcase full of rocks. Zahn is now reportedly about to be made to disappear into the Sixth Dimension, replaced by Campbell Brown of NBC News who has jumped to CNN because she didn't get the Katie Couric job at Today.
I wouldn't count on Wolf Blitzer not winding up in the same leisure village for retired newsmen with Bernie Shaw.
Wolfie's got a situation here.
What I would like to see to settle this question is a debate between Blitzer and Cooper on CNN. The topic: who is the most qualified to help voters make the wisest choice in the coming presidential election, while the candidate penguins stand around patiently waiting for their fresh fish.
No moderators, just two guys slugging it out the way debates used to be before TV.