CNN: 'Keeping Them Honest'

July 7, 2008

When it comes to “keeping them honest,” probably no one exceeds CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Exceeds him, that is, in saying “keeping them honest.”

On his 10 p.m. newscast of June 25, Cooper said “keeping them honest” eight times. And a correspondent tossed in one more “keeping them honest.” So in one hour, they used that phrase nine times, averaging once every 6.7 minutes. Honest!

But before people are kept honest, they need to be honest already or made honest, but how? And how can Cooper tell whether they’re honest? His first use that night of “keeping them honest” occurred near the top of the hour:

“And a new twist to the danger we first reported on, sleazeballs peddling prescription drugs over the Internet, no prescription needed. Your age doesn’t matter. What are online companies doing to stop it? What about the government? You might not like the answer. [Please don’t fret about whether I’ll like the answer(s).] We’re keeping them honest tonight.” Keeping whom honest? The government? Online companies? Sleazeballs? If the sleazeballs are being kept honest, are they still sleazeballs?

As for the danger we first reported on, Cooper was not the first, not even the 101st. Nor was CNN the first news organization to report on sleazeballs peddling prescription drugs over the Internet. Cooper was not even the first CNN anchor to report on the danger. Every year for at least the past nine years, countless stories--wire service, newspaper and broadcast--have reported the danger of unlicensed pharmacies selling prescription drugs with no prescriptions over the Internet. Long before Cooper’s broadcast, other networks reported the danger:

Praise for Cooper

A CBS press release of May 8, 2006, when Cooper was hired as a contributor to “60 Minutes,” quoted the executive producer, Jeff Fager as saying, “Anderson is among the very finest reporters of his generation, and he’s got what it takes to be a perfect fit here at ’60 Minutes’….”

Nine years ago, on July 30, 1999, NBC’s Nightly News ran a piece that began: “A government crackdown coming against some of the 300 companies that now sell drugs on the Internet, targeting a growing number operating without license, doctors or legitimate prescriptions. The U-S Food and Drug Administration announcing tougher monitoring as a congressional committee hears horror stories: online drug companies that sent drugs to this seven-year-old girl, to this cat, and to someone who passed away 25 years ago.” Passed away should be died. And, yes, the correspondent should have said “is coming” and “is announcing.” English-speaking writers not liking that script’s Inglish. ABC and CBS also reported the problem years ago.

One month before Cooper’s broadcast of June 25, he said on May 23’s Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees: “Just ahead, an exclusive CNN investigation: dangerous drugs sold over the Internet, prescribed by doctors for people they’ve never met. It is a big business. It’s illegal. It can also be deadly. We’re keeping them honest….” Exclusive?

After a commercial, Cooper said: “A CNN special investigation has uncovered a huge hole in the safety net. With just the click of a mouse, almost anyone who wants to buy prescription drugs can on the Internet. It is so easy it will shock you….” Then he said, “CNN’s Drew Griffin tonight is keeping them honest.” In the next several minutes, Cooper said “keeping them honest” four times. And when Griffin ended his second story that night about Internet prescriptions, Cooper said, “Drew Griffin, keeping them honest, as always.” (Three days later, in the afternoon, CNN reran both of Griffin’s May 23 pieces verbatim, and the anchor echoed Cooper: “A CNN special investigation has uncovered a huge hole in the safety net…..”)

Three months before Cooper delivered his script of June 25 and spoke of “the danger we first reported on,” another CNN anchor, Kiran Chetry, introduced a story about the danger. On March 13, she said: “The number of Web sites selling prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription has simply exploded. And many of those buying the potentially lethal medications are actually teens.”

As for other firsts, Cooper may well be the first anchor to make regular use of keeping them honest and may also rank first in frequency of its use. If he is keeping so many people honest, how come the sleazeballs, as he called them, are still operating?

Why raise these questions about Cooper and CNN? I’m just trying to get them to kick up their standards a few notches so critics can try to keep them honest.

© Mervin Block 2008

Mervin offers more writing tips at And still more in one of his books, Broadcast Newswriting: The RTNDA Reference Guide. His Writing Broadcast News—Shorter, Sharper, Stronger is temporarily unavailable.

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