By Ben Norton
Anderson Cooper sits at the heights of the US corporate media. A host of his own program on CNN and a correspondent for 60 Minutes, he may be one of the most powerful people working in journalism.
On February 24, 60 Minutes produced a report criticizing Bernie Sanders for comments he made in the 1980s tepidly praising social programs run by the revolutionary leftist governments in Cuba and Nicaragua.
The 60 Minutes feature was hosted by Anderson Cooper, who pressured Sanders to denounce Fidel Castro and stressed, “There’s a lot of dissidents imprisoned in Cuba.”
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) February 24, 2020
The exchange with Sanders set off a firestorm of attacks on the Vermont senator, with campaign rivals and a bipartisan cast of pundits slamming him for his mild defense of Cuba’s gains in literacy. But Cooper and his red-baiting performance remained above scrutiny.
The seemingly non-partisan media celebrity rarely talks about his upbringing, and understandably so, because Cooper comes from a background that most average working-class Americans could only dream of.
The media’s favorite “silver fox” hails from one of the most powerful families in human history. He is the son of oligarch Gloria Vanderbilt, and his great-great-great grandfather was Cornelius Vanderbilt, a prototypical American robber baron who had in fact helped lead a bungling imperial plot to build a canal through Nicaragua during the 1850s.
It is by no means uncommon for scions of elite families to get rewarded with massive platforms in US corporate media. The mainstream press is chock-full of figures like Cooper’s CNN colleague Erin Burnett, who was hired by the media giant after occupying senior positions at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup.
A blue-blooded TV anchor coming from money and privilege is one thing, but a top news personality with a background at the Central Intelligence Agency is quite another.
In 2006, Cooper published an article at CNN admitting that he worked at CIA headquarters for two summers while he was a student at Yale University — an intelligence agency-linked elite bastion where former CIA director George H. W. Bush also studied.
The CNN host downplayed his work in the infamous spy agency, which has orchestrated coups, armed and trained death squads, and tortured and assassinated people all across the globe. Cooper even flippantly likened it to a job he had as a waiter another summer.
“It was less James Bond than I hoped it would be,” Cooper would later joke to the Washington Post. He said he ultimately found the job “bureaucratic and mundane.”
But Cooper chose to work for the CIA not just for one summer, but two. After one stint at the agency’s headquarters, he returned a year later.
In fact Cooper justified his work at the CIA in his 2006 article writing, “I was a political science major and was interested in serving my country.” This makes it clear that the CNN host believes good, patriotic Americans can help their compatriots by joining the intelligence apparatus.
This mindset Cooper took into the CIA cannot be divorced from the mentality he brought into his interview with Sanders, where he grilled the left-wing politician for his insufficient opposition to progressive governments in Latin America.
But Cooper’s perspective is emblematic of corporate media culture, and he is hardly the only prominent journalist with CIA ties.
In 2014, a prominent American national security reporter, Ken Dilanian, was exposed for having collaborated extensively with the CIA. At the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times, Dilanian shared stories with spy officials before publication, and even plotted with CIA officers to manipulate public opinion on the drone assassination program.
Dilanian follows in a long line of spy agency collaborators. As the Cold War kicked off in the 1950s, the CIA initiated an operation called Project Mockingbird, with the intent of surveilling and ultimately recruiting journalists, using corporate media outlets as weapons to advance the US government’s foreign-policy agenda and bolster Washington’s crusade against communism.
The Grayzone has previously referred to an investigation by renowned journalist Carl Bernstein, the former Washington Post reporter who exposed the Watergate scandal.
In 1977, Bernstein published a Rolling Stone cover story titled “The CIA and the Media: How America’s Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up.”
Bernstein obtained CIA files that showed that more than 400 American journalists in the previous 25 years had “secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency.”
How this program continues today is not known. But what is clear is that Anderson Cooper and other media professionals have enjoyed special relationships with the CIA. And in their work, they have treated those who challenge the agency’s imperatives with suspicion, and its targets around the world with reflexive contempt.